Shabbat Parashat Naso| 5767
From the works of Hagaon Harav Shaul Yisraeli zt”l - Address on the Occasion of a Siyum on Shas Mishnayot - From Chavot Binyamin - vol. II - pp. 608-609
[Ed. note – The following beautiful, general look at approaches to Torah made such an impression on me that I decided to have it replace P’ninat Mishpat this Shavuot to bring it in its entirety.]
The last halachic mishna of Shas discusses a machloket between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel. The last mishna contains two philosophical ideas. One is that “Hashem will bequest to every tzaddik and tzaddik 310 worlds.” The other is: “Hashem did not find any other utensil to hold blessing for Israel but peace.” What is the connection between the two statements, and why is there double language, “every tzaddik and tzaddik”? The Tosafot Yom Tov says that it refers to a tzaddik who rules stringently and a tzaddik who rules leniently. However, this is difficult, as both rule because they believe that it is the truth, not because of some personal preference. Would we think that because they see matters differently, they would not deserve identical rewards?
Regarding the disputes between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, they argued not only on specific points but also on the manner by which they reached rulings. Beit Hillel comprised a majority of the scholars; however, Beit Shammai learned with more sharpness (Yevamot 14a). These factors could not have been coincidental. Beit Shammai’s academy must have stressed sharp, intricate analysis of Torah subjects, seeing this approach as a major basis of the Oral Law. Sharpness can enable one to reach the truth of Torah as it was given. After all, Otniel ben K’naz restored 300 halachot that were forgotten during the days of mourning for Moshe through analysis (Temurah 16a). We also find R. Chanina trying to convince R. Chiya to accept his position because R. Chanina’s analysis was so sharp that he could use it to reconstruct the Torah if it would, Heaven forbid, be forgotten. These are indications of Beit Shammai’s approach that a person should develop his mind and investigate matters until he independently understands them in depth.
In contrast, Beit Hillel were described as easy-going and humble, as evidenced by their learning Beit Shammai’s opinions and quoting them before their own (Eruvin 13b). Apparently they put more stress on carefully transmitting the traditions of the Rabbis from scholar to scholar, and saw this as the main basis of Oral Law. They associated themselves with R. Chiya’s response to R. Chanina, that one should dedicate his life to educating the next generation so that the Torah will not be forgotten. The prominence of each approach was discussed generations later. Is Sinai (one with broad knowledge) or one who uproots mountains (has brilliant analysis) greater (Horiyot 14a)?
The gemara concludes that Sinai (epitomized by Rav Yosef, who had command of mishnayot and baraitot as they were given at Sinai) is greater because “all need the master of the wheat.” What is the significance of this metaphor? It is reminiscent of Yosef, Yaakov’s son, referred to in Mishlei (14:4) as: “the multitude of grain in the strength of an ox (the animal Yosef was compared to - Devarim 33:17).” Indeed, Yosef provided grain, in the simplest sense, to his brothers. Why did Yosef’s brothers hate him if he was his father’s ben zekunim, which Unkelus translates as a son of wisdom? It is also interesting that Yosef, the scholar was described later as preoccupied with his looks while remaining a tzaddik as in his father’s house.
It seems that Yosef, like the later Rav Yosef, was a Sinai, who spent much time with his father absorbing the material Yaakov had learned from Shem and Ever. The brothers believed in analysis. When one memorizes old traditions, he can review his learning wherever he is, even as he is involved in other activities. Indeed many Jews of past generations would review mishnayot by heart while working. One cannot concentrate on analysis while doing other things.
Yosef was able to be involved in matters of this world, represented by the metaphor of playing with his hair, and still “carry along” his father’s Torah wherever he went. The brothers did not believe one could incorporate the two worlds and, therefore, distrusted Yosef. However, Yosef, succeeded in being both the literal provider of wheat and the one who held on to his “produce” of Torah knowledge even as he was involved in Egypt’s economy. Because he realized his brothers’ spiritual needs, he separated them from the Egyptians and from the need to be overly involved in the physical world.
These two approaches reappear in a famous machloket in Berachot 35b. R. Yishmael said that one should live his life in a normal fashion that includes earning a living in agriculture or the like. R. Shimon objected, claiming that such a life does not allow enough focus on Torah study. It is interesting that R. Yishmael is described as one who collected Torah teachings like a well-stocked store (Gittin 67a). Rashi explains that his learning was well arranged in his mouth. Perhaps that was his response to R. Shimon. Those who collect information can take Torah with them to the field they are plowing. That gives further insight to the phrase, “all need the master of the wheat.” The world needs people who can simultaneously be involved in Torah learning and producing grains needed by society. That is why the gemara in Berachot concludes that when many tried to follow R. Shimon they failed and when they tried to do like R. Yishmael they succeeded.
Returning to Beit Shammai, they engaged in sharp intellect and, therefore, leaned in the direction of separation from worldliness, which also pushed them toward stringency. Beit Hillel followed an approach of following rabbinic tradition, which was more attainable by the masses (explaining their greater numbers). The gemara concludes that both approaches are the words of the living G-d. However, Beit Shammai’s approach was more appropriate for unique individuals like R. Shimon, whereas Beit Hillel’s was more fitting for the masses, those who would also occupy themselves with building and occupying the world.
Shas begins with a machloket including Beit Shammai’s student, R. Eliezer, and continues with a machloket between the two academies, as it finishes. Indeed, there is room for both their styles in our tradition of scholarship. The mishna finishes off with the idea that there is reward for a tzaddik and a tzaddik, in other words, the world’s Beit Shammais and Beit Hillels. Each receives 310 worlds, not the same ones but different ones, adding up to 620, the sum of the 613 Torah laws and 7 rabbinic ones. As the Tosafot Yom Tov alluded, there is a portion for the stringent and the lenient, for the world of Torah is complete only when all complement each other. The peace that Shas ends off extolling is the peace between Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel (see Yevamot 14) which enabled the two groups’ combined wisdom to form one edifice of Torah scholarship.
May Hashem light our eyes with the Torah and put in our hearts love and fear of Him.
Top of page
Print this page
Send to friend