Shabbat Parashat Shemini | 5770
Ein Ayah: Are People Truly Good Inside?
(condensed from Berachot 4:15)
Gemara: [The following took place on the day that the more welcoming Rabbi Elazar ben Azarya replaced the less tolerant Rabban Gamliel in the post of Nasi (roughly, Supreme Rabbinical Court Head).] The guard to the entrance of the beit midrash (study hall) was removed, and permission was given to students to enter, for Rabban Gamliel would announce: “Whoever’s inside is not like his outside should not enter the beit midrash.”
Ein Ayah: Rabban Gamliel believed that a person’s fundamental tendency is toward sin and that most people need to be lead by discipline to straighten their path. Until one proves himself to be good, through and through, we are to assume that he is not so. That is why only those who were approved gained entry into the beit midrash.
There were others who disagreed with Rabban Gamliel and believed that people are basically good, and, therefore, one who decided to accept upon himself the yoke of Torah study should be assumed to be fit for the task. The approach toward such people should be of gentleness and love, thus justifying removal of the guard to allow students to enter freely.
Based on the latter approach, we can understand the following thesis of the Rambam (Geirushin 2:20). One who initially refuses to give a get (bill of divorce) can be coerced to give one even though he must give it out of his own will. This is because the internal desire of the Jewish soul is to do that which is right, just that the external yetzer hara (evil inclination) confuses him. When he is coerced, he returns to wanting to do that which his internal goodness desires. This thesis of the Rambam is based on the approach of those who argued with Rabban Gamliel and felt that people are indeed intrinsically good. Although bad thoughts may filter their way in, they can be removed when internal factors and good actions, even when done with imperfect motivations, improve one’s status and create a harmony between the external actions and the internal state of the heart.
The Integration of Flawed Students
(condensed from Berachot 4:17)
Gemara: [In the aftermath of the aforementioned gemara about opening the beit midrash to unproven students, Rabban Gamliel felt bad that he had apparently withheld people from the beit midrash without sufficient justification.] He was shown in a dream clear jugs filled with ashes. But this was not really the case. Rather, he was shown this dream only to make him feel more at ease.
Ein Ayah: It is actually possible that of the many new students who entered the beit midrash untested, there were some who were not fit to take part. However, the proper hope was that when these lesser people joined up with the righteous students, they would grow spiritually and fix their ways. The dream invoked the image of ashes in a jug. Ashes do not mix in with other matters in water. This showed that these improper people would not mesh in well with the proper students, as happens with evil people. Yet this was not a true image, as those who cling to Torah will join up together and will certainly improve as a result.
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This week’s Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of