Posts Tagged ‘Sanhedrin’

After explaining that the ultimate intent of tefillah (prayer) is to cause the Almighty’s divine light to shine upon the earth and thereby repair it in through the establishment of His Kingship (see this post), Nefesh haChayim (Gate II, Ch. 11) goes on to explain what prayer ought not to be:

Though the Talmud (Sandhedrin 8A) teaches that an individual may insert their own words into their prayer concerning their personal needs and troubles, within the blessing related to that particular matter, even in doing so, one’s ultimate intent should not be to address one’s own trouble [rather to increase the glory of the Almighty by removing this evil], and this is not the proper path for those who are upright in their hearts.

Some random chasidish kollel.

I recall a number of years ago, while learning in the kollel at Yeshivas Toras Moshe (for a time underneath the guidance of Rabbi Moshe Twersky, Hy”d), a conversation I had with another great sage who taught at the yeshiva, Rabbi Michel Shurkin. Rabbi Shurkin is famed as a close disciple of both Rabbi Yosef Dov (Joseph Ber) Soloveitchik and Rabbi Moshe Feinstein, both revered leaders of the Jewish people in their time.

While I initiated the conversation (I don’t recall about what), Rabbi Shurkin turned the topic toward myself, asking about myself, my background, etc. It came up that I was from a small Jewish community in Brooklyn in the neighborhood of Manhattan Beach, which I had been away from during my (at that point) five plus years studying in Israel. Yet, I related, the community had gone through a sort of renaissance under the leadership of its (then) new rabbi, Rabbi Moshe Plutchok, and that I had heard it continued to expand and expand since I had left it, particularly following the opening of a kollel in the neighborhood.

Rabbi Shurkin offered this sentiment in response to my remark about the kollel. “When I was young, ‘kollel’ was a dirty word. But today, everyone understands — kollel is the key!” I can still remember Rabbi Shurkin’s distinctive hand motion as he said those words, like he was turning an imaginary key in the air. In other words, Rabbi Shurkin was describing the modern phenomenon of the successful growth of Jewish communities correlating to the opening of “community kollelim.”

However, Rabbi Shurkin also referred to the negative sentiment toward kollel that was prevalent in his younger years, though it certainly still exists in great force today, even within communities of Jews who self-identify as Torah observant.

So what is the view of authentic Jewish tradition toward Torah scholars being supported by a stipend in order to continue Torah study? While this topic is too large to tackle all at once, let us catch a glimpse of the traditional position as I discovered it while continuing my daily Tanach study.

My chapter of Tanach for today was I Kings (Melachim Aleph) ch. 21. It describes the tragic story of how the abominable King Ahab (Achav), together with his irredeemably wicked wife Jezebel (Izevel), desiring the land belonging to his neighbor Navoth the Jezreelite, conspires to have Navoth framed for a capital offense and executed. Once this is done, Ahab confiscates Navoth’s land. The prophet describes the diabolical Ahab as follows:


“Only there was none like Ahab, who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, who was led astray by his wife Jezebel” (21:25).

So it sounds like Ahab was THE WORST — “there was NONE like Ahab who SOLD HIMSELF to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty”!

Yet, the Talmud (Sanhedrin 102B) makes a surprising statement about this same Ahab:


“Rav Nachman said: Ahab’s sins weighed equally to his merits.”

WHAT!?!?!? How can this be? This question is not lost on the Talmudic sages, who follow up this radical statement with just this question.

“Rav Yoseph challenges this: The person about whom it is written, ‘Only there was none like Ahab who sold himself to do wickedness in the eyes of the Almighty, whose was led astray by his wife Jezebel,’ and about whom we have learned (via oral tradition): ‘Every day she would weigh out golden coins to idols’ — and you say his sins weighed equally to his merits!”

Good question, eh? Now hear the Talmud’s astounding answer:

“Ahab was generous with his money, and since he benefited Torah scholars with his possessions, that atoned for half of his wickedness (so that he was considered half righteous).”

As I understand it, this means that just as Ahab allotted of his money to be donated to idol worship, he equally gave of his money to benefit the learning of Torah scholars. In other words, his monetary support of kollelim was a mitzvah of such great weight that it atoned for his great wickedness, about which the text is so emphatic.

In conclusion, it certainly seems that support for Torah study is a cause of the greatest merit, and should be valued by all Jews, even, or perhaps most of all, by those who have much to atone for.


Part 2 in a series exploring the widely held belief that Eliyahu ha-Navi (Elijah the Prophet) is synonymous with the character of Pinchas, grandson of Aharon (Aaron).

Sh’moth Rabah 40:

[Betzalel] was one of seven people who were called [several] names. Eliyahu (Elijah) was called four names… Rabbi Elazar ben Pedath said: [Eliyahu] was a Jerusalemite, and one of those who sat in the Chamber of Hewn Stone (i.e. a member of the Great Sanhedrin, or High Court), and he was from a city of Judah, and his portion was in two tribes (Benjamin and Judah).

The Midrash proceeds to cite verses demonstrating Eliyahu’s several names. Notably, not of these names are Pinchas. Secondly, the names cited are all individuals belonging to the tribe of Binyamin (Benjamin), which would not allow Eliyahu to be Pinchas since Pinchas was a Kohen, a grandson of Aharon (Aaron), the Kohen Gadol (High Priest). Furthermore, since Eliyahu appears to possess a portion of land, this would seem to preclude him from being a Kohen since the Kohanim (priests) were not granted a portion of land, rather, “the Almighty is their portion.”

One of the cities the Midrash cites as belonging to the “portion” of Eliyahu is called Migdal Gad. The Midrash asks why the city was called by this name. The Midrash answers that it is from there that one would go forth who would cut down (megaded) the foundation of the idolators. This is a reference to Eliyahu himself. Therefore, the name of the town was given in accordance with Eliyahu’s destiny. This will become significant when we explore another source that contends that Eliyahu is from the tribe of Gad, offering a similar linguistic connection between the tribe’s name and Eliyahu’s role in history.

Summary thus far:

Source 1: Pirkey d’Rabi Eliezer — Compares Pinchas and Eliyahu but implies they are too unique individuals, just with great similarities.

Source 2: Shemoth Rabah — Clearly indicates Eliyahu derives from the Tribe of Benjamin, precluding the possibility that he is the same person as Pinchas, the Kohen.

So that makes two strikes against the view that Pinchas and Eliyahu are the same.

The actions by Eliyahu noted in the previous post precipitated an interesting response from a sage of the Mishnaic period, many centuries later. It is well known that Eliyahu was granted immortality, rising to heaven alive, and according to Jewish tradition, continues to visit the Jewish people secretly throughout the generations, and will ultimately reveal himself before the end of days to herald the coming of Mashiach (Messiah). The Talmud (Sanhedrin 113A) records the following incident:

Rabbi Yosey in Tzipori taught [based on the above incident]: ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry man.’ Although Eliyahu would regularly visit [Rabbi Yosey], he hid himself from [Rabbi Yosey] for three days and did not come. When he [finally] came, [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] said to him: ‘You called me an angry man!’ [Rabbi Yosey] said to him: ‘Behold, the master has just become angry!’

When I came upon this passage, I wondered that Rabbi Yosey’s retort to Eliyahu seemed brash, disrespectful, even scoffing. Having been shunned by the great and holy prophet Eliyahu, should Rabbi Yosey not have humbled himself to this spiritual giant rather than respond in what seems like an almost childish manner?

Rabbi Yoseph Chayim of Baghdad in his work Ben Yehoyada questions this passage as well, but from the opposite perspective:

The Torath Chayim of blessed memory asked, since in the first place [Rabbi Yosey] called [Eliyahu] “angry” because he got angry at Achav, why did [R’ Yosey] not offer this reason when [Eliyahu] rebuked him for calling him “angry,” rather than answering him that he called him angry because of his present anger? Another difficulty is that since Eliyahu did indeed become angry at Achav, why did he get angry at Rabbi Yosey for calling him an angry person? The resolution appears to me to be that the body of Eliyahu that became angered at Achav was not the body that appeared to Rabbi Yosey. Rather, even though the body that Eliyahu had had previously had ascended in a storm and become purified, he would not descend in the same body anymore to this world when he would appear to the Sages. Rather, he would appear in another, new body that was prepared for him. And if Rabbi Yosey had said, ‘Eliyahu was an angry person,’ it would have implied the holy body of Eliyahu that existed during the time of Achav when Eliyahu actually became angry at [Achav]. But Rabbi Yosey said, ‘Master Eliyahu was an angry person’… Behold, this implies that he was referring to the body of Eliyahu that would appear to Rabbi Yosey and teach him Torah… therefore this body became angry at Rabbi Yosey and did not come to him for three days. When [Eliyahu finally] came and Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ [Eliyahu] answered him, ‘You called me an angry person!’ [‘Me’ here implies] specifically this (present) body, for this body did not exist in the days of Achav and [therefore] did not become angry at Achav. Rabbi Yosey replied to him, ‘Even according to you, that this body did not exist in the days of Achav, nevertheless, I have not wronged you in this body by calling it ‘angry,’ for presently this very body of yours has become angry and you [subsequently] did not come for three days!’ It further appears to me, with G-d’s help, that after Rabbi Yosey asked him, ‘Why did the master not come?’ that [Eliyahu] answered him jokingly and calmly, ‘You called me angry.’ I.e. ‘I used to come to you to teach you Torah. Since you called me an angry person, rightly I should not come to teach you Torah, since we learned in the Mishnah that, ‘an angry person should not teach.’ I have therefore acted toward you in accordance with your words.’ Rabbi Yosey therefore answered him jokingly, ‘Behold, the master has presently become angry!’ I.e. You not coming to me [for three days] proves that the master is angry at me, and that you have punished me by withholding your presence for three days. If you had been acting in accordance with my words, because I said [you are] an angry person, and an angry person should not teach, then why did you come today? You should not have come ever again!’ They were speaking to one another jokingly.

glass blowing

Nephesh ha-Chaim 1:15 (here the author explains why the parts of the soul are called nephesh, ruach and neshamah respectively):

One might wonder that indeed the meaning of the term ‘neshamah’ (soul) is ‘breath’ (neshimah), and it appears that man’s breath is the air that rises from the chest, from below to above… and is not a higher order phenomenon. However, the reason the soul is described as breath is not as a reference to the breath of man, but rather, as it were, the breath of G-d, as it is written, ‘He blew into his nostrils the soul of life (‘nishmath chayim’).’

Our Sages of Blessed Memory compared the imbuing of the spirit of life into man to the fashioning of a glass vessel… When one contemplates the breathing of the mouth of the artisan into the glass vessel as he fashions it, one finds the process comprised of three stages. The first stage is as the breath of air is yet in the artisan’s mouth before it enters into the hollow tube. At that stage, it can only be called ‘breath’ (neshimah). The second stage is as the air enters into the tube and proceeds as a stream. Then it is called wind (‘ruach’). The third, lowest stage is as the wind exits the tube into the glass and spreads inside it until it becomes a vessel according to the will of the glassmaker. Then he ends the flow of wind. It is then called ‘nephesh,’ a term of cessation and rest.

This comparison illustrates the matter of the three faculties of the soul which flow, so to speak, from the breath of G-d’s mouth. The faculty of the nephesh is the lowest faculty, contained entirely within the body of man. The faculty of ruach comes via a flow from above; its upper extremity is bound to and held up by the lower facet of the neshamah and flows downward, entering also into the body of man, becoming bound there with the upper facet of the nephesh.