May 18, 2024
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May 18, 2024
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“רַבִּי חֲנִינָא בֶן דּוֹסָא אוֹמֵר … כָּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ, חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת. וְכָל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ מְרֻבָּה מִמַּעֲשָׂיו, אֵין חָכְמָתוֹ מִתְקַיֶּמֶת (אבות ג:ט):
רַבִּי אֶלְעָזָר בֶּן עֲזַרְיָה אוֹמֵר … כָּל שֶׁחָכְמָתוֹ מְרֻבָּה מִמַּעֲשָׂיו, לְמַה הוּא דוֹמֶה, לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מְרֻבִּין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מֻעָטִין, וְהָרוּחַ בָּאָה וְעוֹקַרְתּוֹ וְהוֹפַכְתּוֹ עַל פָּנָיו, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (ירמיה יז) וְהָיָה כְּעַרְעָר בָּעֲרָבָה וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבוֹא טוֹב וְשָׁכַן חֲרֵרִים בַּמִּדְבָּר אֶרֶץ מְלֵחָה וְלֹא תֵשֵׁב.
אֲבָל כָּל שֶׁמַּעֲשָׂיו מְרֻבִּין מֵחָכְמָתוֹ, לְמַה הוּא דוֹמֶה, לְאִילָן שֶׁעֲנָפָיו מֻעָטִין וְשָׁרָשָׁיו מְרֻבִּין, שֶׁאֲפִלּוּ כָל הָרוּחוֹת שֶׁבָּעוֹלָם בָּאוֹת וְנוֹשְׁבוֹת בּוֹ אֵין מְזִיזִין אוֹתוֹ מִמְּקוֹמוֹ, שֶׁנֶּאֱמַר (שם) וְהָיָה כְּעֵץ שָׁתוּל עַל מַיִם וְעַל יוּבַל יְשַׁלַּח שָׁרָשָׁיו וְלֹא יִרְאֶה כִּי יָבֹא חֹם, וְהָיָה עָלֵהוּ רַעֲנָן, וּבִשְׁנַת בַּצֹּרֶת לֹא יִדְאָג, וְלֹא יָמִישׁ מֵעֲשׂוֹת פֶּרִי (אבות ג:יז):”


The Need for Deed

Over the past weeks, we have seen how Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rebbi Elazar ben Azarya both condition chochmah (wisdom) on yirah. These Tannaim also link chochmah to ma’asim (actions/deeds). Wisdom should reflect faith and be rooted in action.

Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa not only taught the importance of ma’asim — he lived it as well. The Gemara1 tells us that when Rebbe Chanina passed away, the world lost its “anshei ma’aseh — people of action.” Rebbi Chanina was an exceptional person of deeds.2


An Ultimate Practical Goal

Though Judaism attributes great value to Torah learning and accumulating wisdom (“… v’talmud Torah k’neged kulam3”), actions are more important. As Rebbi Shimon, the son of Rabban Gamliel, taught in the first perek of Avot: “Lo hamidrash hu ha’ikar, ella hama’aseh.”4

In fact, ma’asim are the ultimate aim of learning. Later in Avot, Rabbi Yishmael ben Beroka defines ideal learning as that which is done in order to act.5 Rava often opined that “teshuvah and ma’asim tovim are the tachlis (goal) of chochmah.”6 Ultimately, it is the ma’asim that learning inspires, which makes learning of supreme importance. In the words of the Gemara, “Learning is great(est) because it facilitates ma’aseh (action).”7

Torah that is coupled with good deeds is the ideal form of life. Later on in Avot,8 Rebbi Yossi ben Kisma identifies them as the two things we take with us from this world. In a similar vein, the Gemara explains that Abaye was granted twenty more years of life than Rava, because of the good deeds he performed in addition to his learning of Torah.9

For this reason, our blessings and prayers for children focus on both Torah and ma’asim tovim. At a brit, we bless that “just as the child entered the brit, so should he enter a world of Torah and ma’asim tovim.” When lighting candles on Friday nights, we pray that our children should use the Torah and good deeds to enlighten the world.


A Critical Condition

Ma’asim tovim are not only ideal, but also a critical complement to Torah learning. Rebbi Yossi taught that someone who says he has only Torah, lacks even Torah.10 Rav Papa added that anyone involved in learning should also do good deeds; anyone who doesn’t is considered not to be involved in learning either.

This is why (the aforementioned) Rebbi Yossi ben Kisma told Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon that it was (only) his good deeds that merited him a place in Olam Haba. Though Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon was known for his limud haTorah and was killed al kiddush Hashem, his entry into the Next World hinged on his good deeds (ma’asim.)


More Ma’asim

Beyond the importance of ma’asim in general and to chochmah in particular, Rebbi Chanina ben Dosa and Rebbi Elazar ben Azariyah emphasize the importance of performing ma’asim that exceed the amount of one’s chochmah. Why do we need more ma’asim than wisdom?

I believe that there are two answers to this question and that they connect to the two lines of the Mishnah.11 The first part of the Mishnah speaks about a situation where one’s chochmah exceeds their ma’asim. Rashi sees this as describing a situation where one is not translating his wisdom into action. Obviously, this is a problem…

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk connects this to the Gemara’s expectation that one who sees what happens to a sotah should commit himself to being a nazir and separate from wine.12 In order for our learning to be meaningful, we need to translate the lessons we learn from Torah and life experience into action. The Ramban conveyed this in his famous letter to his son:13 “When you get up from the sefer that you are learning, make sure to consider how to translate what you’ve learned into action.”

If non-actualization were the only concern, an amount of ma’asim that were equal to one’s chochmah would suffice. However, the second line of the Mishnah requires our actions to surpass our wisdom. Why is this necessary? How is this necessary?

Next week, iy”H, we will work on appreciating why our ma’asim need to surpass our chochmah and how this is critical to chochmah’s sustainability.

*Summarized by Rafi Davis

Rabbi Reuven Taragin is the dean of overseas students at Yeshivat HaKotel.

1 Masechet Sotah 49a.

2 Tosafot (Masechet Chagigah 14a, D”H Rebbe) explained  that he was the greatest “ish ma’aseh” of his generation.

3 Mishneh Pei’ah 1:1.

4 Mishnayot Avot 1:17. See Rabbeinu who interprets that Mishnah as referring to the importance of  teachers practicing what they preach.

5 Mishnayot Avot 4:5.

6 Masechet Berachot 17a, based on the pasuk, “Reishit chochmah yirat Hashem, sechel tov l’chol oseihem,” (Tehillim 111:10).

7 Masechet Kiddushin 40b.

8 Mishnayot Avot 6:10.

9 Masechet Rosh Hashanah 18a.

10 Masechet Yevamot 109b.

11 Mishnayot Avot 3:17.

12 Masechet Sotah 2a.

13 Iggeret HaRamban.

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