May 18, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.

 

This week we learned Avoda Zara 4 and 5. These are some highlights.

Avoda Zara 4: They did not give the assistant the position of rabbi. They insultingly gave it to a lesser scholar. Should the assistant resign in protest?

Rav Zilberstein was asked by a great Torah scholar who was passed over for a position what he should do. A city in Israel had a chief rabbi. The chief rabbi appointed a great genius and scholar to be his assistant. For many years the assistant faithfully learned Torah and helped guide the city. The chief rabbi passed away. The scholars in the city wanted the assistant to be appointed as the new chief rabbi of the city. Politically connected individuals got involved. They arranged for another rabbi, who was not on the same caliber as the assistant, to be appointed chief rabbi. The scholars in the town were deeply offended by the insult to the Torah. They urged the assistant to resign in protest. The assistant rabbi came to Rav Zilberstein with his question. Should he continue to serve as assistant rabbi? If he would serve as the assistant, he would be serving a man who was less of an expert than himself. Was it an insult to Torah to continue as the assistant rabbi?

Rav Zilberstein first proposes that an interpretation by Rav Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Yomi learning program, on our gemara might be a source to resolve this question. In our gemara, a lesson of Rabbi Chanina Segan Hakohanim, the assistant to the high priests, is quoted. Rabbi Chanina Segan Hakohanim taught that you should always pray for the welfare of the government. If people would not fear the government, then we would have anarchy. Each person would swallow his friend. Why was he called the assistant to the high priests? Tosafot in Yoma (15b s.v. Amar) teaches that the assistant to the high priest would become high priest after the passing of the high priest. Normally, one would only be an assistant to one high priest and then the assistant would become himself the high priest. He should have been called Rabbi Chanina Segan Hakohen.

Rav Meir Shapiro (Imrei Da’at 271-272) answers that in the days of Rabbi Chanina, the Romans ruled. The Romans would appoint the high priest as per their interests. They would never allow Rav Chanina to become high priest. He was assistant to one high priest and when that kohen passed away, the Romans appointed someone other than Rav Chanina to serve as high priest. This happened repeatedly. Rabbi Chanina was therefore known as the assistant to the high priests, Rabbi Chanina Segan Hakohanim, for he always remained in the assistant position. This is therefore his greatness. Even though he was personally discriminated against by the Romans, he was the teacher of the mandate that all should pray for the welfare of the Roman government. He knew that not having any government would be much worse than having a bad government. Suggests Rav Zilberstein, if Rabbi Chanina would continually serve as an assistant, perhaps in our scenario as well the assistant rabbi should continue to serve as an assistant, even though he was unfairly denied the head position.

Rav Zilberstein points out that there are grounds to distinguish between the cases. In their days, it was the government appointing Rabbi Chanina’s boss. It was not a desecration of the honor to Torah when he was passed over. Everyone knew that the Romans were choosing. In our case, it is Jews who are pushing aside a great scholar for a lesser sage. Perhaps, this is a greater desecration of the name of Heaven and it requires a protest. In addition, in those days, since the Romans were appointing high priests, the position of kohen gadol was no longer even an honorable position. It was perhaps not an insult to Rabbi Chanina that he was not chosen as high priest. However, in our scenario there is a violation of a law. The rav of a shul or city should be its greatest sage. Perhaps, in the face of violating a basic law a protest should be lodged. This topic requires further study. (Chashukei Chemed)

Avoda Zara 5: Do we each need to have a special mitzvah?

Rav Yochanan taught, “Anyone who does a single mitzvah in this world, it will greet him and walk before him in the world-to-come, as it is written (Yeshayahu 58:8), “And your charity will walk before you and Hashem’s honor will gather you in.” The simple meaning of this lesson in our daf is that even a single mitzvah will garner great honor and reward in the coming world. Some commentators interpret this lesson to mean that each Jew should have a single mitzvah he focuses on more than all the others. The mitzvah you are most careful with will be the merit that will greet you in the coming world.

Rav Sa’adia Gaon (Emunot Vedei’ot Ma’amar 5 Chapter 4) teaches that the title “servant of Hashem” is only applicable to a person who has adopted one mitzvah on a very high level. A person who wishes to be called a servant of Hashem should commit to one mitzvah that he will always fulfill and never, ever neglect. The mitzvah can be prayer. It can be honoring parents. It can be care not to harm the property of others. It can be any mitzvah. But the commitment should be ironclad. He should never, ever not fulfill that mitzvah. Someone who does not have such a special mitzvah cannot be called an eved Hashem.

Hanhagot Tzadikim writes that each Jew should choose at least one mitzvah he will be most devoted to. He should rush to fulfill it, and he should be very careful with it all the days of his life. He should sacrifice his life for it. He should never, ever excuse himself from this mitzvah.

In the book Migdolei Yerushalayim it is related that Rav Shmuel Tefilanski related that each Jew should take on a mitzvah and a masechet that he is most careful with. Rav Shmuel himself was most careful with the mitzvah of Shabbos. He was exceedingly careful with its observance and he was most expert in Masechet Shabbos. In light of all these sources, it seems it is proper for each of us to choose one mitzvah and make sure to excel in its knowledge and performance. (Mesivta)

By Rabbi Zev Reichman

 Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.

 

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