Sunday, January 12, 2020

Daf Yomi Idea Berachos 8a: Giving up on those who need something different

The Gemara on page 8a states (from here):
וְאָמַר רַבִּי חִיָּיא בַּר אַמֵּי מִשְּׁמֵיהּ דְּעוּלָּא: לְעוֹלָם יָדוּר אָדָם בִּמְקוֹם רַבּוֹ, שֶׁכָּל זְמַן שֶׁשִּׁמְעִי בֶּן גֵּרָא קַיָּים, לֹא נָשָׂא שְׁלֹמֹה אֶת בַּת פַּרְעֹה.
And Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Ami said in the name of Ulla: One should always live in the place where his teacher lives; thereby he will avoid sin. For as long as Shimi ben Gera, who according to tradition was a great Torah scholar and teacher of Solomon (see Gittin 59a), was alive, Solomon did not marry Pharaoh’s daughter. Immediately after the Bible relates the death of Shimi (I Kings, end of ch. 2), Solomon’s marriage to Pharaoh’s daughter is recorded (beginning of ch. 3).
וְהָתַנְיָא אַל יָדוּר!
The Gemara raises an objection: Wasn’t it taught in a baraita that one should not live where his teacher lives?
לָא קַשְׁיָא, הָא דִּכְיִיף לֵיהּ, הָא, דְּלָא כְּיִיף לֵיהּ.
The Gemara answers: This is not difficult. This, which says that one should live where his teacher lives, is referring to a case where he is acquiescent to his teacher and will heed his teaching and instruction. While this baraita, which says that one should not live where his teacher lives, is referring to a case where he is not acquiescent to him and that will lead them to quarrel.

The question to this teaching of the Gemara that should be obvious is; who cares if they quarrel? If following one's teacher is the right thing to do, you should live by them no matter what. Even if you will quarrel with your teacher, you are still being exposed to the correct guidance. One might even argue that it is more important for a quarrelsome person to live near their teacher!

To this inherent question Rashi offers a seemingly simple answer:

If he will acquiesce to his teacher's guidance, to accept his rebuke, then [the student] should live by the teacher. However, if he will not [listen to the rebuke or guidance of his teacher,] he should live far away from his teacher and thereby perform inappropriate deeds through negligence instead of deliberately.
This statement of Rashi actually has a very profound attitude attached to it that, I believe, is often missed and I personally disagree with.

Rashi's statement on the surface seems to make a lot of sense. If you are someone who will not listen to your Rabbi, then you should remove yourself from purposefully causing pain to your teacher and sinning against his words and guidance. However, on a deeper examination of this approach, one will see how superficial and dismissive this understanding of the Gemara can be.

As a disclaimer, I am not arguing with Rashi, but based on my superficial understanding of his explanation of the Gemara, and how most people read this Gemara, I think a deeper discussion is warranted.

I find this explanation of the Gemara truly disheartening. If a student disagrees with his or her teacher (or is too lazy to follow their guidance), that student should remove themselves from their teacher and any further teaching/constructive criticism the teacher may offer in the future?!?! And, the explanation given as to why this is a good idea is so the student should only not be listening to their teacher through negligence instead of an outright contrarian attitude.

Who does this help? We are basically saying that a member of the Jewish people who has, essentially, lost their desire to follow the Torah in the way their teacher has guided them should just go somewhere else and do the wrong thing and leave everyone else alone. But, its ok because they will only be doing the wrong thing because they forgot what they were taught (and are negligent). That seems much better than being close to a possible source of guidance who they will fight against.

This is a defeatist attitude and means Rashi is telling us that when someone argues and doesn't want to listen, you write them off as a lost soul. Do not engage with them, they will never discuss or come back once lost. It is over and better they just be negligent instead of belligerent.

This is how I understand this Rashi and it bothers me.

My understanding of the Gemara is different than what Rashi explains. See, Rashi gives us two choices, either you listen to your teacher and follow the rules, or you don't and you are transgressing the laws deliberately. However, there is another option. When the Braaisa says you should not live near your teacher and the Gemara says this is in a situation where you will not listen to him, why can't the Gemara mean that you should go find a different teacher that you will listen to?

In fact, the Gemara brings up the case of Shlomo hamelech (King Solomon) as an example for why you should live near your teacher. Shlomo did not marry the princess of Egypt as long as his teacher was alive. Why? Because it was the wrong thing to do and it eventually led him to pursue bad deeds, as the scripture tells us (Kings 1 Chapter 11):

King Shlomo loved many foreign women in addition to Pharaoh's daughter – Moabite, Ammonite, Edomite, Phoenician and Hittite women from the nations of which God had said to the Children of Israel, “Do not join them and they should not join you, lest they divert your heart away to follow their gods.” Such Shlomo clung to and loved. He had seven hundred royal wives and three hundred concubines; and his wives turned his heart astray. In his old age, his wives caused his heart to stray after other gods, and he was not wholeheartedly devoted to God as his father David had been. 
This shows us that having a guide, such as a teacher, helps prevent a person from pursuing actions that will be negative for them. Obviously, if you have a teacher that you will not listen to, that won't help prevent you from pursuing bad deeds, or other counterproductive activities. However, the answer to not listening to your teacher is not leaving them and performing bad deeds in their absence, the answer is go find someone who can help guide you!

Similarly, there is a Gemara in Kiddushin 40a that states:

אמר רבי אלעאי הזקן אם רואה אדם שיצרו מתגבר עליו ילך למקום שאין מכירין אותו וילבש שחורים ויתכסה שחורים ויעשה כמו שלבו חפץ ואל יחלל שם שמים בפרהסיא
Rabbi Ilai the Elder says: If a person sees that his evil inclination is overcoming him, he should go to a place where he is not known, and wear black clothes, and he should cover himself in simple black garments, and he should do as his heart desires, but he should not desecrate the name of Heaven in public. 
This Gemara seems to agree with Rashi's explanation of our Gemara, if a person can't help it, then he or she can just go sin, as long as they leave the rest of us alone and don't embarrass us.

However, Tosfos on this Gemara explains:

ויעשה מה שלבו חפץ - פי' ר"ח ח"ו שהותר לו לעבור עבירה אלא כך אמר ר' אלעאי יגיעת דרכים והאכסנאות ולבישת שחורים משברים יצר הרע ומונעים אדם מן העבירה.:
And he should do what his heart desires: The Rach (I think Rabbeinu Chenanel) explains, Heaven forbid that [Rabbi Ilai] is permitting for him to transgress a sin, rather he is saying that the travails of traveling and staying at inns, combined with wearing black clothes, will break the evil inclination and prevent him from carrying out the sin.
This is a fundamentally different way of approaching the problem. We know that people are not perfect and have desires that cause sin. Instead of writing them off, we offer advice to help them overcome the difficulties. 

Now, these approaches can apply to help those who are sinning AND it can be applied to how we view the sinner. In a situation where a person is truly struggling and trying not to sin, this is advice for them. The sinner needs the extra steps they can take which may help prevent themselves from carrying out the misdeed. However, the situation where a person is defiant and does not want to follow their teacher needs to be told, not to stay away from their teacher, but to find a new one. This is how the person themselves should view these Gemaras. 

The community should view these people as people who need aid. The sinner who cannot control themselves and needs to go sin, should be surrounded with a loving teacher and friends. If this person lives near their Rabbi, then their Rabbi can help prevent them from going to sin. However, in the situation where one does not respect or listen to their Rabbi, the answer is not to just go away. The answer is this person needs to find a community and a teacher that can relate to that person, so the sinner will respect the Rabbi! That is why we have so many Rabbis! There are many different types of people out there with different needs and points of view. To just give up on someone is a problem.

Unfortunately, I think we see Rashi's attitude all too frequently today. In the Jewish community there are many examples, but one important problem is schools that will not deal with children that fall "out of the box." This is a mistake! There are many things children with different "issues" can add to a school. Telling parents that their child has some behavior issues or needs extra help in certain areas and therefore they would be better served somewhere else, is heartbreaking. Children that need to go to public schools or less religious schools because of these factors is a problem.

I am not advocating compromising on religious values. However, I am advocating for a diversity in leadership and teachers that can deal with the diversity of personalities and issues in the modern orthodox community. Honestly, this is not just a modern orthodox problem, but all levels of Judaism. 


 

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