With Privilege Comes Responsibility
In our Gemara on Amud Aleph, Rabbi Akiva’s renowned derasha asserts that when the Torah adds ״את״ (es) to the commandment ״אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹהֶיךָ תִּירָא״, it obligates us to fear Torah sages as we fear God. The statement of Rabbi Akiva is that “Es”, comes to add an obligation to fear Torah sages as one fears God. Translating “es” into English is challenging, but it signifies an association, even when it seems obvious. For instance, “Hashem created the Heaven and the Earth את השמים ואת הארץ” – “the” Heaven and “the” Earth are already implied by the letter Heh, yet this associative term, “es,” is added, allowing for interpretation.
Before Rabbi Akiva’s insight, no one had contemplated an equivalent level of fear to that of God. This derasha has spawned various thought-provoking interpretations. One perspective views the extension of the commandment as both a privilege and a responsibility for Torah sages. They must avoid letting their authority go to their heads. In this interpretation, the derash reads, “Even Torah sages are included in the obligation to fear God” (Beis Yisroel.)
Maor Eynayim (Hosafos 22) suggests that adding Torah sages to the commandment implies that a society that fears God will also foster wisdom, giving rise to Torah sages. This is hinted at in Tehilim 111:10, “The beginning of wisdom is fear of Hashem.” Also, see “Psychology of the Daf, Kiddushin 33,” for related insights. Thus, “comes to add” is literally interpreted as increasing Torah sages.
The Agra Dekalla (Toldos 9) darshens that fearing God helps in raising children who become sages. In this case, “comes to add” means “helps raise”, because in Hebrew “Lerabos” not only means to include but also to bring up.
This sheds light on Rivka’s quest for guidance when she sensed conflicting portents in her pregnancy. According to the Midrash she found her fetus gravitating to both the Bais Medrash and the houses of idolatry (Bereishis 25:22, Bereishis Rabbah 63:6 and Rashi ibid.) It states, ותלך לדרש את ה׳ she went to seek out Hashem – es Hashem. The verse can be interpreted literally, that she went to pray or meditate to seek guidance or perspective in the face of these distressing portents. Or, it could be interpreted, that she went to seek religious guidance, according to the Midrash, the school of Shem and Ever bore the mystical and religious traditions from Adam and Shem (ibid). Regardless, Agra Dekallah cleverly interprets this as follows. Since Rivka was uncertain as to the religious quality and nature of her offspring, she wanted to follow the prescription given by the verse “את ה אלקיך תירא״ – es Hashem you shall fear. Meaning if she maintains a practice of fear of God, that will create a home environment that will lead to producing Torah sages.
In conclusion, this verse and derash have inspired ethical principles promoting Torah scholarship and awareness, emphasizing the centrality of fear of God. In Judaism, expertise in Torah law thrives when approached with devotion and reverence for God, rather than just as an intellectual exercise.
The Tiniest Unquantified Amount of Spirituality
Our Gemara on amud beis discusses the dictum of Shmuel, which states that in order to release the obligation of Terumah from produce (which is forbidden to eat prior to taking off the Terumah, known as Tevel), even setting aside one grain of wheat for Terumah is sufficient. (Although the Rabbis required 1/60-1/40 as an appropriate gift to the Cohen.) The idea that a small grain of sanctification can accomplish so much becomes a launching point for mystical commentaries to encourage certain actions and thoughts in spiritual development.
The Shalah (Shenei Luchos HaBeris, Torah Shebiksav, Toldos, Torah Ohr 1) notes important numerological patterns in the process of the various tithings. The concept that one must make 100 blessings a day (Menachos 43b) represents the 100 channels through which God’s blessings flow into the world, also symbolized by the “100 sockets” that support the walls of the Mishkan (Tabernacle) (Shemos 38:27), a simulacrum of the world itself, and the 100 gates of blessings that Yitschok received from his produce (Bereishis 26:12). Maaser, one tenth, is represented by the Hebrew letter Yud, whose numerical value is 10. This Hebrew letter itself is nested, as the formation of the proper Hebrew script Yud in the Torah is comprised of a Yud but also has a small Yud crowned on top of it (see Mishna Berura, Mishnas Soferim 36:45). Furthermore, the “full” spelling of the letter Yud is Yud-Vav-Dalet, which means that within the Yud is a third nested Yud, the gematria of the Vav+Dalet.
Following this numeric structure, we find three tithes, represented by the Yud itself, which is the tenth, then the numeric Yud within the Yud, which is the Vav-Dalet, and finally the tip of the Yud, which is a small Yud. This corresponds to three different sanctified gifts: the Masser (tenth of produce given to the Levite), the Terumas Maaser, which is the Terumah that the Levites give to the Cohanim from their portion and is also a tenth (Bamidbar 18:26), and finally the actual Terumah for the Cohen from the Israelite portion, which is, in principle, even one grain. This one grain, the tiniest of units, symbolically represents the tip of the Yud, the smallest of letter strokes. Also notably, the Terumah for the Cohen, known as Terumah Gedolah, is taken by estimated intention and not actual measurement (unlike the other tithes, as mentioned in Menachos 54b and see Rambam and Kesef Mishne, Terumos 3:10, following Yerushalmi). The first two tithes are God’s Sefirotic channels of blessings, first the one of the Ten Sefiros, and then God’s holiness represented in the tenth Sefira itself. However, even beyond that is an unknowable and unquantifiable essence of God, which is represented in the tip of the Yud, the tiniest finest element, and the Teruma Gedolah, which is a tiny grain and made by estimate and intention. The highest level of relation and connection to God cannot be measured or quantified and must be felt through.
Other commentaries develop this idea further (Sefas Emes, Shemos, Terumah 6.2 and Tzafnas Pa’neach on Torah, Haftaros, Beha’alosecha). The tiniest grain represents the root of the Jewish soul, which, once aroused to connect to Hashem, can sanctify the entire person. As the famous saying goes in God’s name (Shir Hashirim Rabbah 5:2), “[When repenting], make an opening for me as small as the point of a needle, and I will open for you gateways that wagons and trucks can pass through.”
Effort versus Trust in God
Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the halakhic and moral injunctions against jumping the line and grabbing an item that another person resolved to acquire. A person who does so is labeled as wicked.
Tosafos raises a contradiction based on a teaching in Bava Metzi’a (10a), where we learn that if someone sees a presumably ownerless object and falls upon it to acquire it, while another actually grabs it with his hands and acquires it. The halakha is that the second person is the owner. Though one’s four cubits automatically acquire an object, since the first person jumped on it, he showed that he did not intend to use that method of acquisition. Furthermore, since laying on an object is not a method of acquisition, he has done nothing that has legal import. Therefore, the second person, who actually made a legal kinyan, acquires it. The Gemara Bava Metzi’a raises no ethical objection to this behavior, and Tosafos must make a distinction between our Gemara and Bava Metzi’a. Unlike Rashi here, Tosafos says our case is discussing an item for sale, while the case in Bava Metzi’a is discussing an ownerless hefker object. Unlike Rashi, Tosafos maintains that since the object is ownerless and not specifically representative of business pursuits or carefully conducted buyer’s research, it is a windfall and not subject to this rule. It is only wicked to interfere with a person’s livelihood and not a random find. However, Rashi learns that this rule applies to hefker as well, and how does Rashi work out the contradiction between our Gemara and Bava Metzi’a?
The Kotzker offers a mussar-based answer (Siach Sarfei Kodesh, page 31/61): The person who found the object could have acquired it sufficiently via his four cubits. It was his compulsive anxiety and lack of faith in God that led him to excessive measures to fall on the object, instead of assuming that God would allow him to have what was intended for him. Since he did not conduct himself properly, he too is labeled a Rasha. If so, with such a poor precedent and model for behavior, we cannot blame the second fellow entirely and call him a wicked person either.
I wonder whether this answer of the Kotzker was meant as a quip or a bedicha that an assiduous student took too seriously. To bolster my argument, this statement is not found in his writings, but rather in an anthology of statements and stories about various Hasidic rebbes. Is it really credible that the mild wickedness of the first person, who shows a lack of trust, really mitigates the consideration that a second person was behaving in an outright wicked manner? On the other hand, even the idle talk of the Sages requires study (Avodah Zara 19b), so let us accept the Kotzker’s position that this levels the playing field in some way, and we can no longer look at the second person who grabbed the object as truly wicked.
Nonetheless, this assertion of the Kotzker needs more analysis. It is a tenet of Judaism that though we trust in God, we do not do so to the neglect of the practical. Why should we fault a person who sees an object in a public place and strenuously exerts himself to make sure he retains possession? To answer this, we must also consider the counterbalancing position that one should not try too hard. For example, as is evident from the Biblical narrative and explained by our sages, Yosef was subjected to two more years in prison as punishment for relying “too much” on the goodwill of the chief wine steward instead of God (Shemos Rabbah 7:1). While we can say that Yosef was held to a higher standard due to his piety, and a regular person should not trust so much in God as to not ask for human assistance, we still must understand how each person applies these opposing principles. (For several examples of how God is more exacting with the righteous, see Mesilas Yesharim chapter 4.)
Here are a few quotes from Chovos Halevavos (Shaar Habitachon 4) on the idea of effort versus faith:
ועל איזה פנים שיהיה ראוי לו להתעסק בסבות ואל ירפה מחזר עליהן כשהם ראויות למדותיו ולגופו ולאמונתו ולעולמו כאשר קדמתי ויבטח עם זה על אלהיו שלא יעזבהו ולא ירפהו ולא יתעלם ממנו כמו שנאמר (נחום א ז) טוב ה׳ למעוז ביום צרה וגו’.
However the case, it is proper for him to engage in the means of earning a livelihood and not to be lax in pursuing after them, provided they are suited to his traits and physical abilities, as I previously explained. And all the while, he should trust in God, that He will not abandon him, neglect him, or ignore him, as written “The Lord is good, a stronghold on a day of trouble and knows (Rashi – the needs of) those who trust in Him” (Nachum 1:7).
קניני האדם וסבות טרפו ואפני עסקיו במסחר ומלאכה והליכות הדרכים ומנוי ושכירות ופקידות ועבודת המלכים וגזברות וקבלנות ואמנה וספרות ומיני העבודות והליכות המדברות והימים והדומה לזה ממה שמתעסקין בו לקבץ ממון ולהרבות מותרי המחיה אפני ישר הבטחון בהם על האלהים שיתעסק במה שזימן לו הבורא מהם לצרך ספוקו ומזונו ולהגיע אל מה שיש בו די מן העולם.
The matters of man’s possessions, means of financial gain in his various pursuits, whether in commerce, skilled trades, peddling, business management, official appointments, property rentals, banking, work of kings, treasurers, contracting, writing work, other types of work, going to faraway deserts and seas, and other similar things, from what people toil in to amass money, and increase the superfluous. The proper way of trust in the Al-mighty for this is to engage in the means which God has made available to him to the extent necessary for his maintenance and sufficient for his needs of this world.
ואם יגזר לו הבורא בתוספת על זה תבואהו מבלי טרח ויגיעה כאשר יבטח על האלהים בה ולא ירבה לחזר על הסבות ולא יסמך עליהן בלבו.
And if the Creator will decree for him more than this, it will come to him without trouble or exertion, provided he trusts in the Al-mighty for it and does not excessively pursue the means nor inwardly trust in them in his heart.
Chovos Halevavos stresses a number of principles. He does not guarantee that it will be easy to make a livelihood, nor does he say that everyone will merit equal levels of wealth. He does say that one must put in as much effort as necessary, given his skills and abilities, and that it should be for necessary sustenance. Additional wealth should not be strived for at all; however, if it comes with ease, this too is a product of God’s will and blessing.
Based on these principles, we must consider that according to the Kotzker, the person who could not be satisfied with the acquisition of the object using his four cubits was revealing an excessive degree of anxiety and mistrust, therefore not showing faith in God. Or, another explanation could be that since the object was a windfall and not through ordinary commerce, the finder should have concluded that if God wanted it for him, it would come no matter what, and no extreme measures were necessary.
The line between practical and necessary effort versus faith in God is a difficult one to assess, but we see from this discussion valuable criteria that can be reasonably applied.