Daf Yomi

For the week ending 5 April 2003 / 3 Nisan 5763

Avoda Zara 16-22

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Scorners Fate

The scorner one who makes fun of the reproof given to him because of his evil ways invites serious trouble for himself. Rabbi Elazar cites a passage from the Prophet Yeshaya to show that a scorner brings suffering upon himself. The same passage is cited by another sage regarding the negative impact that the scorners lack of seriousness has upon the entire world.

"Now therefore be not scorners," warns the prophet, "lest your suffering be made intense" (Yeshaya 28:22).

The reason for scorning inviting suffering, explains Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto in his classic ethical work "Mesillat Yesharim", is that while serious people repent their sins when they are reproved by others the scorner mocks those who attempt to correct him. This leaves Heaven with no alternative but to arouse him to repentance through suffering which he cannot just laugh off.

While the first part of the above passage directly addresses the potential scorner with a warning about the harm he brings upon himself, the next phrase speaks generally about the utter destruction for which the scorner is responsible. This, explains Maharsha, led Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai to conclude that this passage also includes a prophetic warning about the destruction the scorner brings upon the world. He brings guilt upon others who serve as a welcoming audience for his mockery or at least fail to protest against it.

Avoda Zara 18b

Double Dose of Lifesaving Medicine

"Guarding the tongue" against gossip and slander, which are the sins of an "evil tongue", has become a subject of major interest in the religious community in our generation. All sorts of programs for studying the laws of this important issue and well-attended seminars have become regular features in this society. Even Jews not yet committed to a religious lifestyle have become attracted to learning more about disciplining their speech after realizing how this can enrich their personal lives.

All of these people are following the advice of King David who counseled "the man who wants to live to guard his tongue from speaking evil" (Tehillim 34:13-14). One might assume, however, that this can be achieved in a completely passive way by going to sleep in order to avoid speaking. The Psalmist therefore continues his advice by urging the seeker of life to "turn away from evil and do good" (ibid. 15).

"Good," our Sages point out, is a reference to Torah as we find in the passage "I have given you a good acquisition, do not forsake My Torah" (Mishlei 4:2). As Maharsha explains, it is not sufficient to avoid misuse of the Divine gift of speech by going to sleep. Positive action must be taken in the form of Torah study, which will protect him from the temptations of negative speech. As King Solomon puts it: "The tree of life (Torah) is a cure for the tongue" (Mishlei 15:4).

This double dose of curative medicine for the tongue of the person who wants to live is achieved by regularly studying the laws of guarding the tongue which both warn one to "turn away from evil" and fortify his discipline with the "doing good" of studying Torah.

Avoda Zara 19b

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