Talmud Tips

For the week ending 6 September 2014 / 11 Elul 5774

Moed Katan 27-29 Chagiga 2-5

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“One’s lifespan, children and livelihood are not dependent on one’s merits; rather they depend on one’s mazal.”

This statement made by Rava on our daf appears to contradict a teaching found in other places in Shas (such as Shabbat 156a) that state, “There is no mazal for Yisrael”, meaning that the Jewish People are not controlled by mazal.

Tosefot asks this question and offers two answers. In our Tractate of Mo’ed Katan, Tosefot explains that the statement “There is no mazal for Yisrael” is not categorical. It means that mazal does not always determine one’s standing in this world. Sometimes it does and sometimes it doesn’t. In Tractate Shabbat, however, Tosefot offers a different answer. In general, mazal indeed determines one’s lifespan, children and livelihood. But if one has great enough merit, his mazal can be changed for the better in this world to be granted longer life, more children and greater wealth.

  • Mo’ed Katan 28a

“G-d cries for three types of people each day: For a person who is able to learn Torah but does not learn, for a person who is unable to learn Torah but nevertheless does learn, and for a leader who acts with haughtiness over the community.”

This beraita is taught in our gemara in the midst of other cases of G-d “crying”, as it were, for tragic events, such as the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and the exile of the Jewish People from the Land of Israel. Of the three types of people mentioned in this beraita, one seems to require special explanation: a person who cannot learn but learns anyway. How can this be?

One approach to understand this is that the person is banned from learning Torah due to the decrees of the nation that rules over him at the time, decrees that are unfortunately a part of the long history of the Jewish People. But despite the decree against learning Torah, this person continues to learn Torah in private. G-d “cries” — as it were — as a show of His Divine attribute of mercy kindled by this person’s dedication and commitment to the Torah.

Another explanation I have heard is that the person mentioned here who “cannot learn Torah” refers to someone who speaks lashon hara (harmful speech). A mouth that speaks lashon hara is not fit to speak words of Torah (see Tehillim 50:16 and Sanhedrin 106b). G-d cries for this person who has lost his right to learn Torah. Only after he repents for speaking lashon hara may he continue to speak the words of the holy Torah.

  • Chagiga 5b

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