Talmud Tips

For the week ending 4 January 2020 / 7 Tevet 5780

Nidah 65-73

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Recipe for Wisdom

“What should a person do to become wise?”

This question is part of a beraita, and is one of twelve questions posed by the Jewish community of Alexandria to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya. The twelve questions were divided into four categories, and the question about wisdom was one of three pertaining to teaching a person how to act properly in the world.

Regarding the question about acquiring wisdom, he replied, “The person should spend much time studying Torah and only a relatively small amount of time in business matters necessary for sustenance.”

The Alexandrians persisted, “But many have done so and have not succeeded!”

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya explained, “Then he should pray that he be shown mercy by the One to Whom wisdom belongs.”

Based on the Sage’s two-part answer, the gemara asks why he first mentions the need for Torah study if wisdom ultimately depends on prayer. The gemara answers, “This without that is not sufficient.” Although prayer is certainly essential for wisdom, there needs to be a solid base of Torah study upon which one can grow in wisdom.

The Maharsha explains that the wisdom discussed in our sugya does not refer to “Torah wisdom” per se, but rather to what people call “intelligence” — the knowledge of dealing in a proper manner in one’s daily activities, although we are taught that a person’s intelligence is decreed from Above just prior to inception. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya is teaching us here that a person’s initial intelligence can be bolstered through Torah study and prayer.

Tosefot in Masechet Shabbat (156a) also teaches us this inspiring lesson. Despite Rava’s statement in Mo’ed Katan (28a) that “one’s children, life and sustenance are not dependent on merit but rather on mazal,” Rabbi Yochanan states in Shabbat that the Jewish People are above mazal. This means that they are not defined and restricted by the circumstances of a prenatal decree. Tosefot reconciles these two teachings: Although a person is born with certain “hardwired” traits and characteristics, he is able to surpass his natural limitations through great merit. From our gemara it appears that the “great merit” referred to by Tosefot is primarily achieved through Torah study and prayer.

  • Nidah 70b

Siyum HaShas: A Celebration for Everyone

As we conclude the study of Masechet Nidah, we also participate in the Siyum HaShas festivities together with countless Daf Yomi participants worldwide. The completion of one Tractate is great cause for celebration — how much more so is the completion of the entire cycle of Shas, for the 13th time!

I have heard people ask: Is the SiyumHaShas celebration only for those people who actually studied every single page of the Talmud? Definitely not! It is an occasion for great simcha for the entire Jewish People. For those who have studied the more than 2,700 daf (two-sided pages) of the Gemara, as well as those who have not (yet). It is written in the name of the Gaon from Vilna that everyone should rejoice together when there is a siyum of any mesechet. How much more so when celebrating the siyum of the entire Shas!

According to the Gaon, this idea is hinted to in the Hebrew letters which spell the word siyum: samech, yod, vav, mem. If we look at each letter, we find that the gematria (numerical value) of the “hidden” part of the name of the letter is identical to the “revealed” part of the letter. For example: The revealed, spoken part of the letter samech is the “samech sound,” and is equal to 60. The hidden part, the remaining letters that spell samech, are mem and chaf — 40 and 20, which also add up to 60! And so on for each of the three remaining letters of the word for siyum. (Yod is spelled yod, vav, dalet; vav and mem need no math: vav and vav, mem and mem.)

This is a hint that the simcha of a siyum is shared by each and every member of the Jewish People. The “hidden parts” — those people not overtly completing the course of study — are equal with the “revealed parts” who have been actively engaged in this manner of Torah study. Even those not directly “making the siyum” share equally in the simcha of the completion of the study of a Tractate of the Torah or a Seder of the Mishna — or the entire Shas. All Jews have a share in the Torah!

So, whether or not you’ve completed the study of Shas this time around, we hope to see you at the Siyum HaShas, iyH! We wish a hearty “Mazal Tov” to all!

This issue is sponsored ECG Resources a wealth management firm with over 35 years of experience,

in honor of Rabbi Avrohom Rockmill.

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