Talmud Tips

For the week ending 1 January 2022 / 28 Tevet 5782

Megillah 9 - 15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Reward for Giving Credit

Rabbi Elazar said, “Whoever says something in the name of the person who originally said it brings redemption to the world.”

He cites his source for this teaching (which is also taught in Pirkei Avot 6:6) as the Purim story that we read in the Megillah of Esther. “And Esther told the king (the assassination plot against him by Bigsan and Seresh) in the name of Mordechai (who had revealed it to her, as the queen).” (Esther 2:22). Rabbi Elazar teaches us that Esther brought — or at least helped to bring — redemption to world in this way. She not only told the king about the plot against him, but also revealed her source as Mordechai, a seemingly unnecessary piece of information at the time. But it was a factor that would play a crucial role later in the king’s elevating the honor and standing of Mordechai, in the Divine plan for the miraculous saving of the Jewish People from evil Haman’s claws.

What is the connection between the special merit of quoting one’s source and the reward of being credited as bringing redemption to the world? One of many human traits is the desire for recognition. True, at times our name recognition can be a positive force for helping others. But if it is felt as internal self-pride and not applied for the sake of Heaven it is considered the very negative trait of haughtiness. This is the exact opposite of the very positive trait of humility. The Torah states, “And the man Moshe was extremely humble, more than any person on the face of the earth.” (Bamidbar 12:3) Also, the Mishna 4:4 in Pirkei Avos teaches, “Rabbi Levitas of Yavneh says: “Be very, very humble”. The Rambam codifies the trait of haughtiness as being one of only two human traits that one should strive to avoid at all costs - the other one being anger. Regarding all other character traits — such as one’s propensity to spend money — one should make every effort to remain in the middle of the spectrum, which he writes is the “straight path” and the Derech Hashem (the path of Hashem). (Hilchot De’ot chapter 1)

Someone whose character is haughty will want to take credit for any positive outcome. It makes that person look “bigger” in the eyes of others, or at least that’s what many have been led to think. A humble person, however, not only does not want to receive kudos but also does not feel deserving of being given credit. A humble person has the attitude of “What did I do? Anyone would have done the same. Hashem runs the world — not me!”

When the world is redeemed and saved, who will jump up to take credit? Only Hashem can and will save the world despite all human effort to save it (or destroy it). Only someone who gives credit to others by citing them as the source of something positive will also give credit to Hashem for any positive result as for saving the world. Only a person who, in general, gives credit to the source of what he knows — omer davar b’shem omro — will also give credit to the Source when there is a time of redemption. This person will make it clear that Hashem is the One to thank for His boundless kindness. The positive outcome is the Truth and Will of Hashem. A person who does not claim personal fame and honor merits to be the means of bringing Hashem’s redemption to the world, as Rabbi Elazar teaches us. (Many commentaries address this connection in a variety of other ways, such as the Torah Temimah and the Eitz Yosef, and I wish I could mention all of their names!)

Although this teaching does not seem to appear in Shulchan Aruch or the Rambam’s Mishneh Torah, the importance of giving credit to the source of a Torah teaching is appreciated and applies in widespread practice. Although the verse does not seem to limit the virtue of citing the source of even matters and statements that are not Torah per se, the practice of giving credit seems to be limited to Torah matters. However it should be -evident that citing sources about “who said what” in mundane matters could potentially violate the laws of lashon hara and rechilut.

And even in matters of Torah, I have been personally instructed about how to proceed correctly and with care. For example, more than thirty years ago after asking Rav Chaim Pinchas Scheinberg zatzal a halachic sheilah pertaining to kiruv rechokim, I received a clear psak from him. Just to be sure, I asked if we (co-authors) could publish it in our sefer in his name, and he replied, “You heard it from me. I would certainly hope that you would!” I slightly lowered my head and blushed at the mild rebuke. However, regarding matters of hashkafa and philosophy, citing the source by name is not as straightforward. When I asked another Rav about a certain conceptual matter I heard him address in a certain setting, he suggested I write that he does not necessarily agree wholeheartedly with how I express his thoughts in my own manner. Rather, he suggested mentioning that what I write is based on his teachings (and include his name) or, alternatively, that what I write is my personal understanding of the Rav’s words. When I asked if perhaps I should not mention his name at all, he reminded me that one who cites the source brings geulah to the world, and that it is important to abide by this teaching to name the source in an appropriate manner.

  • Megillah 15a

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