Talmud Tips

For the week ending 2 December 2017 / 14 Kislev 5778

Maccot 16 - 24

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Standing Up for Torah

Rava said, “How foolish are ‘those other people’ who stand up for a Torah scroll but do not stand up for a Torah scholar.”

Rava explains that his statement is based on the fact that although 40 is the number of lashes written in the Torah as punishment for transgressing many commandments (Dev. 25:3), the Torah Sages taught that the actual number should be one less — 39. This is taught in the mishna as the majority opinion, and the reason is explained in the mishna and in the gemara.

Who are “those other people” that Rava refers to as being foolish for failing to stand in honor of a Torah scholar? The Maharsha explains that they are people who are ignorant regarding the exceptional nature of Torah study, and therefore do not appreciate the greatness of Torah scholars — and may even ridicule them. “Those other people” look at Rabbis as mere functionaries who lead prayer services or speak nicely for a special event. Regarding the study of Torah, however, they see Rabbis as no more qualified than anyone else. They say, “How do the Rabbis help us? “Did they permit eating a raven?” The Maharsha explains this to mean that they feel that the Rabbis never taught any new idea that is not stated in the Torah. However, an example of how wrong they were is taught in our mishna: Without the Torah Sages a transgressor might receive 40 lashes and die, but since the Sages taught to give one lash less they could be saving his life! “Those other people” do not understand the necessity to delve into the study of the Mishna, Gemara, and the entire Oral Law. They don’t understand that this realm of Torah study is essential for a truthful understanding of any aspect of the Torah — including correctly understanding the Written Law, and knowing how to properly fulfill each mitzvah.

The Maharsha adds that with this understanding of Rava’s statement here we can reconcile what appears to be an apparent contradiction between our sugya and a teaching in Masechet Kiddushin (33b). A question is posed there as to whether there is an obligation to stand for a Torah scroll. Rabbi Chilkiya, Rabbi Simon and Rabbi Elazar rhetorically state, “In the presence of those who study the Torah one stands — in the presence of it (the Torah) isn’t it ‘all the more’ logical that one should stand up in honor?” This statement implies that the Torah is “greater” than those who study it, whereas our gemara seems to teach the reverse. The Maharsha provides resolution by stating that certainly the Torah is “greater” than the scholars, and that our gemara — which seems to say the opposite — is addressing the erroneous thinking of “those other people” who ridicule the role of Torah scholars.

  • Maccot 22b

The Reward of a Mitzvah

Rabbi Chanania ben Akashia said, “The Holy One, blessed is He, wanted to reward (“lezokot” in Hebrew) the Jewish People — therefore He give them much Torah and many mitzvot.”

This statement is taught at the conclusion of the final mishna of our current masechta, Tractate Maccot, and is based on a verse in the Prophet Yeshayahu (42:21).

Numerous commentaries ask what the benefit of having many mitzvot is, since this also poses a potential risk of many transgressions and failure to fulfill one’s obligations, leading to punishment.

The Maharsha states that the emphasis here is on the great number of “negative commandments” — 365 — as opposed to the fewer “positive commandments” — 248. Since G-d desires to reward the Jewish People, He gave them a larger number of negative commandments, which can be simply fulfilled by refraining from wrongdoing — such as not eating “creepy-crawlers” — and do not even require any action, unlike fulfillment of the “positive commandments” which requires doing an action.

The Rambam in his “Commentary to the Mishnayot” teaches a fundamental connection between mitzvah observance and the ultimate reward of meriting a place in the World-to-Come. He writes that a person who fulfills even just one commandment during his lifetime merits a place in the World-to-Come. This is true as long as the person fulfills the mitzvah in accordance with Jewish Law, and without any personal ulterior motive. Since there are “so many” mitzvot given to us by G-d, it is a virtual certainty that each and every Jew will fulfill at least one mitzvah properly, and will thereby merit a place in the World-to-Come. This fundamental belief is the basis for the mishna in Masechet Sanhedrin (90a) that teaches, “All of the Jewish People have a portion in the World-to-Come.”

  • Maccot 23b

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