03 Jul An Area Versus A Line
AN AREA VERSUS A LINE
The Talmud (Berachos 8a) refers to the body of the halacha as “the four amos of halacha”. We had a rebbe at Yeshiva who was fond of pointing out that it’s not “two amos” of halacha, but four. The Torah doesn’t dictate to us to follow a straight and narrow line,but rather to stay within a certain area of acceptable behavior.
In this week’s parsha Moshe Rabbeinu tells adas Korach that “in the morning” Hashem will demonstrate who the chosen individuals to serve as kohanim and leviim are(Bamidbar 16:5). Rashi, in his commentary on that passuk, quotes from the medrash that the phrase in the passuk has yet an added connotation: “boker – morning” indicates that just as Hashen has set borders between day and night, so too has He distinguished between kohanim, leviim, and yisraelim; and so too all of the Torah represents the boundaries distinguishing between the muttar and the assur. There is a broad two dimensional area of muttar, and not just a straight line. In the Torah way, we don’t have to be careful not to get “out of line”, rather we have to be careful not to cross over the border (gevulos).
In the famous passuk at the conclusion of the nevua of Hoshea the prophet states, “the paths (in the plural) of Hashem are straight”.
There are more than one lane in this wide highway. In the concluding lines of the classic work Mesilas Yesharim, Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto points out that even someone who was compelled to enter into a very lowly profession has the ability to become a chassid just like one who is only learning all the time. Hashem created a big wide world and He needs tzaddikim entering into all kinds of fields to accomplish a kiddush Hashem. The Talmud (Berachos 17a) records the statement that the Rabbis of Yavneh used to say: “I (the talmid chacham) am a creature of Hashem and the farmer is also a creature of Hashem; I do my work (of studying Torah) in the city, and he does his work on the farm. And no one should think that the talmid chacham will receive more reward, for the tradition has it, that whether one learns a lot or a little, if he plays his designated role in the world by accomplishing a kiddush Hashem in his field, all will receive proper reward.”
In Parshas Breishis the Torah mentions that Chanoch was an unusual tzaddik. There is a well known comment made by the Zohar that Chanoch was a shoemaker by profession, and his unusual tziddkus consisted of the fact that he did is work in an honest fashion.
The midrashim have the famous comment that “just as the facial features of people are so different from each other, so too the way they think is also very different”. This statement was made by the rabbis in praise of the Creator. When people mint coins in a mold, all the coins come out the same. But the Creator made people in a similar mold, but each one is also dissimilar from the other (Sanhedrin 38a)!
The Creator never wanted all of us to be gingerbread men – all exactly the same, because we conformed to the same cookie-mold.
To the best of my knowledge, the longest passage in the Midrash Rabba is the commentary on Parshas Nasso. All of the twelve nesiim (heads of tribes) brought exactly the same korbanos (during the first twelve days of Nissan) for the purpose of chanukas hamizbeach, but each one of them had totally different kavana (intention). Even where there is conformity, there is still much room for individuality. No two people think alike.
It is a serious mistake that many observant parents make, that they plan to raise all of their children to conform to the same single mold. Mishlei (22:6) tells us that we must educate each of our children according to his individual style. And each of them, in his own profession, has the ability to develop into a great tzaddik and even a chassid.
Rav Hershel Schachter
Rabbi Hershel Schachter, a noted Talmudic scholar, has had a distinguished career with YU RIETS for nearly 50 years. He joined the faculty in 1967, at the age of 26, the youngest Rosh Yeshiva at RIETS. Since 1971, Rabbi Schachter has been Rosh Kollel in RIETS’ Marcos and Adina Katz Kollel (Institute for Advanced Research in Rabbinics) and also holds the institution’s Nathan and Vivian Fink Distinguished Professorial Chair in Talmud. Rabbi Schachter also serves as the Posek for the OU’s Kashruth Division.
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