Thursday, May 05, 2005

Berachos 63-64. The End of the Tractate

In these last pages, the responsibilities of the scholar and his students are the central issues. It emerges from the discussion of nullification (63a), wherein Bar Kappara is quoted as teaching, "In a place where there is no man fit to issue Torah rulings, be yourself such a man, and issue the rulings for that place."

The friction between teachers and students is directly acknowledged in a teaching by the academy of R'Yannai that "any student who remains silent when the teacher becomes angry at him a first time will merit to learn to distinguish between blood that is tamei and blood that is tahor . . . [and] any student who remains silent when the teacher becomes angry at him a first and even a second time will merit to learn to distinguish between monetary laws . . . and capital laws . . ." Rewards are promised for providing sustenance for scholars. (One host is rewarded by having his wife, his mother-in-law, and her eight daughters all giving birth to sextuplets! 63b.)

But the story that holds the most interest for me is the one that illustrates R'Avin the Levi's teaching that "Whoever forces the moment, the moment forces him. But whoever yields before the moment, the moment yields before him." (64a). This story concerns the choice of a new head of the Academy in Babylonia. The leading candidates are Rav Yosef, who was reknown for his knowledge, and Rabbah, who had a reputation for being analytical and sharp. The members of the Academy preferred Rav Yosef, but he refused the position because "astrologers" had told him that he would only rule for two years and then would die. He ultimately accepted the position 22 years later upon Rabbah's death "and ruled for two-and-a-half years; he thus lost nothing by waiting!"

I could not help but be reminded of a similar story in Yoma 85b that unfolds quite differently. In that story, Rab is teaching Torah to rabbis in Israel when Bar Kappara enters (he who taught "be yourself such a man") and Rab began his lesson again. When R. Simeon then entered, he again began his lesson. But when R. Hanina b. Hama entered he scowled and did not repeat his beginning, offending R. Hanina. For the next 13 years, Rab went to R. Hanina on Erev Yom Kippur to beg for his forgiveness. The Gemara asks, "how could R. Hanina act so unforgivingly?" And the answer to that question is what ties these two stories together: R. Hanina had seen in a dream that Rab became head of the Academy (and since R. Hanina was head of the Academy, this dream essentially foretold his own demise!). Eventually, Rab departed for Babylonia where he became head of the Academy in Sura. In this version, refusing to "yield before the moment" produces a happier outcome than yielding.

The only lesson to learn from these contradictory teachings is that no teaching stands independent of its context. When a story undermines the lesson it ostensibly teaches, all one can do is study harder!


Blogger BZ said...

Hadran alach Masechet Berachot! Yasher koach!

12:56 AM  

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