Tuesday, November 14, 2006

A Contemporary Commentary to Bava Metzia 84a

"One day (Rabbi Yochanan and Reish Lakish) were debating in the Beis Medrash. 'The sword and the knife and the dagger and the lance... from when are they susceptible to Tum'ah? From the time that their processing is complete'. And when is their processing complete? Rabbi Yochanan said from when they are purified in the cauldron. Reish Lakish said from when they are polished in water.

He (Rabbi Yochanan) said: 'A robber is knowledgable in his robbery'.

[Oy! How insensitive! What Ona'as Devarim! Even if he just means that he defers to his knowledge in the area, what kind of Gadol speaks this way! My Rebbe is much more sensitive than this. Okay, Rabbi Yochanan is still knowledgeable, from the true greats, but still! The Gedolim from previous generations would never do such a callous thing! It's terrible what we've come to today. And then people wonder why the Talmidim of Rabbi Yochanan throw rocks at people who they disagree with! It's because their Rebbe has a shmek of bad Middos, and it filters down...]

He (Reish Lakish) responded: 'And of what benefit have you been to me? There they call me a chieftain, and here they call me a chief (Rabbi)?"

[Very good. Reish Lakish did not get personal, in a personal kind of way. He was respectfully pointing out that he was no small fry, and that he should not be condescended to in that sort of way, and that he expects more sensitive treatment from his Rebbe. B'Makom Chillul HaShem Ain Cholkin Kavod LaRav - and here his Rebbe had just violated Ona'as Devarim to his face! A very noble response from Reish Lakish]

He (Rabbi Yochanan) responded: 'I benefitted you that I brought you under the wings of the Shechina!'

[Again this condescending attitude. Why won't Rabbi Yochanan just get off his high horse and apologize and agree that he was wrong! Instead he just reminds Reish Lakish again that he is just a BT who doesn't really deserve the time of day. This is against a Pefeirush Mishnah!]

Rabbi Yochanan was upset over this. Reish Lakish became very ill. His (Rabbi Yochanan's sister, Reish Lakish's wife) came to her brother and cried (that he should daven for her husband). She said to him: 'Do it for my son!' He quoted her:(Hashem says) 'Leave thy fatherless children, I will rear them,'

[Oh my G-d! Will you stop this!!! What a scoundrel of a Gadol! A woman comes crying to you that her kid should not be left an orphan, that you should daven for his father, when really you should be asking Mechilla on your hands and knees from the father, and you're quoting from some Pessukim in Tanach! Go back to your cave and learn some more! What an unbelievable Chillul Hashem!]

She said: 'Do it for my widowhood!'. He quoted: '...and let thy widows trust in Me'

[He did it again! HE DID IT AGAIN!!! This woman, HIS SISTER, is begging that he should daven for her husband, his brother-in-law, and what? He quotes a Passuk in Jeremiah. He has no heart! Worse than a Ben Noach!!]

Reish Lakish died. Rabbi Yochanan was very upset over his passing.

[Oh! Now you wake up! Now you're crying! When your sister came to you, crying her heart out, you couldn't find it in yourself to daven for her and her orphaned son. Now you cry. Too late. You'll be taking this to your grave, Rabbi. If I can even call you that. Some Rabbi.]

Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz - Sichos Mussar - from the ArtScroll translation:

"The punishment meted out by R' Yochanan is astounding in its ferocity. Even if Resh Lakish was wrong in the disrespect he showed R' Yochanan, what had his wife and children done to deserve such pain and suffering? Even more inexplicable is the fact that R' Yochanan himself suffered so much anguish from Resh Lakish's death...

Furthermore, Chazal tell us quite clearly what the lot is of he who causes another to be punished on his account. 'He who causes his fellow to be punished is not permitted to enter into the precincts of the Holy One'. Why then did [R' Yochanan] allow [his disciple] to be punished by insisting, as it were, on respect?

The answer is that it was not at all for the sake of [his] personal honor. Disrespect for the teachers of Israel weakens their leadership and influence in Israel. Lack of respect for the elders of Israel means in effect the elimination of leadership of Israel by their sages. The avoidance of such a calamity overrode any other consideration."

... The Jewish people are different from other nations in that they cannot survive without the institution of elders... A bird without wings has even less capabilities than that of an animal who never possessed wings in the first place. Rather, he is a helpless and pitiful creature. Israel without elders is similar to that bird, helpless.

The understanding of the absolute necessity of the honor and respect which must be the due of our Sages, so as to ensure the existence and survival of Israel, puts[the story] in its proper perspective... It was the very institution of 'elders' whose leadership was being compromised... This put Israel's survival in jeopardy and the measures called for were severe. Since [this was] in defense of this important institution, then perhaps it was not considered as if [Resh Lakish] was punished on [his] account.

It is our shame and disgrace that today's generation no longer listens to its elders, Mesillas Yesharim describes this state of affairs most concisely: This is all the result of the haughtiness which sets wisdom backwards and dulls people's minds. It removes the wise leaders , and disciples who have not been sufficiently apprenticed, whose eyes have barely opened, and already consider themselves to be the wisest of the wise.

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