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Sunday, December 31, 2006

A Contemporary Commentary to Bava Metzia 84a, Part III

Continued from here.

Let us look at the next passage in this aggadata:

One day [Reish Lakish and R. Yochanan] had a dispute in the beit midrash [about a Mishnah in Keilim that says: A sword, a knife, a dagger, a spear, a handsaw, and a scythe, at what point can they become tamei [impure]? When their manufacturing process is completed, [and they are finished utensils]. And at what point are they considered finished utensils? R. Yochanan said: When they are hardened in the furnace. Reish Lakish said: When they have been made to shine by dipping them in water. [Referring to Reish Lakish’s past,] R. Yochanan said to Reish Lakish, “A robber knows his trade. [As a former bandit you are an expert on weapons’ production.]” [Deeply hurt,] Reish Lakish retorted, “What good have you done me? [When I was the head of a gang of bandits] they called me Master, and here they call me Master!” R. Yochanan shot back, “I did you a lot of good, for I brought you under the wings of the Shechinah!” R. Yochanan’s sister [Reish Lakish’s wife] came and cried to him, “[Please pray for my husband!] Do it for the sake of my children!” He replied, “Leave your orphans; I will sustain them!” (Jeremiah 49:11). “Don’t let me become a widow!” she cried. “Your widows can depend on me” (ibid.), R. Yochanan replied. Subsequently Reish Lakish died.
This is the climax of the entire passage. As we discussed regarding the previous passage, R. Yochanan taught Reish Lakish a completely new mode of leadership and influence. Their relationship grows and they become close and intimate study partners. Reish Lakish has now left his previous world where the only type of power known was the power of the sword. Torah, by its very nature, supplies the world with a different type of strength, a spiritual strength which, as we discussed before, is intimately related to the aesthetic side of life. However, Torah does not exist in a vacuum and its influence inevitably relates and overlaps with areas of life that we do not commonly associate with the realm of the aestetic. The Mishna in Keilim which was discussed in the academy is a case in point, the halachic parameters of weapons of war must be discussed and brought within the purview of the Torah. We can say that the ‘Kol Yaakov’ – the Torah – must make itself relevant to the ‘Kli Eisav’ – to the sword.

The Mishna poses us with a question of how to define the completed form of a weapon. Rav Yochanan suggests that the answer is when a weapon can be used for its intended purpose – when it is hardened in the furnace and thus can be used. Rav Yohanan sees weapons only in their functional role. They are something which, unfortunately, we must sometimes use, but which has nothing to contribute towards our spiritual understanding of the world. Weapons to Rav Yohanan lack any aesthetic qualities. Reish Lakish, on the other hand, suggests that the final stage of the weapon is not the point at which it becomes functional but rather when is when it is made to shine using water. To Reish Lakish, there is an aesthetic aspect even to something as coarse as a weapon. Reish Lakish can see the weapon from the point of view of the aesthetic.

Could the difference in outlook be a function of the respective backgrounds of these two giants of Torah? There is a famous saying in the Gemara (Berachot 34b) where chazal inform us that in the place where Baalei Teshuva stand, even the completely righteous can not stand. Many explanations have been given for this gemara. One such explanation is that baalei teshuva raise the negative experiences of their past towards the holy and thus can accomplish things spiritually which the completely righteous can not. Could it be that Reish Lakish’s past life allowed him to access a spiritual level inaccessible to Rav Yohanan? I would suggest so. It could be that his life as a bandit exposed him to elements of life which would have been completely inaccessable to someone like Rav Yohanan and thus he could see an aspect of the Kli Eisav which Rav Yohanan could not.

We have only now analyzed the first half of our passage. In the next installment, we will try to analyze Rav Yohanan’s reaction to Reish Lakish’s argument and the subsequent events.


Some people find this funny. I find it pretty scary:

Wednesday, December 27, 2006

Rav Kook on Mystical learning, secular education, and the Ramchal

Great insights into Maran HaRav's educational philosophy can be gleaned from the following letter he wrote in 1906 (Iggeret 43, Translation by Rav Bezalel Naor):

By the grace of God, the holy city of Jaffa, may it be built and established, 12 Kislev 5666.

Peace and blessing to the venerable great Rav, our teacher Yeshayahu Orenstein, may his light shine. Your precious letter reached me, and I had some doubt whether or not to reply, because I feared that you, heaven forbid, would suffer anguish from my letter, and why should I cause a venerable Torah scholar such as yourself, long life to you, any suffering? In any case, I decided to answer briefly, [and] perhaps the Lord, blessed be he, will grant that you heed my words, so that you may suffer less pain from the [issues dealt with in my] articles, and this will be my reward — saving a precious soul like yours from pain and worry.

You should know, your honor, that my main intention In my articles, and with anything I write, is simply to awaken the hearts of Torah scholars, old and young, to diligence in the careful study of the inner Torah [in all the following ways]: in mussar in all the ways we have received from our most holy teachers; in the [philosophical] investigation of all the holy books left to us as a legacy by our great Rabbis, masters of inquiry; in kabbala in accordance with all the ways which are an inheritance from our fathers, may their memory protect us: in the way of the Rishonim; of the Achronim; [The Rishonim and Achronim are the early and later generations of Torah scholars in medieval Europe. Rav Kook is referring specifically to the early mystics, such as Nachmanides and Roke’ach, and the later ones, the Ari and his disciples.] of Chassidism; and of the Gaon Rav Eliahu from Vilna and Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato, of blessed memory. And [also] to study all the commentaries on the holy Zohar, and Sifra Detzinuta, Sefer Habahir, and the Book of Creation, and all the midrashim of our sages, [with the purpose of gaining] both familiarity and expertise. This demands great diligence, just like the diligence needed for the study of the Talmud and legal rulings.

True, not everyone's nature is fit for this, so anyone who is unable, but who is of keen mind, is obligated to study at length the intricacies of the Talmud, the commentaries of Rashi and the Tosefot on it, and the legal rulings [of great rabbis]. One, however, who has talent for the in-depth study of wisdom and kabbala should shorten his lengthy periods [of legalistic study of the Talmud], even though the intricacies and innovation [of Talmudic and legal studies] require them. In any case, he must not neglect the study of the intricacies of the Torah, because God finds joy in it.
The major part of his study, however, should be to know his creator. This is written in the introduction to Etz Chaim, and see also Or Ne’erav. In these times, when because of our many transgressions, many young people are becoming more and more enticed by the smooth [cosmopolitan] speech of the nonbelievers in our nation, we must also show the world that Torah scholars occupied in the holiness of the true Torah not lack power of rhetoric and eloquence of language.

This was the intention of the pious Rav Moshe Chaim Luzzato of blessed memory, in his poetry and [drama]] and I, in humility, also want to grasp the hem of their cloaks and follow their example inasmuch as I am able. And because the full [comprehension] of the Holy Torah also requires the knowledge of the wisdom of the world in some matters, and in particular so as to be able to reply to a nonbeliever, an imperative in our day.

For this reason I mention the words of our Rabbis, the Gaon Of Vilna and the Maharal of Prague in his book Netivot Olam, [section] Netiv Hatorah, chapter 14.8 [It must, however, come only after] diligent study of the Torah and the purification of virtues and deeds, especially from anger, arrogance, and sadness, which are the major causes of evil, and the diligent, fixed, and daily study of the inner Torah, each person according to his capabilities.

From examination and experience [we know], after all these preliminaries, that one can not be harmed, heaven forbid, from the knowledge of [secular] wisdom, if taken in measure and with the [earnest goal] of honoring God; on the contrary, it will add to one's strength great happiness and broadness of mind in the service of the Lord, blessed be he.

And if, heaven forbid, there are people who misunderstand my words, and see in them meanings I did not intend, this is not [sufficient reason] to keep the benefit [of my words] from those worthy of it, as Maimonides, of blessed memory, wrote in his letters, that the ways of the Lord are trustworthy, etc.

Through diligent regular study in the pleasure of the inner Holy Torah, the soul which occupies itself with this without seeking any personal benefit will be lit in the light of happiness and most sublime love, spiritual pleasures like those of the world to come, and there will be no need to fear the evil lash, or only to a minimal extent, and with this one's soul will find strength and courage, and fear no adversity, not in this world and not in the next, for even if sit in darkness, the Lord is my light.

This is, approximately, the intention of the words of mine on which you commented. How good and pleasurable it is to judge one another favorably, and by this the heavens are praised and the honor of heaven magnified, as is the honor of the Holy Land and the Torah scholars in it.

As for myself, I take no great delight at being praised, nor offense at being insulted. Praise the Lord's blessed name, that diligent occupation with the study of mussar and the inner Holy Torah granted me this characteristic. For this reason, I see no need on my part to explain myself. I do so simply to calm your heart so that you will not suffer, because all my will and desire is to bring happiness to people and fulfill, as much as I can, "those who fear you will see me and rejoice.’’ For this reason I said that I hope that these words may pacify your heart. And may the Lord blessed be he, bless you and your family with long life, and may we be privileged to see the joy of Zion and the building of Jerusalem with the revelation of the majesty of his blessed kingdom, a name for us, praise in all the nations of the Land, and may the entire Land be filled with the knowledge of the Lord. As is becoming your pleasant soul, and the humble young soul on your doorstep, looking to light and salvation.

Avraham Yitzhak Hakohen Kook

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Rav Kook on Nationalism and Olam Haba

In a letter to Samuel Aleksandrov of Bobroisk, dated 29th of Shevat 5668 (1908), Rav Kook writes (Igrot HaRaaya I, pg. 134, translation by Rav Bezalel Naor):

Regarding his honor's comment concerning the difference between the collective and the individual. Certainly, our nationalists are wont to theorize that through the weakening of the national spirit in the later periods there arose the study of individuality. There is some truth in this, but not as they formulate it. They are of the opinion that personal immortality is a new doctrine engendered by attenuated nationalism. The truth is that in most ancient times, when the national spirit flourished, it was already said, 'The soul of my master will be bound in the bond of life.' (I Samuel 25:29) The woman of Teko'a's words were, 'God does not lift away the soul but devises thoughts so that the banished one may not remain banished from Him.' (II Samuel 14:14) Finally, a recurrent phrase was 'being gathered to the fathers.' (Genesis 15:15, Judges 2:10, II Kings 22:20, II Chronicles 34:28) The medieval authorities who dealt with these matters already commented on these expressions. (Maimonides, MT, Hil. Teshuvah 8:3; Crescas, 'Or Adonai 3:2:2. Menasseh ben Israel, Nishmat Hayyim I, 7) These are eternal truths. The principle of individuality can never be totally elided from the mighty collective spirit. Rather [an accurate description is] when collectivism is strong, the individual principle is not discernible or pronounced, because it serves as a centerpoint to the great circle. When [on the other hand] collectivism is weakened, the centerpoint becomes discernible. [This point of individuality] fills with many maxims and sermons, and assumes a prominent place in the lives of individuals oblivious to the life of the collective. So when the sun of the national spirit set, there were established studies concerning the individual unit, the individual personality. These studies were expanded and publicized; this in turn forced the disclosure of several inner mysteries from the spiritual past concerning absolute existence [i.e. the afterlife]. Out of the darkness of this decline issued a great light: the worldwide dissemination of spiritual information, which greatly refined personal character.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Translation/Explication please

כשהנשמה מאירה גם שמים עוטי ערפל מפיקים אור נעים (הראי"ה קוק זצ"ל)
I would like to hear the readers' take on this famous saying of Rav Kook. (and yes, this is a shameless and lazy attempt to generate comments)

Thursday, December 14, 2006

The dilemma of the anti-Zionist

The recent visit of the Neturei Karta to Iran and the swaths of condemnations by Hareidi publications of this act illustrate to me the impossible situation the mainstream Hareidim have arrived at.

If they root for the Arabs, Jews die.
If they root for the Jews, they are basically rooting for the success of the state which they despise so much since the state is doing most of the fighting.

So what do they do? I would assume that most are davening for some sort of open miracle that would somehow quietly and peacefully dissolve the state. However, any ideology that relies on Nisim Geluim leKatchila is an impoverished one which has no real plan for the future and nothing more to offer than depressing passivity.

Oh well, what am I complaining about? Every community has their problems - its just that this ones looks like a really big one to me.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006


Translated by R. Bezalel Naor:

Not with depression, not with fearfulness, not with sentimental weakness must we turn to the divine light, but with a clear knowledge that what flows from the depths of our heart to approach G-d is a natural, complete and healthy faculty. It is more than just a natural faculty — it is the basic, natural faculty of our soul. It emerges in us from the soul of the Life of all worlds, from the soul of all existence, of all being.

The more we increase knowledge, increasing spiritual illumination and a healthy physicality, so will this wondrous light shine in us, a lamp on the path of our life.
Orot Ha’emunah, p. 80
We must pity those who are so plagued by self-doubt that they know not what they live for. The irony of life is that those skeptics who most fervently yell against religious fundamentalism and the danger it poses to the world in the form of Islamic fascism are also the ones who are in the final analysis too weak and unsure to do anything about it. The only thing which can supply the strength to fight evil done in the name of faith is an opposing faith of greater confidence.

Europe, which has abandoned faith in favor of rational secularism, is being crushed under the weight of Islam. America is conflicted and has still not decided what her true nature is. For us Jews who believe in the mission with which we were entrusted by G-d, the path is clear. We must respond to evil by increasing good. We must respond to darkness by increasing light. We must show the world a new way - a way which is founded in a faith which informs every aspect of existence and makes it purposeful. A way which grabs all that we know and establishes it on the foundations of Holiness.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

A Contemporary Commentary to Bava Metzia 84a, Part II

Continued from here.

To continue our discussion of this aggadata, lets analyze the gemara one section at a time:

One day R. Yochanan was bathing in the Jordan. Reish Lakish saw him and gracefully jumped into the Jordan after him. Said R. Yochanan to him, “Your strength should be used for Torah.” Retorted Reish Lakish, “Your beauty should be for women.” R. Yochanan said to him, “If you will abandon your ways, I will give you my sister [in marriage] who is even more beautiful than I am.” Reish Lakish agreed; he then wanted to turn around to collect his weapons but suddenly he could not jump as far as he did before [for as soon as he committed himself to live by the spiritual values of the Torah his physical strength waned (Rashi)]. R. Yochanan taught him Chumash and Mishnah, and Reish Lakish became a Torah scholar [and the study partner of R. Yochanan].
I would like to suggest that this is a direct continuation of the behavior R. Yochanan exhibits in the previous section of aggadata. Just like R. Yochanan uses his incredible beauty to help increase kavod shamaim in the previous section, he does the same here, utilizing his physical beauty (and the physical beauty of his sister) in order to build another sage in Yisrael. We know from the previous section that R. Yochanan did not fear the potential negative effects of Ayin Hara that others may fear as a result of similar behavior. R. Yochanan, a descendant of Yoseph, is impervious to the ill will of others. R. Yochanan, a leader himself, recognizes a quality of leadership in Reish Lakish and tries to make an appeal to the value system of power which Reish Lakish appreciates: ‘Your strength should be used for Torah’

Reish Lakish is affected by the words of R. Yohanan. He recognizes a great power which is inaccessible to him. However, this new power is of a different nature than the type of power that he is familiar with. The power of R. Yohanan is in the realm of the aesthetic, something which Reish Lakish has up till now associated with femininity and weakness in life (“Your beauty should be for women.”) However, Reish Lakish sees something deeper in the external beauty of R. Yochanan – something reflective of great inner strength that can only be accessed through the aesthetic. When we talk of the power of the aesthetic, we are referring to the ability of humanity to appreciate the beauty of abstract ideas. This ability to appreciate the aesthetic in life can move societies and shift centers of power. The pen is mightier than the sword but in order to wield its power, it must take an aesthetic form that will be appreciated by others. This is key, the power of the aesthetic must exercise itself through the medium of man’s social life. Thus it becomes a double edged sword – in proper hands, it can move society towards greatness. In the wrong hands, the power of the Ayin Hara as explained in the previous installment can reach disastrous proportions.

The fact that Reish Lakish perceives the potential of such a mode of leadership is of great note. Reish Lakish, as we know him at this point in the story, is a leader of a gang of robbers. He knows only the power of the sword and thus immediately appreciates the physical strength of R. Yochanan. R. Yochanan shows him a different kind of strength. The strength of the aesthetic in life. That which up until now he associated with weakness and femininity is now expressive of great strength of a mysterious kind. This is a key lesson that this portion of the aggadata is coming to teach. The power of the aesthetic is identified with the power of Torah. (everyone can think to a particular moment in the development of their learning where a concept became clear to them in all its beauty. The pleasure derived from such moments can best be described as aesthetic pleasure. It is not the utility or power of the teaching which transforms us but rather our appreciation of its internal and uniquely beautiful structure).

Reish Lakish thus perceived the power in beauty. He sees in R. Yochanan that brute force is not the only type of influence that exists in the world. There is a loftier and more human dimension which can be a source of tremendous strength – but not of the physical kind. Expecting to acquire another source of power and strength, Reish Lakish takes upon himself the pursuit of the wisdom of Torah. However, when Reish Lakish focuses his attention on the spiritual dimension through involvement in Torah, his physical strength wanes without him even noticing. What he probably hoped – an additional source of power to add to his list of abilities – ends up coming at the expense of his previous achievements. The power of the word, however, has already ensnared Reish Lakish. There is no going back. Through involvement in Torah NOT for the sake of heaven, he arrives at true love of Torah and the spiritual dimension of life.

Thus, we see that that R. Yohanan has success using his beauty for the purpose of the spiritual good. Behaviors which would cause others to fail were used by him with great success. He was able to navigate the power of the aesthetic without disrupting the social balance. However, there is a potential flaw hidden in this segment of our story. The good that was brought through the behavior of R. Yochanan was contingent upon Reish Lakish having an appreciation for that which R. Yochanan has to offer to the world, even if that appreciation is of the most physical type. What if Reish Lakish lacked such sensitivities? In the next segment of the aggadata, we see for the first time a crisis caused by R. Yohanan’s behavior. In the next installment, we will try to learn the rest of the aggadata in light of the ideas we have so far constructed.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

Important letter by Rav Kook

Rael has posted an important letter by Rav Kook:

By the grace of God, the holy city of Jaffa, may it be rebuilt and established 8 Adar 5670 [1910]

Peace and blessing my friend, the renowned rabbi, who is wise and learned, a treasure of Torah and fear of God, our master Rabbi Barukh Meirs, may he live to a long and good life, the head of hte rabbinic tribunal of the holy city of Haifa, may it be rebuilt and established.

Your precious letter reached me. Rabbi Joshua Burak has undoubtedly informed you of our conversation concerning the general condition, and that I wrote him an encouraging letter. May it be God's will to prosper his efforts to strengthen the knowledge of God and his laws among the people of Israel in the Holy land.

My dear friend, you called my attention to the station of religion at the present time. What can I say to you, my friend? My heart suffers grievously because of the general situation. There is no one left who represents with dignity the cause of God's name and his Torah in the Holy Land. The more I brood on this though, the more troubled I feel in my heart and I cannot see an effective way to begin some corrective action. For it is very difficult for me to come to a meeting of minds with most of the leading religious figures of our time, may God watch over them they desire follow the old path solely, to keep themselves at a distance from every creative talent and from all current trends in life. In my opinion, this is the altogether against the way of God. By their attitude they strengthen the hands of the rebels and support the wrongdoers. Alas for the sins of these people, though they are well-intentioned.

I have no alternative but to support the educational efforts which leave room for the knowledge of the world and of life, and that trains the children to find joy in life, to be strong and brave, to cultivate hygiene and personal dignity. When this training will be combined with training in the Torah and the true fear of God, it will become their adornment and enhance their vitality. In the end even the nonreligious forces will have acknowledge the validity of our position.

But what can I do when this approach, which I have no doubt we must follow, has embroiled me in the entanglements of a war from the right and the left? However, I place my hope in God, may his name be praised, that he will strengthen me to hold on high the banner of truth, that the holy cause be vindicated. And you know, my friend, that these important issues are all interrelated. Most of the scholars of our generation, even the greatest among them, pay no attention cultivating the principles of the fear of God, in a spirit of broadmindedness, as would befit the leaders of the generation. They cannot pursue new paths appropriate for the needs of the time, to direct them toward holiness. In their opinion, they must not veer from the old pattern, refusing to draw on any good element in the new ways, thereby to mend the condition of the generation.

They will not acknowledge, under any circumstances, that they have neglected a basic principle which embraces the whole Torah and all religion.

It is for this reason and that we stumble in the daytime as the blind man stumbles in the dark, and the multitude are led astray, they are increasingly alienated from their faith. But they are in sense at fault. Since there is no one to show them the right course, to join the holiness of the Torah and religious faith with life, they are losing their faith. But there are many good elements in them and much sensitivity of spirit, and many among them desire with a full heart the salvation of the people of Israel and of this, their basic goal is rooted in holiness, for the salvation of Israel truly embraces all aspects of holiness. It is for us to judge charitably even the most offending among them, if only he is not willing to defect from our people and join our adversaries.

The more we add positive elements to our education program and teach our children the subjects which help a person earn a livelihood and gain self-respect, together with the study of the Torah, the foundation of the Torah will be strengthened and gain in vitality.

But with whom shall I speak, who will agree with me, who is prepared to jeopardize his own honor for the Honor of God, praised be He, and of His Torah, and for the holiness of His beloved land?

Let us hope that God will act for his own sake, and inspire the hearts of all the Torah scholars to comprehend the pure way of God and that Israel and Judah will soon find deliverance. And this will be my reward.

My greetings to you as so befits your precious self, and with much love, and in anticipation of God's help.

Sunday, December 03, 2006

A Contemporary Commentary to Bava Metzia 84a, Part I

The post that Bari posted on the aggadata regarding Rav Yohanan and Reish Lakish generated some very heavy and heated discussion. I would like to attempt to offer a very different approach to this aggadata that I have been working on which I hope will give a possible understanding of the aggadata that will neither cast Rav Yohanan as a villain c”v, nor will it justify the problematic behavior described in the aggadata as I believe Bari’s post did.

My basic theory is that the Aggadata of Rav Yohanan and Reish Lakish is not an autonomous unit but rather the extension of the aggadata that precedes it. Here is the beginning of the discussion of Rav Yohanan on Bava Metzia 84a:

R. Yochanan said: ‘I am the only one left of the beautiful people of Jerusalem [people whose faces radiated with a special glow (Rashi)]. [Comments the gemara:] If a person wants to see this radiance of R. Yochanan, he should take a silver cup straight out of the silversmith’s furnace [while it is still glowing], fill it with the pits of a red pomegranate, surround the top with a crown of red roses, and place it between the sun and the shade; and this radiance is only a semblance of R. Yochanan’s beauty.

[The Gemara asks:] Is that so? For did not a Master say: The beauty of R. Kahane is only a small portion of R. Abbahu’s; the beauty of R. Abbahu is only a small portion of Yaakov Avinu’s; Yaakov Avinu’s beauty was only a small portion of Adam’s; and R. Yochanan is not mentioned at all in this cateogory! [The Gemara answers:] R. Yochanan was different, [he did have this luminous glow,] but he did not have a beard.

R. Yochanan used to go and sit at the gate of the mikveh. He would say, “When the daughters of Israel will come up from performing the mitzvah of immersing in a mikveh, let them see my face, that they should have sons that are as beautiful and as learned as I am.” Said the Rabbis to him, “Aren’t you afraid of an evil eye?” He replied, “I am an offspring of Yoseph against whom an evil eye is powerless.” For it says, “A charming son is Yoseph, a charming son by the well” (Genesis 49:22), on which R. Abbahu commented: Don’t read alei ayin, “by the well”, but rather, olei ayin, “above the [influence of the evil] eye.” R. Yose b. R. Chanina derived it from [Jacob’s blessing to Yoseph’s sons], “And may they proliferate abundantly like fish within the land” (Genesis 48:16): just as fish in the seas are covered by water, and the evil eye has no power over them, so, too, the children of Yoseph – the [evil] eye has no power over them.

There are several reasons to suggest that this aggadata was meant to be read together with the piece that follows it. First, this is a repetition of aggadatas that have already appeared in the Gemara (Berachot 20a and 55b). I think that it is fair to suggest that they were repeated here in order to give context to the story that follows. Further, using one particular understanding of Ayin Hara which I would like to put forth here, I believe that the two stories make up one conceptual unit.

What is Ayin Hara? There are many answers to this question. I would like to put forth a particular formulation of it which was advanced by Rav Kook in Ein Aya. In two remarkable pieces (Vol I, p. 102 and Vol II, pg. 275-6), Rav Kook develops the idea that the evil eye is a disturbance of those unseen social and spiritual connections that tie people to each other. None of us lives as an island, we are all affected by and affect a wider social reality that transcends our selves. Ideally, our relationship with others should be one of balance and propriety where each person takes into account his place in the greater fabric of life. Sometimes, however, a person may act in such a way that causes others to perceive him in a negative fashion. Behaviors that flaunt one’s advantages over others are the most likely to disturb the social balance. Such behaviors engender jealousy and hostility towards that person and then, on either a conscious or subconscious level, the person may respond with negative attitudes of their own until a cycle of hostility ensues which upsets man’s social and spiritual life on all levels. Thus, Ayin Hara is a natural process in which a lack of sensitivity to that which ties humanity together starts a chain reaction which disturbs those very ties and eventually hurts he who initiated such behavior.

How then, is Ayin Hara associated with Yoseph (or with fish, for that matter)? Yoseph is the prototype of someone so true to his self that he becomes impervious to the influences of the environment. Yoseph lived in a foreign culture with tremendous personal challenges and all the while, he stayed true to his inner purpose. Yoseph’s internal spiritual compass was so developed and autonomous to the point that the attitudes of others had no influence on the way in which he defined himself or his purpose. Such a person can allow himself more freedom in his behavior, not having to fear being affected by the ill-will of others. Such a person becomes so secure in his own sense of self that the negative attitudes of others are simply not factors in his day to day life.

Fish have a similar property. Fish live totally unaware of that which occurs over the surface of the water. They continue their life regardless of the actions of those above ground. This is the nature of Yoseph, he set up a mental barrier between himself and the rest of the world which simply did not allow him to be affected by the attitudes of others.

In talking of Yoseph’s immunity from Ayin Hara, we are then discussing protection from Ayin Hara in one direction only. That is, the protection of a person from attitudes others have toward them. It does not, however, guarantee, that Yoseph’s actions will not influence the attitudes of others towards themselves. Yoseph may not be subject to the ill effects of ayin hara; however, this does not mean that he can not disturb the inner lives of others.

In light of the preceding ideas, Rav Yohanan, a tremendously beautiful person, was not concerned with the indirect effect his social behavior might have had on his own spiritual growth. He was not concerned with publicly displaying his tremendous beauty and the potential jealousy that this may engender in others. Internally, he knew that his actions were for the sake of heaven and that he did not, therefore, have to fear the negative attitudes of others. He did not fear the small-minded jealously or the petty ill-will that others may or may not have toward him. This, I believe is central to our understanding of the next part of the story, that of Rav Yohanan and Reish Lakish.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Rare Video of the Chazon Ish!