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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

Rebbe Yossi’s lessons are built on a similar structure (to perfect man’s “guf,” to perfect his “nefesh,” and to perfect his humanity, which combines the two).

If “the MONEY of your friend should be as beloved to you as your own” money, due to its significance, how much more important must be the person himself. This is a lesson directed towards the totality of the individual, expressing the importance of his humanity and the respect due him because of it.

Then there is a lesson which is necessary due to the physical side of man, his “guf”: Prepare yourself to study Torah, for it does not come to you as an inheritance. Because of his physical dimension, man is not a natural receptacle to assimilate and contain Torah, since Torah is a spiritual/intellectual reality. Therefore, man needs significant preparation to enable him to study and absorb Torah, overcoming his physical nature which prevents the spiritual Torah from being properly assimilated. Torah isn’t something that can come to him as an “inheritance.”

(The implication of an inheritance is that you get it without the need to expend any effort yourself. You receive it by right, due to your having been born into the family that you were. While the Torah is identified as “morasha,” a legacy, this refers to the Torah as a NATIONAL legacy of the Jewish people. On an individual level, Torah knowledge must be earned, and can never be passed on through an estate, as financial assets can be. It is one of the reasons, say the Rabbis, that great Torah scholars rarely have children who are of equal stature to them. Having parents who are Torah scholars doesn’t diminish in any way the work needed to acquire one’s own Torah scholarship.)

The final lesson “all your actions should be for sake of Heaven” is directed towards man’s “nefesh,” which drives his emotional and motivational forces. Rebbe Yossi is teaching man that his nefesh is supposed to motivate him for the proper reasons and towards achieving the proper goals.

Rebbe Yossi has taught lessons of discipline that are directed to each of man’s components, but he went further than the previous Tanaim, with lessons that are on a more elevated and refined level.

While Rebbe Eliezer taught that the honor of your friend should be as beloved to you as yours, Rebbe Yossi taught that the MONEY of your friend should be as beloved to as your own. (It requires greater sensitivity to care about your friend suffering a monetary loss than it does to care about your friend suffering a loss of his honor and self-esteem.)

While Rebbe Yehoshua taught discipline that is necessitated due to man’s physical nature, instructing him to distance himself from the control of the “yetzer harah,” Rebbe Yossi added a higher level of expectation. Man must perfect himself for the study and assimilation of Torah, which requires that he not allow his physical needs and drives to cause him any distraction from the study of Torah.. Since man is a physical being, Torah, which is a spiritual and intellectual reality, doesn’t come naturally, as it would if man had been a purely spiritual being.

(This is the underlying argument that took place between Moshe Rabbeinu and the Angels, as told to us in the Talmud, Shabbat 88b-89a. The Angels were astounded and protested when G-d was about to transmit the holy and spiritual Torah to man, who was a mortal and material being. Moshe’s response was that it is exactly this kind of being that REQUIRES the Torah to attain perfection. Angels, who have no material drives and needs, don’t need the Torah to attain their perfection. Man, who has an ego and a “yetzer harah” requires the Torah to elevate him. But it requires work and is a struggle on man’s part, since the Torah isn’t aligned with his natural and innate tendencies. I know there is a perception that following the Torah is really the most natural way for man to live. This may be a valuable psychological tool to help man overcome the difficulties in adhering to Halacha at all times, but it is not an accurate representation of what our Rabbi’s teach us. “Lo dibra Torah ela k’neged yetzer harah.” The Torah always speaks to counteract man’s natural inclinations. It is not natural for man — as a physical being — to follow the Torah. When the Rabbis teach us that had we not been given the Torah we would have learned certain positive character traits from various animals, this validates the thesis. We see that our natural inclination is NOT to have each of these positive character traits. Otherwise, we wouldn’t need to look to the various animals to learn them — we could have looked to ourselves! It is clear that without any outside direction, man’s natural physical inclinations are contrary to the Torah. It requires effort and work on our part to overcome our natural drives, perfecting and purifying ourselves through Torah. If we do feel that the Torah system is the best and most natural way for man to live, this is due to the development and refinement of our spiritual side.)

Finally, Rebbe Yossi taught that all man’s activities should be motivated for the sake of heaven, with nothing done for other motives. This is a perfection and refinement of man’s “nefesh,” his emotional and intellectual dimension, which is the root of motivation.

Rebbe Shimon then came to instruct on an even higher level of perfection, beginning with the lesson of “Be careful about properly fulfilling the commandments of “Kriyath Shma” and “Tefilah.” Man, as a human being, was created to serve G- d and accept upon himself the yoke of Heaven. There is no other purpose in his creation, as it is written (Koheleth 12:13) “Fear G-d and observe His commandments, for this is the entirety of man.” On this verse, the Rabbis commented (Berachoth 6b) that all of mankind (and the world) was created for this purpose. Since man, as a physical being, is naturally distanced from G-d, when he approaches G-d through prayer, he must minimize the barriers which distance him from G-d by shedding his material dependencies, as if he was a purely spiritual being. This is what is meant by the lesson “Don’t make your prayer a fixed activity” as if it was a burden on you, which is the result of being rooted in the physical. It is for this reason (as brought in the Tur, Orach Chaim 98) that pious people and those of superior deeds would isolate themselves during prayer, until they were able to transcend their sense of their physical presence in this world, allowing their intellectual and spiritual dimension to dominate them, bringing them to a level that approached prophecy. This can be the result of man making his prayer an appeal for mercy and beseeching to G-d, which minimizes his own material dimension, the barrier that divides man from the Almighty. It is the fact that man is a physical being that requires him to avoid making his prayers into a fixed and burdensome activity.

Then Rebbe Shimon taught “Don’t be a ‘rasha’ (an evildoer) before yourself” which addresses the deficiency of man’s “nefesh.” For the doing of evil emanates from man’s “nefesh,” the source of his emotions and intellect, as we showed earlier from the verse (Mishlei 21:10) “An evil personality longs for evil.” It is man’s personality that motivates him to do evil, rather than it being motivated by any physical needs or drives. (See the Maharal’s introduction to Derech Chaim; as well as the commentary on Mishna 13 in this chapter, where this idea is discussed in the context of “ayin rah.”)

We have already written one explanation of this lesson, that man should not do evil, even if his actions don’t affect people other than himself. An additional understanding of this lesson would include that one shouldn’t do things which are bad for his well-being, such as inflicting punishment on his body, which is detrimental — “rah” — to himself. (The Maharal is referring to the practice of depriving one’s body of its basic needs in order to “purify” it.) Just as a person who treats his body with care is considered as one who bestows kindness, as it is written (Mishlei 11:17) “One who bestows upon himself is a man of kindness,” so, too, one who treats himself poorly is considered an evildoer. Even one who fasts when it is not necessary is criticized by the Rabbis, as we are taught (Ta’anith 11a and b) that one who fasts (of his own accord) when it causes him suffering is called a sinner.

(There is an important and classic discussion in that section of the Talmud which presents a critical perspective of a person who unnecessarily deprives himself of physical comfort and enjoyment. It certainly contradicts any idea that Judaism encourages asceticism. But in the context of what we have been discussing, it shows how Judaism demands a finely tuned balance. A Jew can’t be dependent on and entrenched in the material world. Yet he needs to know how to derive benefit and enjoyment from it to enhance his service of G-d.)

(Another powerful example of this is the Midrash in Vayikra Rabbah 34:3, which tells the story of Hillel, who parted from his students each day by telling them that he had to perform a Mitzvah. Which Mitzvah, they asked. To go to the bath house, he said. What kind of a Mitzvah is that, they asked. It is the Mitzvah of taking proper care of myself and providing comfort to a guest. On the one hand, I am only this world temporarily, making me a guest. On the other hand, I have been created as a reflection of the Divine, which makes me deserving of great care and pampering. This attitude requires a very clear perception of how great and elevated the human being is, coupled with a complete divesting of one’s ego and lusts. But the principle is there — care for the body and its physical enjoyment can be a Mitzvah, if done for the right reasons and in the proper way.)

The class is taught by Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky, Dean of Darche Noam Institutions, Yeshivat Darche Noam/Shapell’s and Midreshet Rachel for Women.