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By Rabbi Shaya Karlinsky | Series: | Level:

    Rebbe Shimon says: One who is walking on the road and is reviewing (his Torah study) and stops his review, and says “How beautiful is this tree; how beautiful is this furrow,” – scripture considers it as if he has become liable for (loss of) his life.

Placement of this Mishnah is related to the lessons we have learned about the connection that exists between G-d and man, and especially with the person who is involved in Torah study (Mishna 7). Walking alone and reviewing Torah, and stopping this activity to say “how beautiful is this furrow, how beautiful is this tree” is a disconnection from the Torah and therefore the person is disconnecting from the One Who is with him while he is reviewing [his Torah].

This can be compared to a person who is standing before a King and speaking to him, when another person passes by. If he stops speaking to the King to speak with the passerby, he has disconnected himself from the King and indicated that he doesn’t want to be with him, a definite affront to the King. Such behaviour would make the person liable for execution as a rebel. So a person who behaves this way with G-d has similarly displayed contempt towards Him (with the same expected consequences). (See an illustrative story at the end of Brachot 32b -33a).

Furthermore, a person reviewing Torah has elevated himself to a spiritual/intellectual (‘sechel”) level, and when he leaves that level, by ceasing his connection with Torah, he becomes susceptible to death. (We have elaborated on this concept in more than one place. All matter in the physical world is in a state of deterioration, which is the nature of matter. So, ultimately every object whose existence is purely physical ultimately must cease to exist [which is its “death”]. Spiritual reality is transcendent, and not subject to the limitations of physical matter, so it is insulated from “death.”)

A person involved in Torah study is insulated from this deterioration and oblivion. This is the lesson taught in many places with the statement “The Angel of Death couldn’t exert control over him because the study of Torah never left his lips.” This is illustrated in the story of King David (Shabbat 30b) and of Rabbah bar Nachmeini (Bava Metziah 86a) and in other places (Moeid Katan 28a). (The common denominator of these stories is the attempt of the Angel of Death to implement the decree for their death, and he was powerless to take them until he created a diversion that distracted them momentarily from their Torah study.)

The reason for this is because of the complete and stable existence of “sechel” (the spiritual/intellectual dimension) and a person attached to this level of reality is insulated from the deterioration and ultimate oblivion which is the nature of the material dimension. The person who leaves this “sechel” dimension loses this enduring aspect of his existence.

We are taught “scripture considers it as if [he has become liable for his life]” rather than “he is liable for his life” (meaning that he would actually be responsible for his own death) as was taught in Mishna 5 about one who stays awake at night, etc. Why? Furthermore, where do we find that scripture [even] considers him liable for his life?

In the next Mishna, we will be taught “One who forgets even one thing from his Torah learning is regarded by Scripture as one who is liable for (loss of) his life, as it is written “Only take care and guard your life with great care, lest you forget the things your eyes saw (at Sinai)…” (Devarim 4:9). The reason for this is certainly as we have explained. A person who separates from something is opposing that thing, for if he wasn’t opposing it, he wouldn’t have separated from it. A person doesn’t separate from things to which he is connected. In fact, one loves things to which he has an affinity. The Torah is spiritual/intellectual (“sichlith” – in contrast to a material reality), which has stable and complete existence, with no lack or deficiency attached to it. Therefore Torah is called “your life and long days” (Devarim 30:20). One who separates from the Torah stands in opposition to life, and such a person is certainly liable for his life. Therefore we are taught “Scripture considers him as one who is liable for (loss of) his life,” referring to the verse which speaks of someone who forgets something he has learned There, too, he is separating from the Torah, and it is in reference to this that the Torah warns “You must take heed, and guard your life…”

Similarly, the person walking on the road and reviewing his Torah, and says “how beautiful is this furrow, how beautiful is this tree,” is separating himself from the Torah. Even though he didn’t intend to separate from the Torah had he not happened upon these things, and it would have been reasonable to say that one is not considered to be separating oneself from the Torah unless he does it in a premeditated way (as will be implied in the next Mishna, where intent is required), this is also considered as separating oneself from the Torah.

(Why were two examples needed in the Mishna?) A tree, which stands in an orchard that is far from the road, is less likely to be encountered coincidentally, than a furrow, which found often as one is walking. The Mishna is teaching that not only making an observation about the tree which is far from the road, is considered as having separated from the Torah but even an observation about the furrow, encountered unintentionally while walking, is considered as separating from the Torah. In light of the following Mishna, where one who forgets some of his Torah is only liable if he proactively removes it from his heart, one would have surmised that an observation about the furrow which was the result of a truly coincidental encounter, would not be considered as separating oneself from the Torah. Our Mishna teaches that making such on observation is also considered having separated from the Torah [to which he was connected].

This explains why the Mishna included the element of “walking on the road,” even though there is no difference in the consequences of separating from the Torah between one walking on the road and one who is not. Even though the person encountered these items while walking on the road (implying that was not intentional) and it would have been reasonable to assume that this should not be considered as separating from the Torah, we are taught that such a situation is in fact also considered as separating.

Another reason the Mishna referred to one walking on the road is because this is considered a situation that entails some danger. “All roads have a presumption of danger” (Talmud Yerushalmi Berachoth 4:4; Koheleth Rabba 3:2; Rashi on Breishith 42:4). A person [in a standard environment] who temporarily separates himself from the Torah, then immediately returned to his connection with it, would not carry with it such grave consequences as becoming liable for his life, since he had reconnected to the Torah. But on the road, with a presumption of danger, an accident capable of occurring at any instant, even the momentary separation endangers him, and he is therefore considered liable for his life.

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