Parashas Yisro 5772- Success in Torah Depends on…Compromise

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Success in Torah Depends on Compromise

Taste of Parasha

How did the Jewish nation prepare to receive the Torah?  What are the building blocks for success in Torah?  The verses leading up to the giving of the Torah convey three lessons in response to these questions. Rav Chaim Shmuelevits Zt”l elaborates on each. The first is to uproot the attribute of laziness and to put forth our best effort with enthusiasm and devotion.  The second is to have a healthy dose of humility, which is the corner-stone of all positive attributes.  The third prerequisite for Torah is to have unity, as the verse says: The Jewish Nation camped by the mountain as one.  The Medrash says that when G-d saw the level of unity which they had attained, He said, “Now they are worthy to receive my Torah.”  The Seforno writes that when the Jewish Nation camped at Har Sinai each Jew was looking to make his neighbor more comfortable.  How does one achieve such a level of unity? The Talmud teaches that in the generation of Rabbi Yehudah Bar Ilayi the students were so poor that six students shared one blanket.  How were they able to share one blanket?  If each one was looking out for his own skin it would never work. The reason it worked was because each one pushed the blanket more towards his friend. The only way to have unity and gain from each other’s resources is by looking out for other people by pushing our resources to help those around us.  By caring enough about a fellow Jew that we would prefer that he receive the bigger portion, the bigger honor or the greater recognition. Only when we can think beyond ourselves, are we ready to incorporate a framework of Torah that is greater than ourselves.

Taste of Talmud and Halacha

The Talmud (Bava Basra 106b) presents a case were three brothers inherited a farm from their father. These brothers decided to subdivide their father’s farm into three equal sections and to then take possession of the predefined sections by means of a lottery.   The Talmud asks:  Where do you find that a lottery can be used as a valid act of acquisition? The Talmud’s initial answer is that we derive this from the way the Jews divided the land of Israel.  They used lots.  So too division of land may be effected through lots.  This answer is challenged. How can you compare a simple land division between brothers to a division that was delineated by Moshe and Aharon using the Urim Vetumim and prophecy?  The Talmud answers: The pleasure that each one receives from the fact that the others agreed to civilly resolve their dispute by means of a lottery, is the medium that makes the division binding.  The good feelings that are created from a compromise are of such significant value as to be able to accomplish the division between the brothers.  The Rambam quotes this halacha verbatim from the Talmud and says:  Brothers that divided between themselves (an inheritance) and made a lot; as soon as one of them drew his lot the transaction is complete. The pleasure which was created from the agreement to listen to each other makes each one resolve in his heart to transfer ownership to his friend.  The Raavad disagrees and writes succinctly: These words are not right. The commentaries to the Rambam grapple to find the source for their difference of opinion.

Using his unique style, Rav Chaim Brisker explains that this difference of opinion stems from the two different approaches they had in explaining this section of the Talmud.  By way of introduction he says that the lottery used to divide the land of Israel did not transfer ownership but merely allocated to each tribe what was already theirs.  Now, the question boils down to this: When the Talmud clarified that a lottery is a form of transaction by means of the pleasure that is received, was it an explanation of why a lottery worked to dived the land of Israel, or does this statement stand independently of the initial explanation.  The Rosh in his commentary to the Talmud understands that the subsequent explanation is independent of the division of the land of Israel.  According to this reading of the Talmud, we can derive from this case the principle that the pleasure of an amicable agreement is a valid means of acquisition not just a way to allocate land as the lottery was used in dividing the land of Israel.  The Rambam is following this opinion.  This allows the Rambam to conclude that even in other cases, the pleasure of an amicable agreement is of such great value as to be deemed a means of property transfer.  The Raavad, however, follows the opinion of the Rashbam that the aspect of pleasure was only added to explain how the division of the land of Israel could be used as a template for other allocations of land not requiring an act of acquisition.  Therefore, according to the way the Raavad understands the Talmud, we are not able to derive a new means of acquisition from this section of the Talmud.

About tasteofyeshiva

RABBI YAIR FRIEDMAN teaches at The Torah School of Greater Washington, and Yeshiva L' Baalei Batim. He is the owner and director of Camp Gevaldig LLC.
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