Monday, July 30, 2012

Like Tops

A dear friend of mine has been attending my daf shiur since Brachos.  His background in Gemara was relatively perfunctory, but a friend of his convinced him to attend the last siyum, and the speeches, particularly those of Rabbis Zev Cohen and Yisachar Frand inspired him to join the shiur, and he's come every day or listened to a recording.  He has an excellent head and an excellent memory, and he has taken to the Gemara wonderfully.  For some reason, around a year and a half ago, he asked me to explain to him the sugya of מפגלין בחצי מתיר, the subject of a machlokes Reb Meir and the Chachamim in, among other places, Zevachim 41b.  I was bowled over by the question.  The whole concept of Pigul is something that until a few years ago, unless he learned in Brisk, the average person would have no clue even what Pigul was.  Then to wonder what the pshat is in מפגלין בחצי מתיר, which presupposes a broad exposure to the sugyos of pigul, you would really have to be a seriously advanced student. And here you have this guy, whose heart and mind and spirit tantalized him with dreams of immersion in Gemara, but who previously had known little, who is bothered that he doesn't clearly understand what the machlokes on מפגלין בחצי מתיר is about.  (To clarify- he wasn't asking about the simple meaning, he wanted to understand the issue that underlies the machlokes.)

I told him that in the future, whenever he meets someone who seems to know how to learn, he should ask him the same question.  So, over the last year and a half, whenever he met someone that looks like he might be a talmid chacham, or who claims to be a talmid chacham, he asked "I'm having trouble understanding a certain sugya.  Could you please explain to me אין מפגלין בחצי מתיר?"

The answers he's received have varied from totally incompetent to reasonably informed.  Most often, he gets five seconds of stunned silence, followed by hilarious laughter at the incongruity of encountering a question from deepest, darkest kodshim in the work world.

This is particularly interesting in light of his background.  

His mother was one of the founders of Yeshiva of Flatbush, but prior to that, she was basically your regular cadre type of communist, and even till the end, she was far more interested in higher classical education than Gemara.

His father in law was one of the illuyim of Kamenitz, an absolute baki in Shas and Rishonim, as I can personally attest, whose experience during and after the war left him with a broken spirit, and who became a shochet and spent most of his days far from his family and his community.  He was proud of his son in law, who is a precious soul and yarei shamayim, but I'm pretty sure he never discussed one word of Gemara with him.

Now, here's the rest of the story.  A few days ago, he got a call from an attorney from Israel who is in Chicago for a few months to get an MA in Taxation from Northwestern.  She wanted to know if she could hitch a ride downtown with him, since he goes to his office every day.  He agreed, and the next morning he picked her up and they had a nice conversation on the way to work.  He asked her how she spends her time away from work, and she told him that she gives a Daf Yomi shiur, and has given it for seven years.  Coincidentally, before she began saying the shiur, she was given a bechina to determine her ability to say a shiur, and, obviously, she passed.  The bochen turned out to have been a classmate of my friend's from Yeshiva of Flatbush.

Hmmmm.  She says she has given a daf yomi for the entire cycle.  So what does my friend ask her?  He asks her, "I would really appreciate it if you could explain a Gemara I've been having trouble understanding.  Could you explain to me the sugya of אין מפגלין בחצי מתיר?"

So she answered, "Ah, אין מפגלין בחצי מתיר.  Yes, it is a sugya in Menachot, on daf Yud Zayin Amud Aleph, and it refers to someone who was bringing a Korban Mincha, and he had Kavanat Pigul when he brought the Kometz but not when he brought the Levona.  Since both are matirim, each avoda is a חצי מתיר."

No hesitation, no ambiguity, like an arrow straight to the mark.  Now, knowing pashut pshat in the Gemara, even in all of Shas, means you're a yad'an, and it has no shaichus to being a talmid chacham, just as saying Tehillim- even if you know what the words mean- does not make you a Bible Scholar.  But still.......

On the same topic, Mazal Tov to my cousin Avigayil.  She, too, has been giving a Daf Yomi shiur for a couple of years at Yeshiva/Midrasha, the women's branch of the Yeshiva in Gush Eztion, run by Rav Aharon Lichtenstein"s daughter, and is going for a degree in Talmud at Bar Ilan.

So after this whole story, here's the point I want to make.  Chazal (Yevamos 97a, שפתותיו דובבות בקבר,) tell us that when you say over someone's Torah, his lips move in the grave.  In this particular case, I think it's more than that.  This time, I think there are three people who are actually spinning in their graves:
My friend's communist mother; 
His Kamenitzer illuyisheh boki b'shas shver who never had a hava amina to talk to him in learning; 
and especially Reb Meir Shapiro.

הנחש הקדמוני 


  1. And what's Rebbitzin Shapiro doing at this moment in her grave???

    There is a lovely elderly gentleman in Queens, Mr Goldstein, who was for many years the president of Rabbi Chaim Boruch Faskowitz zt"l's shul in Hillcrest and at a very advanced age still attends many shiurim. I have yet to meet a greater מוקיר רבנן

    He has two daughters in Eretz Yisroel who give daf yomi shiurim. And when one of his grandsons was ten years old, he organized and started saying his own daf yomi shiur.

    [Incidentally, one daughter named her four sons - apparently she was prescient and knew she would have four - Gavriel, Michoel, Rephael, and Uriel, which of course are roshei taivos Gemarah].

    I don't know what Reb Meir Shapiro is doing, but I suspect that the RBSh"O, kevayachol, is deriving much pleasure. Is this a geder of נצחוני בנותי?

  2. I don't look forward to the feminization of the Mesora. At the least, it will generate another rift in Klal Yisrael, creating what most Orthodox Jews will characterize as the modern equivalent of the Reform movement. In any event, it will change the character of Torah. Torah is more of a battle than a dialectic, and there is a fine balance between din and rachamim. To involve women would just ruin everything. It's a total lunacy that would leave Yiddishkeit unrecognizable. I am thoroughly opposed to involving women in limud hatorah b'iyun.

  3. A lot of things change the "character of torah" (If there is such an objective concept, which I'm pretty sure there isn't) . Including the Rationalists of the Rishonei Sepharad, the mysticism of the Kabbalists, the warmth of the Chassidim, the humanism of Rav Hirsch, and the existentialism of Rav Soloveitchik. All of these, in some ways or another, left "Yiddishkeit unrecognizable" (if there is such an objective concept, and again, I'm pretty sure there isn't). Would involving women in Torah thoroughly change what we think of as Orthodox society today? Yes. Is Orthodox society today worth changing? Also Yes.

  4. >>>And what's Rebbitzin Shapiro doing at this moment in her grave???

    A story that might answer your question:
    On 9 Av R' Pesach Krohn was one of the speakers at Y' Darchei Torah in Far Rockaway and he mentioned this ma'aseh told by R' Hirschprung (who was a talmid of R' Meir Simcha). When R' MS was a little boy they had to move to a different town. They arranged for the a melamed to come that evening to meet RMS and give the first lesson, but the message somehow got lost in the shuffle and the melamed never showed up. Later that night, RMS saw his mother crying. She told him that she was crying because every day of limud is precious and cannot be replaced. This was the root (so surmised R' PK, I think) of the daf yomi idea, to have a kviyus every day.
    The proof: years later when the daf was started, the Gerrer Rebbe on R"H told his chassidim that he is stopping tisch early so he can learn the daf. That was the tidal wave that got things off the ground. Without knowing what had happened in Ger, RMS's sister sent him a message that she had an unusual dream on leil R"H. Even though she normally does not dream of her parents, that leil R"H, the night daf yomi kicked off, she saw her mother in Gan Eden wearing a special crown.
    Put 2 and 2 together. (R' Pesach Krohn told it better than my comment here.)

  5. What a great story! Have you told it over to either of the RKs or any of the Klei Kodesh at the CCK? If so... what was their response?

  6. The machlokes of chatzi matir appears in a Mishnah on Menachos 16a, not 17a (although it is mentioned on 17a). I wonder why the fellow could not have looked in an Artscroll Gemara for an explanation. It's explained quite clearly there.

  7. Harry- no, I didn't say it over to the klei kodesh at the CCK. Since I learned Ribis and Tevilas Keilim with Reb Dovid twenty five years ago, when I first moved back to Chicago, I haven't visited much. But it most probably wouldn't appeal much to them, right?

    To the anonymous that said that the sugya is in the Mishna in the previous daf- thank you. I just grabbed a Gemara and found that part from memory.

    As for your point that Artscroll explains it adequately - apparently some people think I'm a better ba'al hasbara than Artscroll. That might explain why they come to my shiur and don't just read the book.