Shaarei Yosher, sec. 1: Mission – part 2

… so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others, to individuals and to the masses, now and in the future, in imitation of the Creator (as it were).

שיהיה אדיר חפצנו, להיטיב עם זולתנו, ליחיד ולרבים בהוה ובעתיד בדמות הבורא כביכול,

We saw that Rav Shimon defines the goal of life in terms of perfection of one’s image of G-d, and here we see what image Hashem gives to emulate — to be good to others.

I believe Rav Shimon mentioned “to individuals and to the masses” is because these are often very different temperaments. The person who quietly slips money to a neighbor who is out of work is a very different kind of giving than the activist who organized annual rallies to free Soviet Jewry. We need to look at the nature of giving on both levels: one-on-one and in terms of communal work.

Second, Rav Shimon Shkop speaks of “in the present and in the future”. It is possible that perhaps giving too much now will hamper our ability to give in the future. We need to balance our production with developing our capacity to produce. Rav Shimon will speak more about this later.

Last, this segment concludes by connected this idea back to yesterday’s point. To be a bestower of good to others is to be in G-d’s “Image”.

שוב מעשה בנכרי אחד שבא לפני שמאי אמר לו גיירני ע”מ שתלמדני כל התורה כולה כשאני עומד על רגל אחת דחפו באמת הבנין שבידו בא לפני הלל גייריה אמר לו דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד זו היא כל התורה כולה ואידך פירושה הוא זיל גמור:

There is another story [this is the third in a sequence] with one non-Jew who came before Shammai. He said to him [the non-Jew to Shammai], “Convert me on the condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I stand on one leg.” He [Shammai] pushed him [away] with the builder’s  amah-stick which was in his hand.

He [the non-Jew] went before Hillel, who converted him. He [Hillel] said to him, “That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend. This is the whole Torah in its entirety, the rest is its explanation. Go learn.”

– Shabbos 55a

Sidenote: The prospective convert’s expression “while I stand on one leg” is usually taken to mean a measure of time. That he wanted Shammai to explain the entire Torah fast enough that the questioner wouldn’t yet lose balance standing one one leg. However, “regel” can also be a pillar or foundation point. He could have been asking to be taught the whole Torah in a way that gave him a single core principle. Which Hillel did.

There are two basic directions in which explanations to this story take, both given by Rashi (ad loc):

דעלך סני לחברך לא תעביד: ריעך וריע אביך אל תעזוב (משלי כז) זה הקב”ה אל תעבור על דבריו שהרי עליך שנאוי שיעבור חבירך על דבריך

That which is hateful to you, do not do to your friend: “Do not abandon your Friend and your father’s Friend” (Proverbs 27) — this is the Holy One blessed be He. Do not violate His words, for it would be hateful to you if your friend would violate your words.

ל”א חבירך ממש כגון גזלה גנבה ניאוף ורוב המצות:

Another understanding: Your friend literally. Such as robbery, burglary and most of the mitzvos.

Rav Shimon would clearly take the second approach in this gemara. Everything revolves around the interpersonal. I recently encountered a similar idea about conversion. Here is how the gemara describes introducing the prospective convert to Jewish life:

אם אומר יודע אני ואיני כדאי מקבלין אותו מיד ומודיעין אותו מקצת מצות קלות ומקצת מצות חמורות ומודיעין אותו עון לקט שכחה ופאה ומעשר עני ומודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות אומרים לו הוי יודע שעד שלא באת למדה זו אכלת חלב אי אתה ענוש כרת חללת שבת אי אתה ענוש סקילה ועכשיו אכלת חלב ענוש כרת חללת שבת ענוש סקילה וכשם שמודיעין אותו ענשן של מצות כך מודיעין אותו מתן שכרן אומרים לו הוי יודע שהעולם הבא אינו עשוי אלא לצדיקים וישראל בזמן הזה אינם יכולים לקבל לא רוב טובה ולא רוב פורענות ואין מרבין עליו ואין מדקדקין עליו קיבל מלין אותו מיד…

[If the convert, after the sages attempt to dissuade him] says, “I know, and yet I am not worthy”, they accept him immediately,

  • and inform him of a small portion of the minor and major commandments;
  • and they inform him of the sin of [keeping] the leqet, shiqechah, pei’ah and ma’aser sheini [gifts every farmer must leave for the poor];
  • and they inform him of the punishment for mitzvos … [examples ellided];
  • And just as they inform him of the punishment for [violating] the mitzvos, so too they inform him of the reward of the commandments. They say to him: Know that that the World-to-Come is kept in store only for the righteous, and that Israel at this time is not able to bear too much goodness or too much punishment.

But they do not increase upon him, and are not exact with him.  If he accepts, these ideas circumcise him immediately…

– Yevamos 47a-b

Notice, the convert is taught a sense of the lifestyle of the Jew, the laws of sharing one’s crops, and the magnitude of what he is about to accept in terms of reward and punishment. The broad picture — “they do not increase upon him, and are not exact with him”. Out of place would be singling out the mitzvos of sharing one’s crop through leqet, shikhechah, pei’ah and ma’aser ani — if it were not for Hillel’s point. The convert is taught that all of Torah stands upon such sharing!

(ויקרא יט) ואהבת לרעך כמוך.  רבי עקיבה אומר זהו כלל גדול בתורה.  בן עזאי אומר (בראשית ה) זה ספר תולדות אדם זה כלל גדול מזה.

“And you shall love your friends as yourself [I am Hashem].” (Vayiqra 19). Rabbi Aqiva said, “This is a great principle in the Torah. Ben Azai said, “‘This is the book of the generations of Adam’ (Genesis 5) — this is a greater principle than that.”

-Yerushalmi Nedarim 9:4 (vilna 30b)

R’ Aqiva and Ben Azzai argue over which verse is the one foundation. Rabbi Aqiva suggests one that applies only to people who qualify as “friends” (perhaps Jews, perhaps only observant Jews, perhaps also non-Jews who observe the 7 laws of Noah). Ben Azzzai instead says the entire Torah is founded on a verse that emphasized the fraternal bonds of all humanity — we are all children of Adam and Eve.

This poses a fundamental question: How can the single basis of the entire Torah be described as being created “in His ‘Image’ and in the likeness of His ‘Structure’…, so that our greatest desire should be to do good to others… in imitation of the Creator (as it were)” (as Rav Shimon puts it)? Why then do we have all these halakhos about prayer and holidays, kashrus and Shabbos… in short, all of the mitzvos that mediate the relationship between man and G-d or that otherwise do not involve other people?

We will explore that question later. For now, we can note that Rav Shim’on’s approach is well sourced.

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  1. Neil Harris says:

    It’s interesting to me that there’s such an emphasis in Rav Shimon’s view on the “communal” aspect of mitzvos and doing good. Many seforim written in our generation about growth seem to be more interested in the individual .

    • micha says:

      The way I see it, and what I tried to say at the Mussar Kallah on Shabbos, I think R’ Shimon is within the individual growth model — while still emphasizing the communal. The point of life is to become the perfect person, and the definition of a perfect person is someone who is a giver.

  1. November 17, 2011 – כ׳ במרחשוון תשע״ב

    […] (Ch 1 “Mission”, sec 2 in this series) we saw this quote: (ויקרא יט) “ואהבת לרעך כמוך.”  […]

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