Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Cheshvan 5761 - November 8, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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Shema Yisrael Torah Network

Opinion & Comment
In Proximity to Avrohom Ovinu

by L. Jungerman

"For she [Hagar] said: Have I also here looked after him that sees me?" Rashi notes that this is in the interrogative, as if to say: `And did I think that even here, in the deserts, I would also see the messenger of Hashem after having seen him in the home of Avrohom? For there, I was accustomed to seeing angels.' And know that she was in the habit of seeing them, for when Monoach (father of Shimshon) saw an angel merely once, he declared: `We shall surely die.' Yet she saw angels, one after another, and was not frightened."

Hagar was accustomed to seeing angels and is not taken aback this time. But we must ask if the awe and fear which envelops a person in the presence of angels is an experience one can get used to?

Truly, angels are not frightening in the threatening sense. What imposes fear and awe upon a person is the very encounter of a mortal with spirituality which is beyond his power of containing. As Rashi comments upon the verse in Yeshaya 6:5, "`For I was unworthy of gazing upon the Divine Presence.' We find an example of this by Monoach who said: `We shall surely die for we have seen a divine angel.' " Monoach's fear was that he was unworthy of this revelation. Similarly, Yaakov Ovinu memorialized Peniel with its name " . . . because I saw an angel face to face and lived." The Ibn Ezra explains Monoach's statement as previously, and as we saw with Yaakov.

But can one develop immunity and nonchalance, so to speak, against this form of dread? What, then, is the significance of the fact that Hagar had become `used' to seeing angels?

It is interesting that there was another maidservant who reached spiritual heights in spite of her station. She attained such levels that even the saintly tanoim considered themselves below her. This was Rebbe's servant.

The gemora in maseches Moed Koton 17 tells, "Rebbe's maid once saw a man hitting his grownup son and she imposed a ban upon him based on what Chazal established that one who strikes an adult son transgresses the prohibition of putting a stumbling block before the blind, since he is placing his son in a very difficult situation. The son, in his anger, is liable to strike back. It is further written that the sages of her time did not lift the ban for three subsequent years!"

The Rosh presents the following question: "The Raavad is puzzled why that person remained ostracized by the Sages for three years. Why did they not annul her ban? And if we presume that she died during that period, couldn't Rebbe have annulled the ban? But we know that Rebbe died before her. Still, the question remains: couldn't Rabbon Gamliel, his son, have annulled the ban? For the rule is that if someone was put into cheirem, but the identity of the ban imposer was not known, then one went to the nosi, in any case, who had the authority to have it lifted. So we see that the authority of the nosi is supreme; it is the last resort in any case.

"The Raavad answers that in the case where the imposer's identity is unknown, then surely one had to go to the nosi. For in the event of any sofeik one follows the majority and even the majority of Yisroel does not outweigh the nosi. But if the identity of the imposer of the ban is known and is important in his [or her] own right, no one will weigh himself against that person. For, even if he is his equal in wisdom, he may not be his equal in fear of sin, or greatness (gedulah) or age? All these factors are significant in the case of permitting something that another has forbidden."

The Raavad's conclusion is most surprising: "Here, the maid in Rebbe's household was very wise and G-d-fearing as well, and the sages were reluctant to weight themselves against her. In the end, the gedolei hador combined forces to release the cheirem."

R' Yosef Leib Bloch Hy'd, author of Shiurei Daas, is perplexed: how curious it is that the servant in Rebbe's household, who was not altogether Jewish, only partially so, and the sages could not permit that which she had forbidden! Even Rabbon Gamliel, the nosi, who had learned the entire Torah, did not dare to stand against her and weigh his level against hers in order to permit what she had forbidden because of the combination of her excessive wisdom and piety that was so evident. But we cannot help wondering where she acquired such sublime levels. Had she truly studied Torah or delved into wisdom? Without Torah, how can one attain such degrees of wisdom?

An incisive question, but the conclusion which the Gaon of Telz arrives at is even more incisive and penetrating. We can infer from this episode the tremendous gain from shimush talmidei chachomim. Nothing supersedes it. When one lives in the home of a Torah sage, fully observes his conduct and ways and absorbs all of the lessons provided on a daily basis in all the details of his conduct, he cannot help but grow spiritually to the highest level possible, to be above and beyond anyone else. Indeed, to such a level that even Rabbon Gamliel, his very son, who studied under his illustrious father and practiced all of his teachings, could not permit that which she had forbidden. She was in greater proximity to [Rebbe]; she attended to his needs at all times and had the opportunity to observe and emulate his holy ways, to study his conduct and to intuit the very inner workings of his mind and soul.

R' Yosef Leib takes this even further and says that "the ultimate of wisdom is repentance and good deeds." And the prime means of attaining this goal is by observing the ways of a Torah sage and seeing the reflection of his very heart and soul through his conduct, in every nuance, every aspect of his life. This can be achieved only through serving the talmid chochom in an exalted and exacting way, and it is even possible without learning Torah itself.

We cannot help but add a necessary corollary: it is obvious that a Jew cannot be truly wise and pious if he is not simultaneously learned in Torah, if he does not know and pursue its wisdom and holiness, as one who is commanded to do so, and strives indefatigably in this direction. And if he does not study Torah, then he has no learning and no shimush. Rebbe's maid was not obligated and not able to study Torah. Nevertheless, she had an exalted soul which enabled her to attain such levels which surpassed those of the leaders of the generation so that they could not undo her nidui. Her level was so great and the impact of what she said was very exalted and it could only be removed by someone who reached this same level so that his soul was even greater. And none who saw themselves as such could be found for the span of three years! Not even Rebbe's own son, Rabbon Gamliel, could compare with her exalted spiritual level and fulfillment.

Now, we no longer need ask how Hagar, Avrohom's maid, could become so exalted as to be familiar with angels and not tremble in awe before them.

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