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Sunday, June 19, 2016

Week 29 (Book 4): Forgiving of (Personal) Insults

STORY OF CHANNAH: 1. And Hannah prayed and said: "My heart has rejoiced through the Lord; My horn has been raised by the Lord. My mouth is opened wide against my enemies, For I have rejoiced in Your salvation.


PROVERBS: Chapter 29

TZADIKKIM: Rav Aharon HaGadol of Karlin (19th Nissan) and Rebbe Yitzchak Vorki (22nd of Nissan)    

Week 29 is the week Passover. The verse from the story of Channah for this week marks the beginning of her song. She exalts the Hashem and speaks of His salvation, and how she now rejoices over her enemies. Passover is also a time of great rejoicing, thanking Him for His salvation in the face of our enemies.

The Pirkei Avot adjective of this week is that Torah makes him “forgiving of insults.” This seems like a particularly difficult adjective to compare with the words of Channah above. Channah makes a point of mentioning how she was victorious over her enemies and, as if to add insult to injury, Rashi specifically comments that Channah meant none other than her husband’s other wife, Peninah, who had insulted her constantly for not having children. We also learn that Peninah also paid a heavy price for her insults, eventually losing all her children (may no one ever know of such sorrow). How then can one reconcile these two apparently contradicting trends?

One answer is simply to say that the fact that Channah does not mention Peninah by name shows that she was not bitter, and she had in fact forgiven the insults of her competitor. This seems like a difficult answer because, after all, Channah still calls Peninah her enemy, even after Shmuel is born.

Perhaps a deeper answer lies within Pirkei Avot itself. The Hebrew word for “insult” used is Elbonoh. The word is used again in the next section of Pirkei Avot, and appears to be the only similarity linking the two sections (other than the general importance of Torah study, which is a theme of the entire chapter). The latter statement reads as follows: “Said Rabbi Joshua the son of Levi: Every day, an echo resounds from Mount Horeb (Sinai) proclaiming and saying: "Woe is to the creatures for their insult (Elbonah) to the Torah."
It is the obligation of a sage to protect the honor of the Torah and of those who study it, and while he may forgive the insults to him or herself, he or she cannot forgive the insults to the Torah and to Hashem. 

Rabbi Levi states in Bava Bathra 16a that Peninah’s intentions were pure, and that she simply wished to make Channah pray more fiercely. Nonetheless, to constantly insult such a righteous woman as Channah, wife of one of the leaders of the generation, went beyond personal animosity. It was an affront to the Torah itself.

We see a similar concept in our redemption from Egypt. The punishments the Egyptians received were not simply a quid pro quo for their actions against the Jews. Pharaoh’s lack of knowledge (and acknowledgement) of Hashem was an affront to the Torah (even though the Torah had not yet been given). Similarly, the Jews are told to avenge Midian, not out of a sense of vengefulness, but because the actions of the Midianites (using their own daughters to entice the Jews) was an affront to Torah itself.[1]

Chapter 28 of the Book of Proverbs contains many of the above themes. Many of its verses speak of forgiving insult and calming tension:

8. Scornful men inflame a city, but the wise turn away wrath.                    
9. When a wise man contends with a foolish man, whether he is angry or he laughs, he will have no contentment.                        
10. Murderous men hate the innocent, but the upright seek his soul.           
11. A fool lets out all his wind, but afterwards a wise man will quiet it.                 

Nevertheless, the verses of this chapter also speak of the great punishments that befall those that insult the Torah:

15. A rod and reproof give wisdom, but a child left free brings shame to his mother.         
16. When the wicked attain greatness, transgression increases, and the righteous will see their downfall.  
17. Chastise your son and he will give you rest, and he will grant pleasures to your soul.              
18. Without vision the people become unrestrained, but he who keeps the Torah is fortunate.

This week includes the yahrzeits of two well known early founders of the Chassidic movement: Rabbi Aharon the Great of Karlin (19th of Nissan) and Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish of Vorka (22nd of Nissan). Both were known for their profound love for their fellow Jews.

Rabbi Aharon of Karlin was a close disciple of the Maggid of Mezritch. Karlin was such a large and prominent Chassidic group in Lithuania that at one point Chassidim in general were referred to as “Karliners.” “He is remembered for the ecstatic and unrestrained fervor of his prayer, for his solicitude for the needy, and for the moral teachings embodied in his Azharos (‘Warnings’).” (Ascent)

“Rabbi Yitzchak Kalish [1779 died 22 Nissan 1848] was the founder of the Vorki dynasty in Poland. Previously, through travel with his teacher, R. David of Lelov, he became a disciple of R. Yaakov Yitzchak (the "Seer") of Lublin and of R. Simchah Bunem of Pshischah. Some of his teachings and stories involving him appear in Ohel Yitzchak and Hutzak Chein. His son R. Yaakov David founded the Amshinov dynasty, while his son R. Menachem Mendel continued the Vorki dynasty.” (Ascent)

Other yahrzeits this week include Rabbi Yitzchak Twerski (First Rebbe of Skver, 17th of Nissan), Rabbi Meir Abuchatzeira (the “Baba Meir,” son of the Baba Sali, 17th of Nissan), and Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik (the “Rav,” 18th of Nissan).


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