Kollel Iyun Hadaf

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Rosh Kollel: Rabbi Mordecai Kornfeld


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QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that the salamander is a product of fire and that its oil protects a person's flesh from being burned by fire. RASHI here (DH Salamandra) and in Sanhedrin (63b, DH Salamandra) explains that the salamander is created when a fire burns continuously in one place for seven years.

However, Rashi in Chulin (127a, DH v'Salamandra) writes that this creature is created through the use of sorcery, from a fire made with myrtle branches.

How are the two different explanations of Rashi for the source of the formation of the salamander to be reconciled? Why does Rashi in Chulin explain that the salamander is created through sorcery, while here he explains that its creation involves no sorcery? (GILYON HA'SHAS)


(a) The CHASAM SOFER answers that sorcerers cannot create a new creature. Moreover, the Gemara in Chulin interprets a verse in the Torah (Vayikra 11:29) as referring to the salamander. The verse certainly would not refer to a creature which is created only by sorcerers.

Rather, it appears that the salamander is a creature which loves the heat and finds comfort in the fiery depths of the earth. Sorcerers are able to bring this creature out from its hidden location with the use of sorcery. In order to bring out the salamander, however, the sorcerers must create an appropriate habitat for it. This is accomplished by burning a fire in the same place for a lengthy span of time, as Rashi mentions here in Chagigah and in Sanhedrin.

(b) The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON (Teshuvos Tzafnas Pane'ach #234) suggests that anything brought into being in an extraordinary, unexpected manner is referred to as "sorcery" (Keshafim). Although the salamander is a natural creature (as the Chasam Sofer proved), since it comes about in such an unusual manner it can be said that it is created through the use of "sorcery."


QUESTION: The Gemara states that "the transgressors of Yisrael (Posh'ei Yisrael) are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate." Generally, "transgressions" (Pesha'im) are considered to be the most offensive kind of sin. Why, then, are "transgressors" deemed so worthy by the Gemara?

ANSWER: REBBI SHIMON MARYLES zt'l, the Yoruslaver Rebbe (b. 1761), in TORAS SHIMON (translated to English by his descendant, Rabbi Ari Maryles of Chicago) answered this question as follows. The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 84:19) says that after Reuven repented for his sin, Hash-m promised him, "No one has ever sinned before me and repented [like you did]. My son, in reward for introducing Teshuvah to the world, I promise that your descendant will introduce Teshuvah as well." The Midrash identifies that descendant as the prophet Hoshea, who issued a prophecy which begins with the words, "Return o' Israel to Hash-m your G-d!" (Hoshea 14:2).

The Midrash's assertion that Reuven was the first person to do Teshuvah is difficult to understand. The very first man, Adam ha'Rishon, as well as his son, Kayin, engaged in Teshuvah long before Reuven! Apparently, the intention of the Midrash is as follows.

Reuven was the first to introduce Teshuvah as a necessary prelude to the performance of a Mitzvah (in his case, returning to rescue Yosef from the pit). The importance of doing Teshuvah prior to performing a Mitzvah is derived from the Tikunei Zohar (Tikun 6), which states that any Mitzvah performed without an adequate blend of "fear and love" of Hash-m does not succeed in rising heavenward, for these two qualities serve as the "wings" of the Mitzvah. This is hinted to in the verse, "They shall raise you up in their palms, lest you knock your foot against a stone" (Tehilim 91:12) -- the "palms" allude to the qualities of fear and love of Hash-m aroused through Teshuvah which protect one's performance of a Mitzvah from the dangers of the Yetzer ha'Ra, often symbolized by a stone.

Thus, when a person performs a Mitzvah it is necessary that other elements be present -- besides the actual execution of the Mitzvah -- in order for the Mitzvah to be credited to that person in Shamayim. Those elements include fear of Hash-m, love of Hash-m, and doing complete Teshuvah before performing the Mitzvah, so that the Mitzvah is performed with the utmost sincerity. When a Mitzvah is performed in that manner, it acquires wings, so to speak, to fly up to Shamayim.

A perpetual transgressor (or "Posh'ei Yisrael") invests none of these elements into the few Mitzvos which he manages to carry out in this world. As a result, his Mitzvos have no means with which to fly heavenward, and instead they settle and accumulate around him, convincing him that he is "full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate." In contrast, the Tzadik -- whose Mitzvos, borne by the thrust of his fear of Hash-m, love of Hash-m, and his Teshuvah, soar immediately heavenward -- always appears to himself as bereft of Mitzvos because all of his Mitzvos go straight to Shamayim.

This is also the meaning of the verse (Devarim 30:2), "And you shall return to Hash-m your G-d" -- that is, when you first do Teshuvah, you may "[then] heed His voice" -- proceed with the performance of His Mitzvos, "according to all which I command you this day" -- so that the Mitzvos can rise heavenward.

This is also the intention of the prayer we recite each morning, "May He place in our hearts love of Him and fear of Him, and [may those two qualities give us the ability] to do His will and serve Him with a perfect heart." It is the love and fear of Hash-m, aroused through Teshuvah, which elevates one's actions.

This idea explains the Mishnah in Avos (4:21-22): "Rebbi Yakov says: This world is like an anteroom before the World to Come; prepare yourself in the anteroom, so that you might enter the banquet hall." The Mishnah continues, "He would also say: Better one hour of Teshuvah and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come, and better one hour of contentment in the World to Come than all the life of this world." The connection between these two statements of Rebbi Yakov may be explained as follows: How should one prepare himself in the anteroom of this world for the reward of the World to Come? One should prepare himself in this world by doing Teshuvah before every Mitzvah that he does, so that those Mitzvos will rise heavenward on the strength of the fear and love that is aroused through his Teshuvah.

In this sense, it may be said that Rebbi Yakov was actually offering a defense for his grandfather, Elisha ben Avuyah (Kidushin 39b), the Tana who became a heretic and thereafter was referred to as "Acher." The Gemara (Chagigah 15a) attributes Acher's persistence in maintaining his rebellious lifestyle to a voice he once heard echoing from behind the heavenly curtain, which said, "Return, all you wayward children, except for Acher!" One might ask that, granted, the heavenly voice rejected the possibility of Acher repenting for the sins which he had already committed, but what prevented him, in the event that he did feel remorse, from accumulating a new store of Mitzvos that would count in his favor for the future? In answer to this question, Rebbi Yakov offers his insight: "Better one hour of Teshuvah and good deeds in this world than the entire life of the World to Come" -- for without the spiritual advantage of Teshuvah, all of the Mitzvos one does in this world have little effect. This might have been Acher's reasoning which caused him to despair of ever correcting his ways.


QUESTION: The Gemara quotes the statement of Reish Lakish that the Posh'ei Yisrael, the sinners of Yisrael, will not be burned by the fire of Gehinom, just as the thin layer of gold upon the Mizbe'ach was not burned by the fire that burned there each day. (See also Insights to Eruvin 19:1)

This statement is difficult to understand. The Gemara earlier derives from a Kal v'Chomer that Talmidei Chachamim will not be burned by the fire of Gehinom: just as the Salamandra comes from fire and its oil is fire-proof and protects a person's skin from fire, certainly Talmidei Chachamim -- whose entire bodies are fire (because they learn Torah) -- will be protected from the fire of Gehinom. How can the Gemara categorize Talmidei Chachamim and Posh'ei Yisrael together and say that neither group will be affected by the fire of Gehinom? What benefit, then, do Talmidei Chachamim have over sinners?

ANSWER: The TOSFOS YESHANIM in Eruvin (19a) answers that although the Posh'ei Yisrael will not be burned by the fire of Gehinom, nevertheless their faces will become blackened from it. Talmidei Chachamim, on the other hand, will not be harmed at all by the fire.

The source for this answer seems to be the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17a) which says that there is a type of sinner who will be punished by being dipped into Gehinom and immediately removed. The Gemara there concludes that even though those sinners are not burned, the fire of Gehinom blackens their faces like the bottom of a pot. Similarly, the Gemara in Eruvin (19a) says that the reason why Posh'ei Yisrael are not burned in Gehinom is that when they are sent to Gehinom, Avraham Avinu comes and brings them out from there. After being there for a short period their faces are blackened, just like the sinners mentioned in Rosh Hashanah. The Talmidei Chachamim, though, are not sent to Gehinom in the first place.

This may be understood in a deeper way. The Gemara in Berachos (17a) says that it is our inherent desire to fulfill the will of Hash-m, but there are external factors that prevent us from doing His will, such as the Yetzer ha'Ra and our subjugation to the nations of the world. This inner desire to do the will of Hash-m is expressed in the ruling of the RAMBAM (Hilchos Gerushin 2:20-22), that if a sinner refuses to give a Get to his wife when he is required to give one, the Beis Din may strike him until he says, "Rotzeh Ani" ("I want to!"). The Rambam explains, based on the Gemara in Kidushin (50a), that in his heart even the Rasha wants to do the will of Hash-m, and it is just external temptations and impediments that prevent him from doing so. Therefore, when he says "Rotzeh Ani," we consider his words an expression of his inner desire, and we may rely upon them and consider his giving of the Get willful and not coerced.

This is also what Reish Lakish means when he says that "the Posh'ei Yisrael are filled with Mitzvos like a pomegranate." Beneath their external shell, they are filled with Mitzvos, but they have physical lusts that prevent them from doing the will of Hash-m.

This inner desire to do Hash-m's will is a trait that Jews inherit from their forefathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov. The Gemara in Yevamos (79a) says that certain character traits are ingrained in the Jewish people, as they inherited them from the forefathers, the Avos. This is what the Gemara in Eruvin means when it says that Avraham Avinu rescues the sinners from Gehinom. The Midos that they inherited from Avraham Avinu save them from Gehinom, for their inner desire during their lifetime was to do Hash-m's will. (However, the Gemara there adds that their rescue depends on their identifying themselves with the Jewish people even though they sinned. If they do not identify with the Jewish people, such as one who marries a Nochri, they lose the Midos that they inherited and are not saved by Avraham Avinu.)

What does the Gemara mean when it says that the faces of the sinners become blackened? Perhaps we may suggest that the face represents the body as a whole, the external part of the person and the part that everyone on the outside sees (in contrast to the soul; see Megilah 14a, "Hem Lo Asu Ela l'Fanim"). The body is the source of the external lusts that prevent the full actualization of one's inner will to serve Hash-m. As such, the body must be punished. The Gemara in Shabbos (152a) says that the destruction of the body is part of the final judgment of a person. (This is why the final judgment lasts for twelve months; it takes twelve months for the body to decompose, as the Gemara there says.) Decomposition of the body is a reflection of the judgment of Gehinom. The Neshamah of the sinner, however, is pulled out of Gehinom. The Neshamah does not have to be destroyed. (The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah says that there are other types of sinners whose Neshamos do have to be destroyed.) This type of sinner has only his body destroyed, because his body was the source of his sins.

On the other hand, the Gemara in Bava Metzia (84b) teaches that the bodies of Tzadikim do not decompose in the grave. Their bodies remain complete even after interred. Since the Tzadik's bodily passions did not cause him to sin, there is no reason to punish his body.

This is why the Gemara here says that "the bodies of Talmidei Chachamim are fire," and therefore their bodies are not punished in Gehinom. In contrast, the bodies of Posh'ei Yisrael do have to be destroyed, as the Tosfos Yeshanim writes, and only their Neshamos -- their souls, which are holy and are compared to the gold upon the holy Mizbe'ach -- are not destroyed, because their inner desire was to fulfill the will of Hash-m. (M. KORNFELD)


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