BERACHOS - Chapter I
12. Sayings of R.Yochanan, quoting R.Shimon b.Yochai (7b-8a)
From the day G-d created the world, no one called Him "A-don" (lit:
"Master" or "Lord") (1) until Abraham said "My Lord ("A-don-ai"), G-d, how
will I know that I will inherit it?" (Gen. 15:8). Daniel was answered only
because of Abraham, as it says: "G-d, hear Your servant's prayer and cause
Your face to shine on Your desolate sanctuary for the Lord's sake" (Daniel
9:17) -- for the sake of Abraham, who called You "Lord".
From the day G-d created the world, no one was "Modeh" to Him until Leah
said "This time I will thank ("Odeh") G-d" (Gen.24:35) (2). [Leah
prophetically named her son] "Reuven" as if to say: 'see the difference
("Reu Bein") between my son and my father-in-law's son (Esau).' Esau sold
his birthright voluntarily, as it says "He sold his birthright to Jacob"
(Gen.35:33), and yet, "Esau hated Jacob" (Gen.27:41). On the other hand,
although Reuven's birthright was not voluntarily given to Joseph, as it
says "When he desecrated his father's bed, his birthright was given to
Joseph" (1 Chron.5:1) (3), he was not jealous of him, as it says "And
Reuven heard and saved him from them" (Gen.37:21) (4). Similarly, the name
"Ruth" alludes to the fact that she merited to become the ancestress of
David, who SATIATED ("Rivah" - same Hebrew root as "Ruth") G-d with songs
and praises. A person's name has an effect on his life, as it says "See
G-d's works, Who has put desolations ("SHAMOS") into the world" (Psalms
46:9) -- read "names" ("SHEMOS") rather than "desolations."
A badly raised son in a man's house is worse than the war of Gog and Magog
(5), as it says "A song of David when he fled from his son Avshalom: G-d,
how many are my adversaries" (Psalms 3:1-2) (6); regarding the war of Gog
and Magog it says only "Why are the nations in a turmoil?" (Psalms 2:1). It
says "A song of David", not "A lament of David", because it was like a man
who owes a debt; before he pays it he is sad, but afterwards he is happy.
Here too, when G-d told David "I will raise up an evil against you from
your house" (2 Sam.12:11) he was sad, thinking it might be a slave or a
bastard who would have no pity on him; but when he saw it was Avshalom he
was happy, because a son normally has pity on his father.
It is permitted to contend with the wicked, as it says "Those who abandon
the Torah praise the wicked, but those who observe the Torah contend with
them" (Prov.28:4). "Do not compete with evildoers" (Psalms 31:1) does not
mean don't contend with them; it means only "Do not envy sinners" (ibid.)
(7), as it says "Your heart should not envy sinners" (Prov.33:17). But one
should not contend with a wicked person on whom fortune is smiling, as it
says "His ways will always prosper, his judgments will be raised up, he
will blow away his enemies" (Psalms 10:5); some say this applies only to a
dispute over one's personal affairs, but to contend with him over heavenly
matters is permitted; some say that even regarding heavenly matters, one
should not contend if fortune is smiling upon him; some say that only a
perfectly righteous person may contend with an evil person upon whom
fortune is smiling. [The following contradiction in the verses indicates
that there is a difference between a perfectly righteous person and one not
perfectly righteous:] "Why are you silent when a wicked person swallows up
a MORE righteous person?" (Habakkuk 1:13): Ordinarily "G-d will not leave
him in his hand" (a righteous person in a wicked person's hand: Psalms
37:33) and "No harm will come to the righteous" (Prov.12:21); but such
things may happen to a person who is only MORE righteous than the wicked
person, but not perfectly righteous. There are also those who say that as
long as fortune is not smiling upon the evil person, one may contend with
him even regarding personal matters.
Service to Torah is greater than study of Torah, as it says "Here is Elisha
b.Shafat who poured water on Elijah's hands" (2 Kings 3:11) -- not studied
with him, but poured water on his hands (8).
A person should come to the synagogue to pray, or, if that is not possible,
assemble ten people to pray with him, or, at the very least ask someone to
tell him when the congregation is praying, because it says "But as for me,
my prayer is to You, G-d, at a time of favour" ("Eis Ratzon") (Psalms
69:14) -- that is, at a time when the congregation is praying; it also says
"At a time of favour I will answer you" (Isaiah 69:8), and it says "He
redeemed my soul... for many were with me" (Psalms 55:19). G-d does not
despise the prayers of a multitude, as it says "He will not despise the
numerous" (Job 36:5). If a person occupies himself with Torah and acts of
kindness ("Gemilut Chassadim"), and prays with the congregation, he is
regarded as though he had redeemed G-d and His children from among the
nations of the world (see Psalms 55:19) (9) .
(1) It is interesting that the silver sockets into which the vertical beams
of the "Mishkan" ("Tabernacle") were inserted, were called "Adonim."
(2) The word "Modeh" in traditional Jewish sources can be found to mean
"thanks," "praise," "confession," "admission," "acceptance" and
"concession" depending on the context. Obviously, there were those before
Leah who had experienced the above emotions; therefore, what the Midrash
seems to be teaching is that Leah came to a deeper level of understanding
the concept of Hoda'ah, than those who preceded her, and as a result,
introduced a new way of relating to G-d. The same applies to Abraham in the
preceding paragraph; that is, he came to a deeper understanding of G-d's
existence, and thus began relating to Him as "Adon."
(3) Jacob was married to two sisters, Rachel and Leah, and had two
concubines, Bilha and Zilpa. When Rachel died, Jacob moved his bed into
Bilha's tent, rather than into the tent of Reuven's mother, Leah. In his
anger, Reuven moved his father's bed out of Bilha's tent and into his
mother's tent. For this, he lost his birthright (as the first-born of Leah)
to Joseph (the first-born of Rachel).
(4) Reuven convinced his brothers to throw Joseph into a pit rather than
killing him. Reuven intended to come back and rescue him from the pit.
(5) The war of Gog and Magog will precede the coming of the Messiah (See
Ezekial, Chapters 38 and 39).
(6) Avshalom rebelled against King David, his father, and took over as king
for a short while, when David fled. The rebellion was eventually crushed,
and Avshalom was killed.
(7) That is, do not try to be like them.
(8) The relationship which results from attending to the needs of Torah
scholars, can provide one with greater insight and awareness, than simply
studying under them.
(9) The Gemara (Megillah 29a) states that when the Jews are in exile among
the nations, the Divine Presence is in exile along with them.
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