Thursday, September 4, 2008

1:2:65 Increase the Peace

I once heard a liberal rabbi claim that there was only one joke in the Talmud – and it is one we say every day when we finish davening shacharis:

Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina:  Torah scholars increase peace in the world, for it is said:  And all your children shall be learners of the [Torah  of the] Lord, and great will be the peace of banayich (your children).  (Yeshayahu 54:13)  Do no read banayich but bonayich (your builders).  [Brachos 64a, Yevamos 122b, Nazir 66b, Kerisus 28b, Taanis 32b)

“Torah scholars increase peace?” goes the Reform joke.   “Have you you ever seen Torah scholars in action –- in our time, or in the Talmuld?  They are always getting into bitter, nasty machlokes.”

Well, this joke plays a bit flat in a frum crowd, who will explain at length why Talmid Chacham increase peace.  And as the observant and non-observant raise their voices, we see yet another irony of “not bringing peace.”

In fact, I believe that Talmud scholars bring peace in a the conventional way.  But our aggada today gives a spiritual way in which Torah scholars bring peace:  Hashem is creating the world, and the upper and lower earth are keeping count. 

Day 1:  Upper (heaven) and Lower (earth) worlds created (Bereishis 1:1, score 1-1). 

Day 2:  Firmament (from upper world) created (Bereishis 1:6, score 1-2)

Day 3:  Grass (from lower world) created (Bereishis 1:11, score 2-2)

Day 4:  Lights (from upper world) created (Bereishis 1:14, score 2-3)

Day 5:  Swarming waters (from lower world) created (Bereishis 1:20, score 3-3)

Now you see the problem.  The score is tied even, and it is now time to make man.  Is he to be created from the lower world or the upper world?  A compromise is created:  man is mad from the dust of the ground (lower worlds) (Bereishis 2:7) and receives the breath of life (upper worlds).  And we know, we each have a divine spark in us.

This is the materials of Torah Scholars – builders of the world – who keep the peace between heaven and earth.

(It is great fun to immediately read aggada 1:2:66 for some closely related thoughts.) 

Note:  I see that NeilLitt has overlapped me in taking the same aggada and coming up with a very different take on it.  Today, dear Bloggadah readers, you get a particularly stark example of the different writing styles of our merry and diverse little group.  As the season of penance approaches with 21 Elul right around the corner, may we all be on a high spiritual plane as we begin to recite selichos.


BZ said...

You characterize this as a "Reform joke" that "plays a bit flat in a frum crowd", but a Google search for this joke paints a different picture. One citation comes from Rabbi Without A Cause, who self-identifies as an Orthodox rabbi. A Google Books result comes from a book by Norman Lamm, former president of Yeshiva University.

So it's not so accurate that "frum" Jews don't get the joke. Not all Orthodox Jews are Artscroll-style apologists. This sort of denominational stereotyping has no place when we can find much more substantive things to disagree strongly about.

Iyov said...

I stand corrected then. I did think the joke was worth repeating myself.