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I Will Write It In Their Hearts - Volume 1
Letters from the Lubavitcher Rebbe

A detailed explanation of the importance of studying Mishnayos by heart

Translated by: Rabbi Eli Touger

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No. 132

This letter was composed as a response to a request from Rabbi Menachem Zev Greenglass, one of the active members of the Lubavitch community in Montreal, to explain - using supports from Nigleh (the revealed dimension of Torah law) - the importance of studying Mishnayos by heart.[1] This letter was later reprinted in Kovetz Lubavitch, Vol. IV, with additions which are included in this text.[2]
[14 Shvat, 5704]

In response to your question [concerning the importance of studying Mishnayos by heart] and in order to highlight again the great importance and the nature [of this campaign], I am citing - with certain additions - concepts which I already wrote to certain individuals who are members of the Society for the Study of Mishnayos by Heart which was established by Machne Israel:

Based on our Sages' statement (Sifri, Parshas Naso; Bamidbar Rabbah, ch. 7): "Encouragement should be given to the inspired," I have come to speak again of participation in [the campaign] to review the entire six orders of the Mishnah by heart. [The intent is that] the entire society will together complete the study of all the six orders of the Mishnah by heart over the course of a year, and review [those mishnayos] whenever they have spare time, e.g., while on a journey or while walking in the street, while sitting in one's office or store, provided that the place is fit to speak words of Torah.[3] As my revered father-in-law, the Rebbe shlita stated when he founded this society:

[This is] a time when we must purify the air.... The purification of the air comes through the letters of the Torah.... It is very important that Jews study Mishnayos by heart ... and review these Mishnayos at all times in every place.... This is not restricted to any particular group or approach.... Instead, it is a matter of general importance which affects the Jewish people as a whole and which serves as a protective measure.

Similarly, at the time of the first division [of the Mishnayos] (Isru Chag Shavuos, 5702), he said:

The Mishnah or the Mishnayos which we will review wherever one finds himself, regardless of the nature of the place where one is located, will illumine the connection between the Jewish people and the Holy One, blessed be He.

Similarly, at the time of the second division [of the Mishnayos] (Sivan 17, 5703), he said:

"Rav Bana'ah stated: 'A person should always invest himself in [the study of] Mishnayos. For if he knocks, they will open [portals] for him. If [he seeks knowledge of] the Talmud, [they will lead him to] the Talmud. If [he seeks knowledge of] the Aggadah, [they will lead him to] the Aggadah' (Vayikra Rabbah, ch. 21[:5])."

Through this study, a person will receive direction in [the study of] both Torah law and Aggadah. For the word Mishnah (vban) shares the same letters as the word neshamah (vnab),[4] meaning "soul."

And at the time of the third division [of the Mishnayos] (Sivan 27, 5704), he said:

Every member of the society should take it upon himself to study Mishnayos by heart.... Do not consider this as a light matter. Every mishnah studied by heart contains an entire world [together with] its components.


To explain the concept of studying Mishnayos by heart according to Nigleh, based on the teachings of our Sages, I will [delineate] in order the various different [conceptual] elements involved. Among them:

  1. The Importance of the Air and Its Purification:

    According to the will of He who performs wonders and who connects the body to the soul, the existence of the body and its connection with the soul which enables a person to live is dependent on two factors.[5] 1) the blood which is produced by [the digestion of] the food and drink which the person has ingested, 2) the air which a person breathes.[6] These are the function of the [two organs,] the windpipe and the esophagus, which serves as signs [that when slit, the ritual slaughter of an animal is acceptable].[7]

    Although both of these - air, and food and drink - are necessary for a person's life, there is a distinction between them. [We] eat and drink only at specific times. As our Sages commented (Yoma 75b): "At the outset, the Jewish people were like chickens pecking at the ground until Moshe came and established times for meals." Similarly, the Rambam states (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos De'os, the beginning of ch. 4): "A person should not eat unless he is hungry, nor should he drink unless he is thirsty."

    Breathing, in contrast, must be constant (i.e., this is the ordinary pattern). Thus our Sages said that a person can live seven days without eating or drinking[8] (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Shvuos 5:20). If, however, he does not breathe for even a short time, he will die. (See the commentaries to the Shulchan Aruch, Even HaEzer 17:32; the Responsa of the Tzemach Tzedek, Even HaEzer, Responsa 68-70, and the sources cited by S'dei Chemed, Klallim, Os Chaf, sec. 108, which define the length of this short time.)

    As a logical consequence, it is understood that since food and drink maintain the body and its connection with the soul, the food and drink which a person ingests must be appropriate for this function. Moreover, the quality of the food one eats affects the quality of the body in general, and its connection with the soul in particular. As our Sages comment (Berachos 44b): "[Eating] any fresh vegetable causes a person's face to lose color. [Eating] an entity before it grows to full size makes one small. [Eating] a being [all at once[9]] restores the soul, and [eating] any [organ] close to [an animal's source of] life restores the soul." And similarly, our Sages have explained (see the Ramban's Commentary to the Torah, Vayikra 11:11) that carnivorous animals are forbidden to be eaten because this ingrains cruelty in a person's heart.

    Moreover, there are times when a person's speech or thoughts can cause a food that would not otherwise be forbidden, e.g., a person who slaughters an animal in worship of the mountains (Chulin 39b), to bring about undesirable traits in a person who eats it. For example, [while she was pregnant with him,] the mother of Elisha Acher[10] partook of food that was being offered to the worship of a false deity and this caused her son to adopt an undesirable lifestyle (Rus Rabbah 3:13).

    We cannot say that Acher's conduct came as a punishment [for his mother's deed], and not as a natural result [of the food's spiritual nature], for his mother did not perform a transgression when partaking of the food. She was pregnant at the time and had smelled the aroma [of the food]. [In such an instance,] she should be given [the food] and [allowed] to partake of it (Yoma 82a);[11] indeed, it is a mitzvah to do so.[12]

    It is difficult to say that [the offering] is considered an auxiliary of the worship of false divinities in which case the principle "die, rather than transgress" would apply. Also, the wording "they gave her from that type [of food] and she ate it," implies that it was necessary that they give her the food, [i.e., she was incapable of eating herself].

    Therefore we are forced to say that even if there is an element of punishment involved, there is also a natural process of cause and effect. Since the food is forbidden, it brings about certain tendencies in a person who partakes of it. Nevertheless, in a situation where there is a danger to a person's life, it is a mitzvah for him to partake of the food, even though doing so will cause undesirable character traits.

    The food has not undergone any change. [Instead,] its nature and its qualities remain. For this person, however, it has become permitted to eat. Moreover, even with regard to that particular person, the threat to life takes precedence over the prohibition; it does not, however, countermand it. (See Rambam, Mishnah Torah, Hilchos Shabbos, the beginning of ch. 2 and commentaries. The comments of the Tzafnas Paneach - by the Rogatchover Gaon - on the Rambam's statements there require explanation. This is not the place for the discussion of that issue.)[13]

    [Causing oneself this minor dimension of harm by eating the prohibited food] can be compared to surgically removing a limb to save the body as a whole.[14]

    In general, if the food is forbidden, a person's soul is repulsed by it, and the fact that he ate it is not considered eating. This applies even if he ate it without knowing, as the Rambam[15] rules (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Terumos 10:10, based on the Talmud Yerushalmi, Terumos 6:2).

    If the above applies with regard to eating and drinking, certainly, and how much more so, does it apply [to the air]. The air must be clean and pure, both physically and spiritually, so that a person can be healthy and fully developed in both a material and spiritual sense. In this vein, our Sages gave us several examples, stating (Bava Basra 158b): "The air of Eretz Yisrael makes one wise," and (Sanhedrin 109a): "The air [above the site] of the Tower [of Bavel] causes forgetfulness."

    With regard to the effect of the air on the body and its health, Bereishis Rabbah (ch. 34[:15]) states: "What is the air of that place like?... When an infant is born, we must mix herbs and smear his head with them so that the mosquitoes do not eat him." And the Zohar (Vol. III, p. 10a) states: "The created beings differ in their appearance because of the difference in the air, each one according to its place." [It is, however, true] that in these two sources the term avira translated as "air" could also be translated as "climate." As we find the term avir used with that intent in the statement (Bereishis Rabbah, loc. cit.): "There is a covenant established with the aviros," where the intent is "climate." In the Talmud, however, as of yet, I have not found the word avir used with the meaning "climate."

  2. The Purification of the Air Through the Letters of the Torah:

    A person has an effect on the world around him through deed, speech, and thought. In the realm of halachah, we find several matters in which thought has an effect on an entity which is outside the person who is thinking.[16]

    Speech is unique in that it is the air which carries it from the speaker to the listener. Thus it is understood that positive speech creates a positive impression in the air and undesirable speech creates a negative impression. The Rambam, in his commentary to the Mishnah, elaborates on the different types of speech in his explanation of the teaching (the conclusion of ch. 1 of Avos): "Whoever speaks excessively brings about sin." From his statements, it is explained - and indeed, it is obviously apparent - that the types of speech which are loathsome or forbidden are found minimally in a synagogue or a house of study, and are predominantly found in the marketplaces, streets, and the like. Consequently, the need for correcting and purifying the air is greater outside the house of study. At times, however, even the air in a synagogue and house of study needs refinement.

    It is thus understood that the purification of the air must be accomplished by an agent that affects the air, i.e., through positive speech which makes an impression within the air; [to borrow our Sages' expression:][17] "air expels air."

    This is [accomplished] through speaking words of Torah. Concerning [such speech], our Sages say (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, the conclusion of Hilchos Kerias Shema, based on Berachos 22a):

    The words of the Torah do not contract impurity. Instead, they remain in a state of purity forever, as [implied by the verse:][18] "'Are not My words as fire?' declares G-d." Just as fire does not contract impurity; so, too, the words of the Torah do not contract impurity."

    [In this vein,] note also our Sages' statement (Sanhedrin 39a): "The essence of immersion (- which serves to purify an impure person -) is in fire."


  3. The Emphasis on Reviewing the Words of Torah By Heart:

    In a synagogue and a house of study, [a person] can recite the words of the Torah by heart or from a text. In either instance, however, they must be pronounced verbally, as our Sages comment (Eruvin 54a): "Open your mouth and read [the words of the Written Law]. Open your mouth and recite [the words of the Oral Law].... 'They are life to those who find them....'[19] Do not read 'to those who find them,' read 'to those who utter them,' i.e., to those who utter them verbally."

    When outside, in the street, and by and large, also in one's place of business - the places where the purification of the air is most necessary, as above - the environment is not one of repose, nor are there texts available so that one can study from them. Hence, each and every person must have letters of Torah prepared, known by heart, so that he can repeat them at all times, and in every place where it is permitted to recite the words of the Torah.

    Our Sages comment (Gittin 60b): "Words that are written[20] you are not allowed to recite by heart." The Rambam does not quote this restriction, and there are others who maintain that the prohibition applies only when one is seeking to fulfill an obligation on behalf of others. {See Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Klei HaMikdash 6:7; the Babylonian Talmud, Yoma 70a (and [the corresponding passages in] the Talmud Yerushalmi); Tosafos Yeshenim to Yoma, op. cit.; Taanis 28a; Tosafos entry, Devarim, Tamurah 14b. This subject is spoken about at length in the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch, and commentaries (Orach Chayim, ch. 49). The Sdei Chemed, Klallim, Maareches Dalet, sec. 44, and the Pe'as HaSadeh, Maareches Dalet, sec. 4, mention the opinions of the later authorities concerning this matter.}

    The Shulchan Aruch (Orach Chayim, ch. 49), however, rules that unless the passage is one which everyone knows by heart [- e.g., the Shema -], it is forbidden to speak [words from the Written Law] by heart.

    Therefore, [it is only] when one studies words of the Oral Law by heart [that] all authorities agree that there is no difficulty involved.

  4. The Emphasis on Reviewing Mishnayos By Heart:

    In general, with regard to the Oral Law, the matter of primary importance is the grasp and the comprehension of the halachah. (One must, however, verbally pronounce the words one studies as above.) If a person reads [the words of the Oral Law] and does not understand what he is reading, it is not considered study (Magen Avraham, Orach Chayim 50:2). With regard to the Written Law, in contrast, a common person is required to recite the blessings of the Torah, even if he does not understand the meaning of the words he is saying.

    Within the Talmud itself, there is a difference between the Mishnah and the Rabbinic works that followed it. As the Rambam writes in his Introduction to his Commentary to the Mishnah:

    The words of the Mishnah were concise, including within them many concepts.... The Beraisos[21] did not have the precision of the words of the Mishnah, neither in the articulation of the concepts nor in the conciseness of the wording.... All [the scholars] who followed did not invest their heart and their energy into anything but meditation on the words of the Mishnah. Note the further explanations [of these concepts] there.

    From this, we can appreciate that in the study of the Mishnah, precise study of its words and careful attention to its letters are of fundamental importance (except that, as mentioned above in the name of the Magen Avraham, comprehension is also required). For [these words] contain all the concepts later enumerated in the Beraisos. As Ilfa states (Taanis 21a), everything that was taught by Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Oshia can be derived from the Mishnah. The Talmud Yerushalmi (Pe'ah 2:4) goes further and states that many laws were communicated to Moshe at Sinai and they are all embedded in the Mishnah.

    The second portion of the Talmud is called - [when speaking] in general terms - an explanation of the Mishnah (Mavo HaTalmud by R. Shmuel HaNagid), i.e., its fundamental [purpose] is to understand and explain the motivating principles [for the Mishnah].

    Therefore, it is clear that reviewing by heart - which as explained above brings about the purification of the air through the recitation of the letters of the Torah - is more relevant to the Mishnah than to the Gemara. The distinction between them is that although both the vocalization [of the words] and the comprehension of them is necessary for both, [with regard to the Mishnah,] the vocalization [is of primary importance]. [With regard to the Gemara, by contrast,] the comprehension [is most important].

  5. The Importance of the Above in the Present Time:

    In this era of ikvesa deMeshicha, [when Mashiach's approaching footsteps can be heard,] and the end of our exile is drawing near, [the study of] the Mishnah takes on additional importance, as our Sages commented (Vayikra Rabbah 7:3): "The exiles will not be gathered in through any merit other than [the study of] the Mishnayos."

    And our Sages said (the AriZal, as quoted by the Midrash Talpios, anaf ephod):

    When a person is being sentenced to Gehinnom, he calls to each of the tribes to save him and none of them respond.

    When he calls to Asher, he answers him: "Did you ever study Mishnah?"[22] If [the person] responds affirmatively, [Asher] immediately takes him out of Gehinnom in the merit of the Mishnah.

    There is a connection between these two matters - Gehinnom and exile - for one replaces the other. As our Sages commented (Bereishis Rabbah 44:21): [The Holy One, blessed be He, told Avraham:] "Which do you desire - for your descendants to descend to Gehinnom or [to be exiled among] the nations?" Similar statements are also found in the Zohar, Vol. II, p. 83b. We can appreciate that an entity [- i.e., the Mishnah, as above] that can save from one can also save from the other, as the Zohar, op. cit., states.

    To explain in brief, according to the teachings of Nigleh,[23] why the ingathering of the exiles will come about through the study of the Mishnah: It is clear that for the ingathering of the exiles to take place, the reasons which led to the exile must be removed and corrected. Our Sages (Yoma 9b) revealed to us that the destruction of the Second Beis HaMikdash came as a result of the sin of unwarranted hatred. ([The punishment came] "measure for measure." The Jews were "dispersed and scattered among the nations"[24] because they were divided among themselves.)

    Moreover, the redemption from the Babylonian exile was not complete (Sotah 36a, see Rashi, entry liaasos). Hence, we are forced to say that the reason which led to the destruction of the First Beis HaMikdash was also not entirely removed and atoned for. The reason for that destruction is that the Jews did not recite the blessings before studying the Torah. As Rabbeinu Nissim explains (Nedarim 81a), although they were occupied with Torah study continuously, the Holy One, blessed be He, who knows the depths of a man's heart, understood that the Torah was not important in their eyes, and that they did not occupy themselves in its study lishmah, for its own sake. [This is the intent of] the prophet's words of criticism:[25] "They did not proceed in it," according to its intent and for its sake. Because of this "the land was devastated,"[26] the Beis HaMikdash was destroyed.

    Therefore, in order that the Jewish people merit the ingathering of the exiles, [two objectives] must be [achieved]:

    1. they must "bless the Torah," i.e., [establish] the importance of the Torah in their eyes, and

    2. create unity amidst separation, the opposite of the unwarranted hatred which spawned separation where there was unity.

    Both of these purposes are achieved through the study of the Mishnah.

    [To explain:] Of the three disciplines of Torah study: Mikra (Scripture), Mishnah, and Gemara, [these two concepts receive the greatest emphasis through the study of the Mishnah]. With regard to the discipline of Mikra, the concept of unity is not a new development, because there is far less potential for division. For [this discipline] does not involve explicit laws and directives governing our conduct. And even with regard to understanding, as mentioned above, with regard to the study of the Written Law, this is not of fundamental importance. Therefore even a person who does not understand [what he is studying] recites the blessings for Torah study.

    Similarly, the recitation of the blessings of the Torah and the awareness of G-d [it creates] is not as great a new development with regard to this discipline of Torah study, for the Torah frequently states: "And G-d said...," "And G-d spoke...."[27]

    Moreover, the relevance to the discipline is minimized in this context, because - as our Sages emphasize in the Midrash (Shmos Rabbah 47:1) - in contrast to the Oral Law, this discipline of the Torah does not create a distinction between the Jews and the other peoples.[28] And [within the Jewish people as well,] even the Sadducees acknowledge the Written Law. [Their objections are to] the Oral Law.

    Similarly, at first glance, the concept of unity is not evident in the study of the Gemara. For it is characterized by a dialectic analysis of the Mishnah and the understanding of its motivating principles, and each person digs deeper and understands according to his own mind, ability to comprehend, and nature of understanding. Indeed, [our Sages emphasize] (Kiddushin 30b) that at the outset, two Torah scholars will appear as enemies and it is only at the end, that the love [between them will surface]. (This comes about through the establishment of a halachic ruling which is universally accepted. Such a ruling is included in the discipline of Mishnah, as the Alter Rebbe writes in his Shulchan Aruch (Hilchos Talmud Torah 2:1).

    Similarly, [the study of the Gemara does not highlight the Torah's connection to G-d], because it involves the comprehension of concepts with human logic, not only because they have been received in [a chain of] tradition.

    In these two particulars, the study of the Mishnah differs. It involves the study of halachic directives to be actually applied. It requires comprehension {- i.e., even the opinions, the Rambam and the Riv, who maintain that the knowledge of the motivating principles [for the halachah] is not necessary, as the Alter Rebbe explains in his Kuntres Acharon (Hilchos Talmud Torah, op. cit.), [agree that one must understand the final decision rendered]}. And yet, that decision is universally accepted; there is no dispute concerning it. For this reason, [if a judge renders a decision that involves] an error in a point of Mishnah, [i.e., a ruling that has been accepted as Halachah,] his judgment is rescinded (Sanhedrin 33a).[29] [This highlights the theme of unity.]

    [Similarly, it also points to the second theme, the emphasis of the G-dly nature of the Torah.] For the very fact that although their thought processes are different, everyone accepts one law indicates that it is G-d who gave us His Torah - one Torah for Israel, who are one nation.

    [The theme of the G-dly nature of the Torah also receives] particular emphasis [with regard to the study of the Mishnah]. For with regard to the Sages of the Mishnah, it is said: "The fundamental halachic rulings they issued did not depend on their own process of intellectual determination, but rather on [the tradition] which they received [teacher] to [disciple, extending] back to Moshe (the Alter Rebbe, Torah Or, the maamar entitled ViEileh Shmos, ch. 6).


May G-d grant you the merit of witnessing, speedily and in our days, the ingathering of our exiles by Mashiach, of whom it is said:[30] "And the spirit[31] of G-d will rest upon him..., the spirit... and he will be imbued with the spirit of the fear of G-d...." And he will - with his sense of smell - detect the worthy (Sanhedrin 93b).

   

Notes:

  1. (Back to text) [See Letter No. 131.]

  2. (Back to text) [Thus reference is made to the sichos of Sivan 27, 5704, although that postdates the composition of this letter.]

  3. (Back to text) [I.e., there is neither excrement nor lewd sights in the place of study.]

  4. (Back to text) [Shaar HaMitzvos LehaAriZal, Parshas Vaes'chanan.]

  5. (Back to text) Our Sages' statement (Sukkah 53a): "A person who takes an oath that he will not sleep for three days should be punished by lashes [for taking a false oath] and be allowed to sleep immediately" should not be cited as a proof that a person's life-energy is also dependent on sleep (and not that sleep is a condition that enables the person to eat, drink, and breathe). For the intent of that statement is to state that it is a person's nature that over the course of three days, he will be forced to sleep. It does not describe the conditions [necessary] for the person's life.

    Sleep is thus the opposite of eating and drinking. With regard to eating as well, if a person takes an oath that he will not eat (for seven days), he should be punished by lashes and allowed to eat immediately. Nevertheless, with regard to eating, the reason is, as apparent, the person will die if he does not eat (see Rabbeinu Nissim, Shvuos, ch. 3) and not because he will be forced to eat against his will.

    Based on this distinction, we can explain the opinion of the Talmud Yerushalmi (cited by the Kessef Mishneh, Hilchos Shvuos 5:20) that when a person takes an oath that he will not eat for seven days, he is not allowed to eat immediately. (The Kessef Mishneh states "three days, but that is a textual error, and the intent is seven. This has already been noted by the Minchas Chinuch, mitzvah 30.) We are forced to say that the Talmud Yerushalmi maintains that the oath takes effect - in contrast to an oath regarding sleep. Despite the fact that with regard to eating, the person has also taken an oath that he is unable to fulfill (see the Kessef Mishneh), [there is a distinction between the two instances]. The rationale is that when a person takes an oath that he will not sleep for three days, the impossibility is with regard to sleep itself; [i.e., the person will fall asleep]. With regard to eating, in contrast, [he will not necessarily eat. He can continue to refuse to eat. Although he will not keep his oath, because he will die, he will not have eaten.]

    To cite a parallel to this: Kesubos 26b states that a woman who was imprisoned in a situation where her life is in danger is forbidden to [remain married] to her husband [even if he] is an Israelite, [not a priest]. (This follows the approach of Rashi and Tosafos.) [The reason for this prohibition is that we assume that she tried to obtain her release by engaging in intimate relations with her captors. These relations cause her to be forbidden to her husband.]

    As the Ramban (quoted by the Shitah Mekubetzes) questions, the woman agreed to relations because of fear [and when a woman is forced to engage in relations against her will, she is not forbidden to her husband afterwards]. Why then is the woman forbidden to her husband in this instance? The reason that she, [nevertheless, is forbidden to her husband] is (see Tzemach Tzedek, Chidushim Al HaShas, Mishnah, pp. 94, 120, et al.) that the relations themselves were not performed under compulsion.

    See also the Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Yesodei HaTorah 5:6, which states that when a person [is ill and] transgresses any of the prohibitions against idolatry, murder, or forbidden relations to heal himself, even in a situation where his life is in danger, he should be punished for the violation. In contrast, if he is compelled against his will to transgress any of these prohibitions, he is not punished (Ibid.: 4). One of the explanations for this distinction (Ohalei Yosef, Dinei Kiddush HaShem in the name of Chemdas Shlomo, Orach Chayim, sec. 38) is that a person who is forced to act against his will is not considered as if he performed an action at all, while a person who is dangerously ill, by contrast, is acting under his own volition.

    [Similarly, when a person takes a vow that he will not sleep, he will ultimately act directly against that vow. (This resembles a person who is being forced to violate a commandment.) When, by contrast, he takes a vow that he will not eat or drink, he will not necessarily act against the vow. (This resembles a person who violates a commandment intentionally to save his life.)]

    [To cite another parallel: The Shulchan Aruch,] Choshen Mishpat, ch. 388, rules that when a person was compelled to show his money to an attacker, and that person showed the attacker money belonging to someone else, the person is liable to make reimbursement. If, however, he was coerced financially into showing the attacker the other person's money, he is not liable. (See the gloss of the Shach 388:22; see also the commentary of the Haflaah to Kesubos 19a with regard to Tosafos, entry de'amar.) See also the comments of the Tzafnas Panei'ach, Mahadura Tenyana, the beginning of sec. I with regard to this matter. This is not the place for further discussion of this issue.

    [Based on those sources, it can be explained that in the first instance, the attacker was interested in causing the person harm, but he gave him the option of saving himself by showing him money. In such an instance, we follow the principle that a person who saves himself by using financial resources belonging to another person is liable to make restitution. In the second instance, by contrast, the attacker is primarily interested in money. Since the person being attacked is acting under compulsion, he is not liable.

    Similarly, when a person takes a vow that he will not sleep, he will ultimately act directly against that vow. (This resembles a person who is compelled to secure money for an attacker.) When, by contrast, he takes a vow that he will not eat or drink, he is not compelled to act against the vow. (This resembles a person whose life is in danger and who saves his life by showing the attacker his friend's money.)]

    Pirkei d'Rabbi Eliezer, ch. 12, however, states that sleep is a person's "nourishment, cure, and life." [This would appear to indicate that like food and drink, it is a necessity for a person's life. That perspective is reinforced by] the Midrash Tehillim, ch. 25 (and Tosafos, Berachos 12a, entry emes) which states: "This worker performs labor throughout the entire day. His soul is weary and worn out. In the morning, it returns to his body as a new creation." Nevertheless, even according to this perspective, sleep is different from eating, drinking, and breathing. [For these involve activity,] while sleep is passive; the person does not do anything.

  6. (Back to text) It is possible that this is the intent of our Sages' statement (Bereishis Rabbah, the conclusion of ch. 14): "For every breath that a person takes he must praise his Creator." [This praise] resembles the blessing recited before partaking of food or drink.

  7. (Back to text) See Likkutei Torah, the conclusion of the explanation of the maamar entitled Livavtani which explains that this also is the function of the heart's two ventricles: [i.e., one pumps blood to the lungs so that it receives oxygen, and one pumps blood throughout the body to nourish it].

  8. (Back to text) The Or Sameach seeks to bring an allusion to this concept from the statement in Yoma 4b that [Moshe was covered by the cloud] for six days "to consume the food and drink in his system, to make him like the ministering angels." The comparison is, however, difficult to understand. For Moshe was separated for only six days, not seven, as stated in Shmos 24:37, and as reflected in our Sages' statement (Yoma 3b): "This establishes a general rule ... requiring a separation of six days."

  9. (Back to text) [E.g., a small fish.]

  10. (Back to text) [Elisha Acher refers to Elisha ben Avuyah, a great Talmudic sage who forsook a Torah lifestyle.]

  11. (Back to text) [For otherwise, we fear that the denial of her desire will cause the woman to miscarry.]

  12. (Back to text) The Talmud Yerushalmi (Chagigah 2:1) states that she "passed by a temple of a false divinity, smelled this fragrance, and this caused Acher's [deviant tendencies]." Thus from the Talmud Yerushalmi, it could be said that [Acher's tendencies] were a punishment [for her passing by the temple]. Tosafos (Chagigah 15a, entry Shuvu), however, appears to have had a version of the Talmud Yerushalmi that follows the same text as Rus Rabbah.

  13. (Back to text) Some explanation is necessary with regard to the wording used by the Alter Rebbe (Tanya, Iggeres HaKodesh, Epistle 26): "[Forbidden food] eaten because of a threat to life which becomes completely permitted." [The word "completely" (rund) appears to imply that the prohibition is rescinded entirely.] Perhaps because of the conceptual difficulty raised by the above concepts, the word "completely" is surrounded by parentheses in the text and is lacking in some printings.

  14. (Back to text) [Above it is explained] that forbidden foods bring about undesirable tendencies as a natural consequence (even when the prohibition does not result from the nature and physical properties of the food, e.g., the offering to false divinities eaten by Acher's mother [which was prohibited only because it was being offered to the false divinity], for our Sages did not distinguish between one prohibition and another. This is not affected by the fact that [because of] the danger to life, [one is permitted to eat the food].

    On this basis, we can explain a ruling of the Taz and the Shach (Yoreh De'ah, end of ch. 81) which states that a nursing woman who ate a forbidden food should not nurse an infant even if she was permitted to eat the food because of a danger to her life. [For in any case, the milk that results from that food will create unfavorable character traits within the child.]

    Similarly, it is understood that a distinction cannot be made between a severe prohibition like the worship of false divinities and a [lesser] prohibition like eating pork or the like. On the contrary, if food associated with the worship of false divinities, which the Torah forbade only because of man's intentions, brings about unfavorable tendencies even when it is eaten when permitted because of a danger to life, certainly this would apply with regard to eating non-kosher food. For then, the prohibition is intrinsic, [stemming from] the actual makeup of the food. (Toras Shlomo, Vol. VIII, Milu'im, sec. 12, states that these two points are unresolved.)

  15. (Back to text) [There the Rambam states that a person who feeds his workers forbidden food must pay them extra as if he had not provided them with meals. For a person's soul loathes such food and does not feel satiated. It is as if they had not eaten at all.]

  16. (Back to text) This principle is exemplified on [a number of] different levels:

    1. The highest level is one in which the activity is brought about by thought without speaking or performing a deed at all. [This includes,] for example:

      1. The dedication of animals as sacrificial offerings (nidvos kedashim). (As indicated by Shvuos 26b, Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Maaseh HaKorbanos 14:12, the animal becomes consecrated through thought alone. There is no obligation for a person to make a statement consecrating the animal and to bring it as a voluntary offering. A question can, however, be raised by the wording used by Rashi and Tosafos at the beginning of Me'ilah, ch. 2, who speak of the animal being "consecrated verbally."

      2. the separation of Terumah (Shvuos, loc. cit.; Rashi, Gittin 31b, entry Ubimachshavah; see also Tosafos, Bechoros 59a, entry Bimachshavah that, according to the seconding opinion in Rashi, speech is necessary; see Shaar HaMelech, Terumos 4:16 which debates the Rambam's view on this issue).

      3. the consideration of food as intended for humans [which is significant with regard to the laws of ritual purity] (Taharos 8:6. It is apparent from that source that the intent is thought without speech, as indicated by the expression "a deaf-mute thought about it." [On this basis,] explanation is required with regard to the statements of the Tosafos Yom Tov and the Tifferes Yisrael at the conclusion of Keilim, ch. 25.)

    2. An activity is performed by thought, but the thought is not effective unless one thinks while one is performing a deed. For example, a person who thinks [about offering the blood of or partaking of sacrifices in an improper time or place]. For [the person's thought to disqualify the sacrifice, he must have this thought] while he is in the midst of performing the sacrificial worship. Nevertheless, it is considered a transgression which does not involve a deed, [because the forbidden thought constitutes the violation of the prohibition] (Rambam, Pesulei HaMekudashim, chs. 13 and 18. See the gloss of the Mishneh LiMelech to the beginning of ch. 13. There is, nevertheless, a difference of opinion among the Rishonim if thought alone is sufficient. See the Shitah Mekubetzes to the conclusion of Bava Metzia, ch. 3, which resolves several conflicting passages concerning this matter.)

    3. The activity is performed by both thought and deed, the two powers working together. Therefore a person is punished by lashes for violating such a transgression, because it involves a deed. Nevertheless, a person cannot affect property belonging to a colleague in this manner (according to the opinion of Tosafos, Yevamos 83b, entry Ein). It is possible to say (see Kessef Mishneh, Hilchos Tumas Ochalin, the beginning of ch. 12) that the person's own thought does not have any connection to an article belonging to a colleague. We see an example of this concept with regard to the prohibition of growing different species in a vineyard. ([See] Kilayim 7:4-5 [which quotes the opinions of Rabbi Yossi and Rabbi Shimon who state that if a person drapes his vine over grain belonging to a colleague, the crops are not forbidden, because "a person cannot cause an article that is not his own to become forbidden."])

      Certainly, with regard to the first category [mentioned above], a person's thought cannot have an effect on property belonging to a colleague. Thus with regard to [causing an article to become susceptible to] ritual impurity, the Rambam writes (Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Keilim 25:11), that the thought of the owners must be involved. (See also the gloss of the Mishneh LiMelech to Rambam, ibid., 24:7.)

      Similarly, with regard to terumah and consecrated articles, it is derived from a verse (see Gittin 52a; Rashbam, Bava Basra 88a) that when a colleague's property is involved, even when one actually separates an article and designates it verbally, the separation is not effective.

      An exception to this rule is thoughts of [offering the blood of or partaking of] sacrifices [in an improper time or place]. For in this instance, the Torah specifically reveals that this depends on the person performing the sacrificial service (see Zevachim 46b). With regard to the slaughter of animals for purposes other than sacrifice, see Chulin 38b.

    4. An activity that is accomplished through deed alone, but the deed does not have an effect unless it is accompanied by thought. This involves the concepts of lishmah, performing an activity for the desired intent, or meizid, the willful violation of a transgression. Since the thought itself does not perform the activity, but instead merely defines the character of the deed which it accompanies, [such an activity] can have an effect on property belonging to a colleague.

    On this basis, it is possible to explain the rationale for the opinions who maintain that with regard to [contact with liquids] making [produce] susceptible [to contract ritual impurity] and [performing labor with] a red heifer, the intent of the person who brings [the produce into contact with the liquid] or the one who performs the labor is significant, and not the intent of the owner of the produce or the heifer (Tosafos, Bava Kamma 98a, entry Ho; Rashba, Chulin 31b). These opinions place these situations in this category and not in category c.

    This distinction enables us to resolve the question posed by Rabbeinu Shimshon of Shanz in his commentary to Kilayim, loc. cit. [who questions why there is a distinction between the laws governing draping one's vine over a colleague's crops and the abovementioned laws concerning making produce susceptible to contract ritual impurity and performing labor with a red heifer]. In contrast, the opinions which maintain that the intent of the owner is necessary with regard to making [produce] susceptible [to contract ritual impurity] and [performing labor with] a [red] heifer (Rambam, Mishneh Torah, Hilchos Tumas Ochalin 12:1; the first opinion in Tosafos, Bava Metzia 30a, entry Af; see the discussion of this issue by the Minchas Chinuch, Mitzvah 396) follow the conception that these activities fall into the third category mentioned above.

    The discussion of this subject can be prolonged and several Talmudic passages can be cited to illustrate how several subjects from different categories share points of commonality. This, however, is not the place for such a discussion.

    It must also be emphasized that vows to bring sacrifices (nidrei kedashim, Shvuos, loc. cit.) and the mitzvos that involve thought are not relevant to the above discussion. For in these contexts, the thought does not have an effect beyond the person who is thinking.

  17. (Back to text) [Shabbos 41a.]

  18. (Back to text) [Yirmeyahu 23:29.]

  19. (Back to text) [Mishlei 4:22.]

  20. (Back to text) [I.e., passages from the Written Law.]

  21. (Back to text) [Teachings from Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi taught by Rabbi Chiyya and Rabbi Oshia that were not incorporated in the Mishnah.]

  22. (Back to text) The connection to Asher can be explained as follows: As stated above, the study of the Oral Law with a stress on the precise wording and the choice of vocabulary involves primarily the Mishnah as explained above. And according to law, [before the leniency granted by our Sages to write down the Mishnah], [this study] had to be by heart.

    Our Sages say (Horios 13b): "There are five entities that restore one's study" (or according to a different version "better one's study"). The most effective of them is olive oil which that passage describes as being capable of restoring study from a period of 70 years.

    Now, olive oil is associated with the blessing to Asher and is found within his portion [of Eretz Yisrael]. As our Sages commented (Menachos 85b): "The highest quality of oil [comes from] Tekoa [a city in Asher's tribal portion]." And "[from] the portion of Asher, oil flowed like a spring."

    Based on the above, we can also appreciate our Sages' interpretation (Bereishis Rabbah, ch. 66) of [Bereishis 27:28:] "From the fat (hbnanu) of the land," as referring to the Mishnah.

  23. (Back to text) According to Chassidus, this statement of our Sages explained in the maamar entitled ViEileh Shmos, sec. VI, in Torah Or, and the maamar entitled Tziyon BaMishpat, sec. III, in Likkutei Torah.

  24. (Back to text) [Cf. Esther 3:8.]

  25. (Back to text) [Yirmeyahu 9:12-13.]

  26. (Back to text) [Ibid. 9:11.]

  27. (Back to text) [Which constantly reminds the reader of G-d's presence.]

  28. (Back to text) [I.e., even they acknowledge the truth of the Bible.]

  29. (Back to text) In the present era, the rulings of the Geonim, the Tur, the Shulchan Aruch, and the like are considered as Mishnah in certain contexts (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat, ch. 25; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Hilchos Talmud Torah, loc. cit.). Explanation is required if this also applies in the above context.

  30. (Back to text) [Yeshayahu 11:2.]

  31. (Back to text) [The Hebrew term ruach translated as "spirit" in the above verse is also used to describe the element of "air" and the activity of breathing. To emphasize the thematic connection to the content of the letter, the Rebbe italicized the Hebrew word in the original text of the letter.]


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