March 9, 2022

Chagigah 27

Today we finish our study of Massechet Chagigah and consequently our study of all of Seder Moed! And to say that I am overwhelmed by the fact that I have, with the help of G-d and the support of my family, written what I hope has been a meaningful Torah thought on every daf in this Seder – especially given the challenges that we, and especially my wife, have faced over the past 8 months – is a huge understatement! With this in mind, I have decided to use this post to share three thoughts: The first is an insight on Chagigah 27a. The second is an exquisite teaching about Massechet Chagigah. And the last is a perspective on how to find the right balance between depth and breadth.
In terms of Chagigah 27a we are taught by both Rav Yochanan and Resh Lakish – basing themselves on Yechezkel 41:22 which begins by referencing the מזבח (altar) and which ends by referencing the שלחן (table) – that ‘during the period when the Holy Temple stood, the altar would atone for a person. Nowadays [when we sadly do not have a Temple], a person’s table atones for them.’
Commenting on this Gemara, Rashi explains that when we speak of ‘table’, it refers to the hospitality that we show to others and to the food we give the hungry. In fact, as Rabbeinu Bachya notes in his commentary on Parshat Terumah, it was the custom of the pious of France to have their tables transformed into caskets for burial, thereby signifying that one carries nothing away from this world other than what we do for others.
Nowadays, through the online contributions that we can give to individuals and organisations, our ‘table’ can stretch far beyond the confines of our home, and especially given that we are witnessing a humanitarian crisis taking with refugees from Ukraine pouring into many countries around the world, an apt gesture as we complete the end of our study of Massechet Chagigah – which begins by speaking about the physical ascent to consume holy food, and which ends by speaking about the spiritual ascent achieved by providing the needy with food, is to make a donation to feed the hungry and thereby find a way for our table to atone for us.
Having shared this thought on the final page of Chagigah, I would now like to share an exquisite teaching about Massechet Chagigah which I encountered many years ago (in the Chafetz Chaim’s Torat HaBayit Ch.6, quoting the Menorat HaMaor Ner 3, Klal 8 Part III, which itself is based on a Midrash Tanchuma) and which continues to move me till today:
‘A story is told of a pious man who lived alone in a particular place and who learnt Massechet (Tractate) Chagigah. In fact, he learnt it and reviewed it so many times until he knew it so well that he could recite it by heart. The man did not know any other Massechet from the Talmud, but instead, he continued reviewing this one Massechet throughout his life. When he left this world, he was alone in his home and nobody knew that he had died. At that moment, a figure of a woman appeared, she stood over him, and she raised her voice wailing and lamenting. In fact, she sighed and wailed so profusely that a large crowd gathered to whom she instructed: “Eulogize this pious man and bury him! Give honour to his coffin and you will merit the world to come, for this man honoured me his entire life! Thanks to him, I was not abandoned or forgotten.” Immediately, all the women gathered round and sat with her, and an enormous funeral was held. The men tended to the shrouds and all the other burial requirements, and they buried him with great honour. Meanwhile, the mysterious woman continued to weep and wail. They asked her, “What is your name?”, to which she replied, “My name is Chagigah.” As soon as the pious man was buried, the woman disappeared and the people then realized that it was, indeed, Massechet Chagigah that had appeared in the form of a woman and who had come at the time of his passing to lament and weep over him and to see that he was buried with honour – because he had reviewed this Massechet continually and dedicated himself to its study.’
What we learn from here is that when we study Torah we actually bring joy and life and honour to that Torah. And as the Chafetz Chaim explains in his Sefer Torat HaBayit (Ch. 6) while referencing this story, ‘an insightful person will understand from here just how powerful [the study of just one Massechet can be, and how it serves as] a defender for such a person on high.’
In light of the above-story, and as those who study daf yomi conclude their study not only of Massechet Chagigah but of all of Seder Moed, the question we must consider is how do we achieve a personal relationship with the Torah we learn and bring joy and life and honour to that Torah, when instead of learning and reviewing one Massechet so many times, we learn each page and move onto the next, and each Massechet and move onto the next?
Of course, each of us may have our own answer to this question, but aside from the fact that I try and learn each daf a few times before writing my daily thought, mine is that through dedicating myself to creating or revealing and then sharing a meaningful Torah thought which can speak to the huge range of readers of my daily insights from every daf that I have studied, I hope I have shown affection to each daf I have learnt, and in doing so, brought joy and life and honour to that Torah.
הדרן עלך מסכת חגיגה וסדר מועד
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