October 26, 2022

Ketubot 111

There is a teaching of Rabbi Elazar in today’s daf (Ketubot 111b) which calls for further elucidation. Specifically, we are taught: כל המשתמש באור תורה – ‘whoever makes use of the light of the Torah’, then אור תורה מחייהו – ‘the light of the Torah will revive him’. And why does this call for further elucidation? Because the word המשתמש, meaning ‘makes use’, is an unusual choice of language.
Before proceeding, it is essential to understand that this teaching appears as part of a series of exchanges between Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Yochanan where R’ Elazar appears to take the position that those who do not or choose not to study Torah will be disadvantaged during the time of תחיית המתים (the resurrection of the dead), to which R’ Yochanan responds in defense of those in this category. Simply put, R’ Elazar appears to be a Torah exclusivist by claiming that only those who are involved in Torah study will be fully rewarded, whereas R’ Yochanan appears to be an inclusivist by asserting that there are many ways for people to accrue spiritual merit.
At this point, R’ Elazar states: ‘whoever makes use (המשתמש) of the light of the Torah the light of the Torah will revive him’ – which seems to further emphasise his view that only those involved in Torah study are truly meritorious. But what does המשתמש actually mean? As R’ Simcha Bunem Sofer explains in his ‘Shevet Sofer’ (Drush 6), what R’ Elazar is saying here seeks to clarify his position because it refers not just to Torah study but also to Torah deeds (nb. in making his point, R’ Sofer refers to Avot 1:17 which tells us how לא המדרש הוא העקר אלא המעשה – ‘it is not the study which is the essence but, rather, the deed’, and also to Brachot 17a which states that תכלית חכמה תשובה ומעשים טובים – ‘the purpose of wisdom is to improve ourselves and do good deeds’). Simply put, by using the word המשתמש, it seems that R’ Elazar doesn’t believe that one is spiritually revived merely by sitting and studying Torah. Instead, one is revived by translating Torah teachings into Torah actions.
But then, having made this statement, the penny then drops for R’ Elazar (or as he himself puts it when addressing R’ Yochanan: רבי מצאתי להן תקנה מן התורה – ‘My teacher! I have found a solution to this from the Torah itself!’), because he realizes that even those who do not or choose not to study Torah do ‘make use of the light of Torah’ by performing deeds that support Torah study and Torah scholars. To quote R’ Elya Lopian (see ‘Lev Eliyahu’ on Parshat Vayigash), what R’ Elazar came to realize is that even those who do not study Torah but who still perform deeds to support Torah have a שייכות לתורה (‘a direct connection with Torah’).
This itself is a lovely lesson. However, what I think is an even greater lesson is the way in which R’ Yochanan’s challenge of R’ Elazar prompted him to take a more considered look at his own view of Torah, which then to led him to shift from a more exclusivist position to a more inclusivist one.


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