February 13, 2022

Moed Katan 29

Mazal Tov! Today we complete our study of Massechet Moed Katan which, over the past month, has taught us a range of laws relating to Chol HaMoed, as well as various mourning laws and customs.

However, just prior to me sharing what I believe to be an original interpretation of the final line of our Massechet, I’d like to acknowledge how the past few dapim have touched on some very raw issues relating to death, loss, burial and mourning, and that while I have endeavoured to express my ideas and insights with sensitivity, I nevertheless recognise that these topics are incredibly hard for some people to talk about and especially those who have recently suffered a loss. Given this, I would like to take this opportunity to thank each of you who, while responding to my posts either publicly or privately, have shared your personal stories and struggles, and also let you know that while Daf Yomi may be moving onto another Massechet, if you’d like to talk more about these topics, please just let me know.


Moed Katan 29: The final line in Massechet Moed Katan contains a teaching from Rav Chiya bar Ashi quoting Rav that: תלמידי חכמים אין להם מנוחה אפילו לעולם הבא – ‘Torah scholars have no rest, even in the World to Come’, as it says, “they advance from strength to strength, and appear before God in Zion” (Tehillim 84:8)’.

As various commentaries explain, what this teaching seems to be conveying to us is the idea that even when Torah scholars reach the World to Come, though they can no longer practice mitzvot, they nevertheless can continue to advance their Torah study ‘from strength to strength’.

Yet, and this is the glaring question, if this is the case, why are we taught that Torah scholars ‘have no rest’ in the World to Come? Surely heavenly Torah study – where every idea is clear and where God is the teacher – should not be hard? In fact, wouldn’t such study be the ultimate definition of rest?

To answer this question, I would like to reference a debate amongst our classic biblical commentaries relating to the difference between the first and second set of luchot (tablets) that were received at Mount Sinai.

As we know, the first set of luchot were ‘the work of God, and the writing was God’s writing, engraved on the tablets’ (Shemot 32:16), whereas the second set of luchot were made by Moshe, on which God ‘inscribed the words that were on the first tablets that you broke’ (Shemot 34:1). And given the fact that the second luchot were not solely produced by God, while the first luchot were purely the work of God, many have argued that the first set of luchot were superior to the second.

However, this is not the view of the Beit HaLevi (R’ Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, 1820-1892) who explains (in Drush 18) that the experience of Torah study from the first and second luchot was radically different, and while Torah study from the first set of luchot would have been easy and effortless, Torah study from the second set of luchot demanded strain and effort in order to clearly understand its true meaning.

Of course, there may be some who regard the need to work harder to understand the Torah of the second luchot as affirming the fact that they were inferior to the first. However, the key point made by the Beit HaLevi is that it is only through our effort and endeavour that we truly achieve a sense of ownership and accomplishment of Torah. As such, what may be deemed to be an impediment in the second luchot is, in fact, what it takes for us to achieve greatness.

Having explained all this I would like to return to the final line of Massechet Moed Katan where we are taught that תלמידי חכמים אין להם מנוחה אפילו לעולם הבא – ‘Torah scholars have no rest, even in the World to Come’, and suggest that what this is actually suggesting is that when Torah scholars arrive to the World to Come, they are offered to study Torah in a manner reflective of the first set of luchot – meaning that they are offered to study Torah in a way that every idea will immediately be clear to them.

Yet, notwithstanding this choice, and having spent a lifetime studying Torah within the framework of the second set of luchot which has demanded strain and effort from them to clearly understand its true meaning, Torah scholars respond to this offer with a version of ‘thanks but no thanks’ and, instead, they choose to study Torah in a way that still demands effort because they understand that it is only through investing effort that we truly achieve a sense of ownership and accomplishment of Torah. Based on this interpretation, the meaning of the word אפילו – ‘even’ in our daf is that ‘even’ when they are given the choice, Torah scholars choose to work hard to learn Torah because we value Torah especially when we work hard to acquire it.

Having explained all this I’d like to briefly reflect on my daily study and writing of these daf yomi posts which certainly do take some time and effort. Yet, it is precisely because of the time and effort that I invest to learn and understand the Torah which I then share with others that I hope to achieve a sense of ownership of what I learn. And by you reading these posts, often in addition to studying the daf yourself and thinking about its meaning, I hope you feel the same. הדרן עלך מסכת מועד קטן! 

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