February 14, 2023

Nedarim 55

Today’s daf (Nedarim 55a) includes an insight, or to be more accurate, an outlook and a philosophy, which I endeavour to follow. Rav Yosef asks Rava: “what is the meaning of ‘And from the Midbar (wilderness) Matana, and from Matana Nahaliel, and from Nahaliel Bamot” (Bemidbar 21:18-19)’? Significantly, the reason for Rav Yosef asking this question – other than to try and make peace with Rava who’d upset Rav Yosef – is because while these are listed as locations where Bnei Yisrael stopped during their 40-year sojourn in the midbar (wilderness), we have no other record of Bnei Yisrael stopping in these three places.
Rava replies by suggesting that it is possible that these places are mentioned to teach a lesson rather than necessarily as a record of where Bnei Yisrael travelled (i.e. while Bnei Yisrael did pass these locations, it seems that the reason why they are listed in the Torah is not to record events which occurred there, but rather, to teach us a lesson): ‘Once a person becomes like a wilderness (Midbar), deserted before all, the Torah is given to them as a gift (which is the meaning of the word ‘Matana’)…and once it is given to them as a gift, God bequeaths it to them (nb. ‘Nahaliel’ literally means ‘what God bequeaths to me’)…and once God bequeaths it to them, the person can rise to greatness (nb. ‘Bamot’ literally means ‘platforms’ or ‘stages’)’. Then, having said all this, Rava then proceeds to explain the next verse to mean that, ‘if someone then elevates themselves and is arrogant about their Torah, the Holy One, Blessed be He, diminishes that person as it is stated: “And from Bamot the valley”’, but if that person overcomes their arrogance and humbles themselves then the Holy One, Blessed be He, elevates them.’
The question is what does Rava mean when he says כֵּיוָן שֶׁעוֹשֶׂה אָדָם אֶת עַצְמוֹ כַּמִּדְבָּר – ‘once a person becomes like a wilderness (Midbar), deserted before all, the Torah is given to them as a gift’? My understanding, which is an idea that I’ve previously written about, is that for the Torah which you study to become yours, you can never think of it as yours. Instead, like the Torah itself which was given in the wilderness, you need to make the Torah that you study available and accessible to all – and it is only when you view this Torah as totally that of others when it is then gifted to you.
However, there is a further way that I relate to this teaching, because when it comes to the wilderness, all types of people can come there. And this is why the Torah ideas that I teach, and the commentaries that I quote, come from a wide range of sources. In fact, just within the past week or so I’ve quoted the following in my daf insights and other divrei Torah: Rashi, Rambam, Ra’avad, Ritva, Radbaz, Shulchan Aruch, Lori Palatnik, Amudim, Chochmat Nashim, Rabbi Dr. Michael Harris, Rabbi Yisroel Reisman, Rabbi Sacks, Rav Yekutiel Teitelbaum, Dr. Esti Bar’el, Rabbi Netanel Weiderblank, Rabbi Isaiah Horowitz, Tzohar, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson, Rabbi Moshe Avigdor Amiel, Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
So, as we celebrate Chanukah, let us end with this thought: if we want to bring light to the world we need to make our light available to the world, and if we wish to be a source of light, we must also appreciate and celebrate the light of others.
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