February 14, 2023

Nedarim 62

Today’s daf (Nedarim 62a) quotes a powerful Beraita where Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok makes four powerful statements: ‘make these words [of the Torah] for the sake of their performance; and speak [the words of the Torah] for their own sake. Do not make [the words of Torah] as a crown (עטרה) to self-glorify; and do not make [the words of Torah that you study] as a spade with which to dig.’
Admittedly, each one of these statements are truly fundamental in terms of our relationship with Torah, and each deserve their own lengthy and detailed explanation. However, for reasons of space, I’d like to focus on just one word, עטרה (crown), and I’d like to begin by raising a simple question – namely what is the difference between the word עטרה (meaning ‘crown’), and the word כתר (also meaning ‘crown’ and often used in relation to Torah)?
This question is addressed by the Zohar and numerous other commentaries (eg. Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, the Maharal, Rav Eliyashiv), and while the comprehensive answer to this question as found in the Zohar is spiritually beyond me, we can consider some of the ideas found in the above-mentioned commentaries.
To begin, we shall refer to Megillat Esther (8:15) where we read that one of the ways that Mordechai was honoured was with וַעֲטֶרֶת זָהָב גְּדוֹלָה – ‘a large gold crown’. The question is why is the word עטרה used here, as opposed to כתר? The answer is that an עטרה is not limited to an actual king. Instead, it can be worn by anyone worthy, whereas a כתר is only worn by a king.
Of course, there is a huge benefit of being able to wear an עטרה rather than a כתר, because while a king (who wears a כתר) receives the honour of being king, they also bear the responsibility as king towards their subjects, whereas those who wear an עטרה are honoured like royalty but are free from the responsibilities of royalty. This is explained, in terms of Torah, to mean that while someone who wears a כתר is bound by their connection to people and God, someone who wears a עטרה is glorified purely due to their connection with God. Accordingly, עטרה refers to the more personal & inner relationship between someone and Torah, while כתר refers to the more public, visible relationship between someone and Torah, or as the mystics explain, כתר refers to ‘duchra’, while עטרה refers to ‘nukva’.
Having explained this difference, we can now begin to understand the teaching of Rabbi Eliezer the son of Rabbi Tzadok who states that we should not make the words of Torah as a crown (עטרה) to self-glorify. This is because it would be a negation of those who have fostered a personal inner relationship with Torah to subvert it for the sake of public admiration.
In conclusion, it seems appropriate to quote Rav Yosef Chaim’s ‘Ben Yehoyada’ commentary on our Gemara who wishes to explain the relationship between the word עטרה and Torah, and who explains that the Aramaic translation of the word שמור – meaning to guard or protect – is טר. He then adds that the Torah is divided into five books (represented by the letter ה whose numerical value is 5), while we often speak about the 70 facets of Torah interpretation (represented by the letter ע whose numerical value is 70). Given this, the word עטרה reminds us of our responsibility to guard and protect the Torah while, at the same time, celebrating the 70 facets of interpretation of the 5 books of the Torah.
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