January 2, 2022

Rosh Hashanah 17

Much of the discussion in today’s daf (Rosh Hashanah 17a) relates to God’s final judgement of our deeds at the end of our life and the ways in which this judgement can be fused with God’s grace and mercy.
On this theme, Rava teaches us that: כל המעביר על מדותיו מעבירין לו על כל פשעיו – ‘whoever overlooks a personal affront, all their transgressions are overlooked’ as it says, נֹשֵׂא עָוֹן וְעֹבֵר עַל פֶּשַׁע – ‘Who lifts (נֹשֵׂא) iniquity to one who overlooks (עֹבֵר) transgressions’ (Micha 7:18), which Rava then explains to mean that God shows grace, mercy and looks beyond the iniquities of an individual who shows grace, mercy and looks beyond the personal affronts that others commit towards them.
Having explained this, the Gemara then tells a striking story about Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua who had a Near Death Experience (NDE). Significantly, just prior to this experience, Rav Pappa came to visit and instructed those present to prepare the Rav Huna’s body for its impending death. However, to the surprise of all those present, Rav Huna unexpectedly recovered.
When he came to, Rav Huna – like many others who have experienced an NDE – was asked by those around him: מאי חזית, ‘what did you see?’, to which he responded that it was true that he was about to die, but then, at that moment, God said that that ‘since he does not stand on his principle, [I] shall not take a [strict] stand against him’.
The question, posed by the Meshech Chochmah (see his commentary to Bemidbar 14:18), is what did Rav Huna specifically do for him to be identified as someone towards whom God chose not to take a strict stand? To this, he offers the following thesis:
We are taught in Sotah 5a that while a Torah scholar should be humble, they must nevertheless convey a very small measure (‘one eighth of one eighth’) of pride which they should harness to defend the honour of the Torah that they represent and to maintain a healthy distance from those who may make fun of them.
Significantly, Rav Huna the son of Rav Yehoshua is on record as agreeing with this sentiment – while also implying that though this pride should be expressed by the outer behaviour of a Torah scholar, internally they should be completely humble.
However, based on what God says to Rav Huna during his NDE that ‘he does not stand on his principle’, the Meshech Chochmah explains that while Rav Huna fully agreed that a Torah scholar should convey a very small measure of pride, he himself chose not to do so – meaning that while there were those who personally affronted Rav Huna, he nevertheless overlooked such behaviour.
Admittedly, when someone slights us, our natural reaction is to hold onto the slight, keep a mental record of it, and use this to inform our future actions and decisions towards them. But while this may be understandable, and while the slight may truly hurt, what Rava teaches us is that the stronger thing to do is to look beyond the slight, and through preventing the slight from weighing upon us, God then lifts our other iniquities from us as well.
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