Today I would like to elaborate on my commentary to Rosh Hashanah 18a (see https://rabbijohnnysolomon.com/rosh-hashanah-18/) and address the teaching found both there and in today’s daf (Yevamot 105a) about the role of Torah study and acts of kindness (chessed) in bringing atonement to the world. Moreover, I would like to discuss how – in the absence of korbanot (sacrifices) – we need both Torah and Chessed, and especially how one relates to the other.
We are taught in Avot 1:2 that: ‘Shimon the Righteous was one of the last survivors of the Great Assembly. He used to say: “On three things the world is sustained: on the Torah, on the (Temple) service, and on acts of loving-kindness.” At the same time, we are taught in Avot D’Rabbi Natan (Ch. 4) that ‘in the beginning the world was created by loving-kindness alone, for so it is said: “For I have said: The world is built by loving-kindness; You establish the heavens with Your faithfulness” (Tehillim 89:3)’. Moreover, even when sacrifices could have been offered, God communicated to the people through the prophet that, “I desire loving-kindness and not sacrifice” (Hosea 6:6). Beyond this, as Gemara Sotah 14a points out, the Torah begins and ends with acts of loving-kindness. What this means is that the foundation of the world is chessed, that the Torah is a guide-book which teaches us how to live a life overflowing with chessed, and that our task is to put those teachings into practice by performing acts of chessed.
Significantly, this idea is powerfully expressed in Avot D’Rabbi Natan through a number of stories such as the one involving Rabbi Yehudah son of Rabbi Elai who was sitting and teaching his students – at which time a bride passed by. Seemingly disturbed by the noise of her procession he asked, “What is this?” to which he was told, “A bride is passing.” He then instructed his students, saying: “My children, stand and attend to the bride, for thus we find that the Holy Blessed One attended to a bride, [and] if God attended to a bride – then I, all the more so!”
On this theme, Avot D’Rabbi Natan (ibid.) continues to explain that when Daniel was in Bavel he performed great deeds. It then asks, ‘If you say that he offered whole-offerings and sacrifices, do people offer sacrifices in Babylon? Has it not been previously said: “Take care not to sacrifice your burnt offerings in any place you like; but only in the place that the Lord will choose in one of your tribal territories. There you shall sacrifice your burnt offerings” (Devarim 12:13-14). What then were the deeds of loving-kindness that Daniel did? He provided for the bride and made her rejoice, he attended the dead to the grave, he gave money to the poor and prayed three times daily and his prayer was accepted with favour.’ What we learn from here is that while Daniel was unable to offer korbanot in Bavel, he performed many acts of chessed.
Having explained this, we can now connect it to a further series of stories in our daf (Yevamot 105b) when Yishmael, son of Rabbi Yosei, was sharply challenged by Abdan for being disrespectful to Torah scholars, during which time a young yevamah came to ask Rebbi a question, and from where it seems that permission is granted to somehow disrespect Torah (i.e. stepping over the heads of Torah scholars) for the chessed of giving a halachic response to someone in need.
Overall, whether when Rabbi Yehudah was giving a shiur which he stopped for a bride, or whether when Rebbi was approached by a yevamah with a halachic query, we learn that Torah is a guide-book which teaches us how to live a life overflowing with chessed, and that when chessed opportunities present themselves, our task is to put those teachings into practice.