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Commentary on Tanakh Class May 17, 2021

Don Perlmutter

The Rabbi (Yehuda Ha Nasi)

Rabbi Yehuda (the Prince) was a second century head of the Sanhedrin and the first to reduce the oral commentary on Torah to a written form which later became known as the Mishnah. In his teachings, he posed a series of questions and words of advice which we considered in our discussion:"

"Which is the straight path for a person to follow?"
The implication in this question is that a person makes conscious decisions in pursuing a path in life. Of course, that is not always the case. Some drift aimlessly (e.g. Forest Gump) allowing their course to be determined by twists of fate or the whims of others. We believe The Rabbi was suggesting that we determine our paths through rational and moral decision making. 

The Rabbi’s answer to his own question was: “That which is an honor to him and elicits honor from his fellow men." Here, making choices which honor oneself implies fidelity to one’s own moral compass without regard to the opinion of others. You will be honored by others if you adhere to an inner code which, ideally, is guided by Torah. We discussed, in this context, that relying on rules of conduct imposed on you by convention or law does not ensure that you are behaving honorably. It is not enough to merely follow rules. Your motivations and intentions are what determines honor.  

"Be as scrupulous about a light precept as of a weighty one, for you do not know the reward allotted for each precept."
With this advice, we are reminded of the “butterfly effect”: Every action, whether large or small, creates ripples in the universe, and we cannot know the implications or unintended consequences. A corollary is: “Balance the loss incurred by the fulfillment of a precept against the gain, and the accruing from a transgression against the loss it involves." A commandment may have to be broken to fulfill a higher purpose. The principle of pikuach nefesh, in which preservation of human life overrides all other commandments, is an example. 

"Reflect on three things to avoid knowing sin: Know what is above you: a seeing eye, a hearing ear, and that all your deeds are recorded in a book."
While this could be a reference to an omniscient being watching us, let us consider this to be a metaphor for an internal standard against which all our personal deeds are judged. 

The son of Rabbi Yehuda, Rabbi Gamaliel, urged us to combine study of Torah with a worldly occupation. He even went so far as to say that Torah, when detached from life, becomes neglected and a cause of sin. One wonders how R. Gamaliel would view the Yeshiva system, in which students are dependents of the community.    

Rabbi Gamaliel also warned us to “be careful in your relations with the authorities, for they draw no man close to themselves except for their own interests.” It is 2021…There is no need to say more on this subject

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782