Monday, August 6, 2012

Questions on Berachot 5

For today's Daf, I only have questions, no answers.

Here is my relatively easier question. The Gemara contrasts the ways of flesh and blood with the ways of Hashem. With a human being, when a seller sells something, the seller is upset because he had to give up something of value while the buyer is happy. With Hashem it is not so, when Hashem gave us to the Torah, he was happy. This comparison does not seem to be an accurate one. Obviously, in a business dealing, the seller does not want to part with something of value even if he will get something in return. The Torah on the other hand is described as a gift and with gifts it is quite common that the giver is as happy as the receiver even though he receives nothing tangible in return. The very act of giving is its own reward.

The various commentaries in Ein Yaakov struggle with this. The Rif on Ein Yaakov, not to be confused with the Rif in the back of the standard Vilna Shas, learns a Kal Vechomer. If a human seller is upset to give up something even though he receives payment in return, how much more so would the human be upset to give a gift and get nothing in return. This is as opposed to Hashem who is happy to give us the Torah as a gift. I find this answer to be unsatisfactory since often it is the case with gifts that the giver derives joy just from giving the gift even if he receives no tangible compensation. The Meharsha explains that a seller would rather that the recipient give up his item so he can get it back while Hashem wants us to keep his gift the Torah. This is also unsatisfactory for similar reasons. I believe even a human giver wants the receiver to keep the gift and is upset if he chooses not to. My question therefore stands. How is this contrast between a human who sells something and Hashem who gives us the Torah as a gift a valid one? I welcome your feedback.

The Gemara continues with a very difficult philosophical concept, Yissurim Shel Ahava. The Gemara says that if bad things befall a person, he should make a cheschbon hanefesh, an introspection. If he cannot find a sin great enough to warrant his suffering, he can assume that he is suffering due to Yissurim Shel Ahava, chastenings of love.

The rationale for this is explained differently according to Rashi and the Meharsha. According to Rashi, Hashem will cause a good person to suffer in this world so he can get an even greater reward than his mitzvot alone would have warranted in the World To Come. According to Meharsha, Yissurim Shel Ahava can be a form of vicarious atonement. The righteous person might suffer in this world as a form of atonement for his entire community. (I know this does not sound like a Jewish concept, but it is. It just is not a central focus of our faith as it might be in other religions.)

This concept is a difficult one for me but one I am ready to accept. As in the story of Iyov, sometimes a person can suffer for no apparent reason. The friends of Iyov who tell him that his suffering is on account of his sins do not do him any favors or serve as any solace. Perhaps he is merely suffering due to Yissurim Shel Ahava, chastenings of love.

However, the Gemara continues with examples that are hard for me to even write down here let alone accept at face value. After some back and forth, the Gemara establishes that sometimes a person can lose his children chas veshalom due to Yissurim Shel Ahava. I struggle to understand this. Why should apparently innocent children suffer as Yissurim Shel Ahava for the parent? I have not found any answer that is remotely satisfactory to me. It is my hope that some of my readers can at least point me to a commentary to serve as a guide for approaching this difficult question.


  1. As far as the first Q. maybe the idea is that in human interactions there is always a give-&-take even if it is just positive feelings towards the giver. however in our interaction with Hkb"h it is considered a gift as there is absolutely nothing he is lacking and therefore nothing which we can give back in return.

  2. ChaimK @UncleChaim answered on Twitter as follows:

    "Question #2 to paraphrase the Rebbe one who believes in many gods and only one world this might be a question, but to one who has two worlds and one God, this is not a question."

    He further explained:
    "We see that chazal also weren't accepting beyond conceptually, as the Gemara tells stories of לא הן ולא שכרן".

  3. @Rabbi Bernstein on Twitter recommended:
    "The story in Rav Sholom Arush's Garden of Emuna, page 39 (Hebrew version) may be enlightening."