Wednesday, August 8, 2012

Thoughts on Berachot 8a: The 4 Amot of Halakha

Today's Daf describes the importance of davening where you learn.

אמר אביי מריש הוה גריסנא בגו ביתא ומצלינא בבי כנישתא כיון דשמענא להא דאמר רבי חייא בר אמי משמיה דעולא מיום שחרב בית המקדש אין לו להקב''ה בעולמו אלא ארבע אמות של הלכה בלבד לא הוה מצלינא אלא היכא דגריסנא

Abbaye says: At first I would love in the house and pray in the shul. Since I heard the statement of Rabbi Chiya Bar Ami in the name of Ula, "From the day that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed The Holy One Blessed Be He only has in this world the 4 Amot (cubits) of Halakha", I only davened where I learned.

This idea is fundamental both in terms of Halakha and Hashkafa.

In terms of Halakha, I remember when I was in Rabbi Yehuda Parnes' shiur in YU he was always careful that we davened mincha after shiur in our classroom even though it was taking place at the same time as a larger mincha minyan next door in the Beit Midrash. I believe that was the practice of my rebbe's rebbe, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik as well. It seems that the idea of davening where we learned took precedence over ברוב עם הדרת מלך, the larger nation gives more glory to the king, that we would get from Davening in the Beit Midrash.

Rav Herschel Shachter also brings down in Mipnenay HaRav (page 37) in the name of Rav Soloveitchik that this is the basis for the idea earlier in the Gemara that one should stand for Shemoney Esray after saying Divrei Torah which is the basis for preceding the Mincha Amida with Ashrei. He explains that the Beit HaMikdash was a place of prayer since it was a place for the Shechina, the Divine Presence, to dwell in this world. Our place of learning is the place where Hashem now dwells since "From the day that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed The Holy One Blessed Be He only has in this world the 4 Amot (cubits) of Halakha". Therefore one who davens after being involved in words of Torah it is as if he has davened in the Beit HaMikdash.

This idea is important in Hashkafa as well. The following is excerpted from an article that I wrote in Ten Daat a few years ago entitled: THE ROLE OF TEACHER AND STUDENT IN JEWISH EDUCATION ACCORDING TO RABBI JOSEPH B. SOLOVEITCHIK.

Rabbi Soloveitchik says that the act of Limud Torah should lead the Torah learner into a rendezvous with God. The learning of Torah unites human beings with God. This is due to the fact that both God and the Jewish people concentrate their minds on one object, the Torah. As it is written, "From the day that the Beit Hamikdash was destroyed The Holy One Blessed Be He only has in this world the 4 Amot (cubits) of Halakha". Since both God and the Jewish people are united in the Torah, by studying Torah the Jewish people are united with the Almighty. In Rabbi Soloveitchik’s words, “if the knower and the object known are merged into one, then two knowers whose minds are concentrated on the same object are also united.”10 He explains this using the axiom, if “a=c” and “b=c” then “a=b”. In this case, “a” represents God, “b” represents the Jewish people, and “c” represents the Torah. Since both God and the Jewish people know the Torah, then it is through the Torah that the Jewish people can know God.

It is interesting to note that Rabbi Soloveitchik uses the devotional definition of Torah lishmah, with its emphasis on devekut advanced by Rav Shneur Zalman of Ladi and other kabbalists, rather than using the cognitive definition of Torah lishmah advanced by Rabbi Soloveitchik’s progenitor and spiritual antecedent, Rav Hayyim of Volozhin. This is despite the fact that Rabbi Soloveitchik himself quotes Rav Hayyim’s cognitive definition of Torah lishmah verbatim in Halakhic Man, 87-89. See Torah Lishmah: Torah for Torah’s Sakes by Norman Lamm (Hoboken, 1989), 190-253, for a complete discussion of these two definitions.

In “Al Ahavat Hatorah Ugeulat Nefesh Hador”, 410, Rabbi Soloveitchik reconciles the cognitive definition of Torah lishmah formulated by his forebears with the devotional definition explicated by the Tanya, for whose philosophy Rabbi Soloveitchik clearly has an affinity. He creates synthesis where on the one hand one studies Torah for the Torah’s sake like the philosophy of Rav Hayyim of Volozhin while on the other hand through this act of study one meets God who also involves himself in the four cubits of Halakhah similar to Rav Shneur Zalman of Liadi.

We hope and pray that the Beit HaMikdash will be rebuilt soon so Hashem once again has his house for the Shechina to dwell. Until then, we will continue our rendezvous with the Almighty through the act of learning Torah as Hashem always dwells in the 4 Amot of Halakha.

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