Meaning of Rosh haShana
Much more is to be gleaned from Talmudic disputes
than halakha I'ma'aseh (the normative law). As important as the latter is, one
must always seek to understand the hashkafic [religio-philosophic] pillar upon
which each view of a dispute is based, because these lend insight into the
profound depths of Judaism. Moreover, understanding a diverse position, helps to
clarify and illuminate the underpinnings of the view which is normative and
thereby makes the observance of that practice more meaningful in that it gives
one an opportunity to perform the mitzvah with ״םהב ונווכש תונווכה״ [the intent
with which these were performed] by Chazal.
The dispute which follows serves as a typical
example. It deals with the prayer-text for the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva (Ten Days of
Penitence). Studying it is sure to make one's Rosh haShana more meaningful.
Rabbah b. Chin'na/Rav: Throughout the year a person concludes [the 4th and the
10th blessings of the Sh'moneh Esreh] with the salutation ״שודקה לקה" (the
Sanctified God) and ״בהוא ךלמ טפשמו הקדצ" (the King Who loves righteousness and
judgment). During the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva, the salutation is ״שודקה ךלמה״ (the
King Who is holy) and ״טפשמה ךלמה" (the King [Who presides over] the judgment).
Rashi: This change underscores that during this
period God's kingship is manifest through His judgment of the world.
R. Elazar: One who says ״שודקה לקה״ and ״הקדצ
בהוא ךלמ טפשמו" fulfills his obligation.
This derives from the verse ״לקהו טפשמב תואבצ ה
הבגיו הקדצב שדקנ שודקה״ ("and the Lord of Hosts is exalted through judgment and
the Sanctified God is sanctified through righteousness") (Yeshaya 5:16). The
latter verse describes God during the Aseres Y'mei T'shuva [for this is when God
becomes manifest through judgment] and yet God is described as שודקה לקה.״
G'mara: How has this matter been resolved?
R. Yosef: A person should say ״שודקה לקה״ and ״בהוא
ךלמ טפשמו הקדצ.״
Rabbah: He should say ״שודקה ךלמה״ and ״טפשמה
The halakha follows the view of Rabbah.
While the [medieval] French Rabbis maintain that
the dispute between Rav and R. Elazar concerns only the optimal manner in which
the 4th and 10th blessings should be concluded, and if one were to say "לקה
שודקה״ and ״טפשמו הקדצ בהוא ךלמ״ even Rav would agree that ex post facto this
would be acceptable, the prevailing view is that each of these Rabbis staunchly
posits his view to the extent that if when praying one veers from his stated
position, the Sh'moneh Esrei is invalid and must be recited anew.
So far for the halakhic considerations.
When studying this dispute [and others of its
kind], the student often fails to ask the revealing questions: What is the basis
for this dispute? and What leads each Rabbi to advance his viewpoint? In this
case, it is more instructive to investigate the latter question first.
At the very end of Tractate Horiyos, the Talmud
identifies two types of talmidei chakhamim [Talmudic scholars]: the Sinai and
the Oker Harim (Uprooter of Mountains). The Sinai is the encyclopedic scholar
who has the entire corpus of Jewish knowledge at his fingertips. The Oker Harim
is the scholar who is able to penetrate the core of Biblical and Talmudic law to
the extent that through his analysis he can bring new meaning to the law and
thereby in some cases seemingly overturn [that is, redefine] existing law. The
G'mara reveals that Rabbah was an Oker Harim, whereas R. Yosef was a Sinai.
An appreciation of Rabbah and his role as an Oker
Harim is portrayed in the following Talmudic tale: Rabbah b. Nachmeni died
through persecution. The events leading up to his death were the following:
Informers told the State that Rabbah was responsible for 12,000 Jews not paying
their poll-tax because they went to study at his academy during the months of
Nisan and Tishri. A royal officer was sent to imprison Rabbah. He fled from
Pumbedisa, to Akra, to Agama, to Sahin, to Zarifa, to Ein Damim, back to
Pumbetisa ...[and finally] to Agama. There "along with the Heavenly Academy he
studied" the laws of n'ga'im (blemishes). The following was studied:
If the raw patch of skin preceded the white hair,
the person is tameh (unclean). If the white hair came first, the person is tahor
(clean). If the order of appearance is in doubt—
God: He is tahor.
The Heavenly Academy: He is tameh.
They said: Who can resolve this dispute? Rabbah
b. Nachmeni, for he is considered a yachid (singular individual) with regard to
the law of blemishes.
A messenger was sent to him, but the Angel of
Death could not approach him because he was studying Torah continuously. In the
meantime, a wind blew through the forest and he mistook this for an oncoming
band of soldiers. Thinking that he was about to be arrested, he proclaimed, "Let
me die rather than be handed over to the State."
As he was about to die, he proclaimed, "[the
blemish discussed is] tahor." Whereupon a bas kol [Heavenly voice] came forth
and proclaimed, "Happy be you, Rabbah b. Nachmeni, whose body is "tahor, and
whose soul departed tahor."
Bava Metzia 86a
To be sure, this episode requires a great deal of
analysis. Yet, our analysis will be limited to what is necessary to clarify the
point at hand, namely: How is it possible for angels to dispute with HaShem as
to the halakha? Logic dictates that by definition HaShem determines halakha!
Moreover, what is meant by the fact that Rabbah b. Nachmeni will resolve this
dispute because he is a yachid?
It is to be remembered that halakha is complex
and multi-leveled. The doctrine of Eilu v'Eilu Divrei Elokim Chayim teaches that
when viewed from different perspectives, the application of the halakha leads to
varied conclusions. (See "Axioms and Underpinnings" in my book Mirrors of
Eternity) In deciding an halakhic point, a rabbi must decide the halakha from
his halakhic perspective. Thus, in the controversy between HaShem and the angels
over the status of said blemish, the angels were compelled to rule in accordance
with their understanding despite the fact that they knew that HaShem ruled the