Parshas Toldos-Torah Or-Effort versus results-What does G-d want from me?

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Im Yiten Ish Es Kol HonBeiso….…”

[Torah Or p. 19a]


“What is the purpose of Toras Hachassidus?” the Tzemach Tzedek asked his grandfather, the Alter Rebbe. The Alter Rebbe replied, “To change the nature of one’s Middos”. This Mamar focuses on a puzzling story told in the Gemara regarding Rebbe Chanina Ben Tradyon, one of the Ten Martyrs, about his visit to another Tanna by the name of Rebbe Yossi Ben Kisma. This story leads to a vibrant discussion on the makeup of a person’s character, and how a person is able to refine and direct his emotions towards the path of holiness.


Rebbe Chanina, who spent his entire life learning and spreading Torah, voiced uncertainty as to whether he would receive a portion in the world to come. How can a Tzaddik of that caliber even have such a question? This leads to a discussion on the different natures that people possess. Why do some people have a studious nature, while others have great difficulty in learning? Is the righteousness of a person based solely on his level of religiosity, or is it also based on his inner struggles and innate natural tendencies? Will a scholar who naturally enjoys learning by his very nature receive a greater reward and be more precious before Hashem than the person who forces himself against his nature to keep a steady learning schedule? It is possible for good natures to contain negative side effects, and for bad natures to contain positive side effects. It is the purpose of each Jew to direct his natural tendencies, whether good or bad, towards the right direction of Holiness and purity. This also connects to the final Mamar of this week’s Parsha, which discusses the episode of the blessings of Yitzchak being given to Yaakov. Yitzchak had intended to bless Eisav with the Brachos. Why? Was he so greatly fooled by Eisav’s character? Why pick the bad son to shower with blessings and leave the good son empty-handed? The Alter Rebbe explains that in truth Yitzchak was well aware of Eisav and his evil ways, and it was precisely due to this that he desired to bless him. The blessing represented a great spiritual power that would help Eisav battle his naturally intense evil inclination. Yaakov, on the other hand, was born with natural holy tendencies, and hence in the eyes of Yitzchak, he did not require the added spiritual assistance that he would merit from the blessings.    



Explorations of the Mamar

1.      Why was Rebbe Chanina Ben Tradyon unsure whether he would have a portion in the world to come?

2.      Does Hashem judge based on results or effort? Does Hashem judge based on external righteousness or based on the person’s challenge?

3.      What is the function of Daas and how does it mediate one’s character?

4.      Why are some Jews capable of studying Torah diligently, while others struggle to focus for even a few minutes?

5.      Why did Yitzchak desire to bless Eisav and leave Yaakov empty-handed?



The story:

In the times of the destruction of the Second Temple, the Romans held sovereignty over the Jews in Eretz Yisrael. They forbade the learning and spreading of Torah with capital punishment. The following episode is related in Tractate Avoda Zara 18a regarding the martyrdom of Rebbe Chanina Ben Tradyon, one of the ten Harugei Malchus. When Rebbe Yossi Ben Kisma[1] fell ill, Rebbe Chanina Ben Tradyon went to visit him. Rebbe Yossi said to him, “My brother Chanina, do you not know that this [Roman] nation has been crowned from Heaven, as they have destroyed His Temple, burnt His Heichal, and murdered His righteous followers? And they are still well established. I heard a rumor about you, that you sit and learn Torah and gather the masses to teach them, holding a Sefer Torah to your chest. [How can you do such a thing? You are forfeiting your life!”]

Rebbe Chanina answered him, “Heaven will have mercy”.

Rebbe Yossi replied, “I am telling you words of reason, and you are telling me that Heaven will have mercy? I would be surprised if they did not burn you and your Sefer Torah in the fire!”

Rebbe Chanina replied to Him, “My Teacher, tell me, will I receive a portion in the world to come?”

Rebbe Yossi replied, “Do you have any [meritorious] actions?”

Rebbe Chanina replied, “Yes. Once, I accidently distributed the funds for my Purim meal towards charity, thinking it was my charity money, [and I did not reimburse myself from my charity fund].”

Rebbe Yossi replied, “If so, then let your portion be my portion in the world to come”. A short time later, Rebbe Yossi passed away and all the dignitaries of Rome came to his funeral procession. On their return, the Roman dignitaries found Rebbe Chanina teaching Torah in public to a group of congregants. They brought him and wrapped the Sefer Torah around him. They brought bundles of vines and set him on fire. A heavenly voice proclaimed, “Rebbe Chanina is invited to the world to come”.     


The Question:

The above Talmudic account is puzzling on various levels. Rebbe Chanina was one of the greatest leaders of Torah in his time, and he spent his every moment in studying G-d’s law until the point when he gave up his life for Hashem’s wisdom. How could he even question whether he would receive a portion in the world to come? If dedicating one’s entire life for G-d and His Torah does not merit a portion in the world to come, then what does? Likewise, how could Rebbe Yossi, who was similarly a great Sage, not see the immense meritorious actions of Rebbe Chanina to the point that he had to ask him, “Do you have any [meritorious] actions” that could give you the merit to see the world to come? Was Rebbe Yossi really unaware of the great righteousness of Rebbe Chanina, whom he had just chastised for spreading Torah in the face of death? And what is the meaning behind Rebbe Chanina’s reply? Was that single act of charity the only Mitzvah that Rebbe Chanina ever performed? Why should Rebbe Chanina’s entire “world to come” be deserved simply from one act of charity? To understand this matter we must first introduce the concept of Daas.



The purpose of Daas:

A person’s emotions and character are born from his level of Bina, understanding. One’s love, fear, and other character idiosyncrasies derive from one’s innate understanding and contemplation of matters that bring one towards a particular trait or emotion. The purpose of the level of Daas still remains to be understood. What effect does Daas have on one’s emotions of love and fear and one’s personality? Daas is the internal anatomy of one’s character and emotion. It is the inner motivation and hidden drive behind a particular emotion or character trait. While it is possible to have a natural emotion or character trait without Daas, this emotion or character trait would be without proper direction and could therefore find itself being used for negative matters. For example, one who is hot-blooded by nature is able to arouse a great feeling of love of G-d during prayer, soulfully bringing out a great longing to attach to Him. However, if this natural emotion and character is not given inner direction through the level of Daas, it can also be used to feed matters that are sinful and negative. After the enthusiastic prayer, it is possible for him to use that same feeling of emotion to become angry at someone, as the emotion that he used during prayer does not have a programmed direction. Natural emotions and character are by their very nature intertwined with good and evil. It is the job of Daas to separate good and evil from within the trait or emotion and give it a proper direction in terms of when and for what it will be used. Based on this, we can now understand the above puzzling story with Rebbe Chanina Ben Tradyon.


Rebbe Chanina’s studious nature:

Although Rebbe Chanina certainly recognized his own immense dedication to Torah learning even in the face of death, nevertheless he still questioned whether his studious nature solely existed for the sake of Heaven or not. Although he was a great Tzaddik who learned Torah Leshma [for the sake of Heaven], he was nevertheless in doubt as to whether he may have had other motivations behind his learning. It is the nature of many people to have a great thirst for wisdom and to feel a passionate pull from their heart towards schools of thought and knowledge. Such a person’s nature is inclined to constantly attach itself to intellectual matters. A proof for this can be brought from the early philosophers who were aristocrats and lacked none of the world’s pleasures. Nevertheless, they would leave all of these pleasures and invest all of their hearts and souls into acquiring wisdom. Night and day, their minds were occupied with the intellect. They took such pleasure in intellectual research and knowledge that to them it was just like any other lustful pleasure of the world as experienced by others. This studious nature of theirs did not come as a result of a religion, as they were gentiles who served idolatry and had no religious motivation for the pursuit of intellect. Rather, it was simply their very nature and inborn character to thirst for wisdom and receive great pleasure in acquiring knowledge. There are, however, those that are not born with such a nature, and they do not have any thirst or longing for wisdom at all. They may be very bright and quick to grasp intellectual topics, but they do not feel a drive towards these matters and they prefer to delve into the materialistic pleasures of the world.


The natural cause for an assiduous learning nature:

The reason and cause of an assiduous learning nature derives from a certain biological personality trait called Marah Shechorah, or literally “the black gallbladder.” One who possesses a high level of Marah Shechorah is naturally an assiduous learner by his very nature, having the ability and taking inner pleasure in focusing himself on an intellectual topic for great lengths of time. Such a person, when brought up under the influence of Torah and Mitzvos, will naturally be inclined to study the wisdom of his religion, which is the Torah, and he will have a great thirst and longing to spend his day and night involved in Torah learning. However, those who contain a high level of Marah Levana, which is the white gallbladder, are unable to naturally focus their mind for lengthy periods of time on a single topic. Even if one has tremendous intellectual capabilities, if he has a high Marah Levana, he will be unable to focus and will not experience pleasure in his study. Practically, Hashem created different types of souls within Israel, some having the Marah Shechorah nature and others possessing the Marah Levana nature.


Marah Shechorah causes a stingy nature:

One with a nature of Marah Shechorah does not only express his nature in his assiduous learning abilities, but also in other matters of personality. This nature causes one to be stingy with his money. This is because Marah Shechorah makes a person very introverted and self-focused, also leading to a greatly analytical judgment of his use of money, thus leading to stinginess.


Rebbe Chanina’s learning character was not due to Marah Shechorah:

For this reason, Rebbe Chanina asked Rebbe Yossi if he would merit the world to come, despite being a most assiduous Torah learner and leader. He was unsure whether his learning was solely a result of his true dedication and utter nullification to G-d’s will, or whether it was also due to his assiduous nature, based on his high level of Marah Shechorah. Rebbe Yossi also understood this point and hence questioned Rebbe Chanina as to whether he had other character traits that could reveal his true nature, whether as a Marah Shechorah or not. Rebbe Chanina answered that he once accidentally distributed charity money from his personal funds and did not care to reimburse himself from charity. This showed that he did not have a natural character of stinginess, hence negating any thought of his learning being a result of a Marah Shechorah nature. It then became certain that he had a portion in the world to come. 


Serving Hashem beyond your nature:

From all of the above, it is evident that one may have a natural character that seems to be the epitome of goodness and holiness, but nevertheless it is mixed with aspects of evil. [One may have a very good natural character trait, but if there is no work nor any effort on the person’s side to use it for service of G-d, then it is completely devoid of true holiness, and it is even questionable as to whether such a nature would merit the world to come. Hashem demands Avoda, work, from each and every person equally, whether he has good natural characteristics or bad ones.]  In order for one to refine even his positive natural tendencies to be purely good, one needs to use his attribute of Daas. One does so by contemplating the specific character trait that he wishes to amend, and directing it towards its proper direction.   


Hashem judges and gives reward and punishment based on one’s level of challenge:

From the above, one can learn a very great lesson regarding how Hashem judges others. It is our tendency to judge another person based on his external actions, as we do not view his mind or heart. Hashem, however, judges based on the heart and the effort and difficulties faced by the person. The Rambam[2] states, “Hashem does not judge based on the numbers of sins versus the number of merits, but rather based on the quality of sin versus the quality of merits. There can be one merit that corresponds to many sins, and one sin that corresponds to many merits. This matter is only measured in the eyes of Hashem”. The Arizal stated,[3] “People are born with different levels of impurity and inner battles. Hashem does not judge a man with a greater battle in the same way that He judges another one with less of a challenge. Know this great secret. At times, the small sin of one man will receive a great punishment while the grave sin of another man will receive no punishment at all. This is the meaning of the verse, Hatzur Tamim Poalo Ki Chol Derachav Mishpat, ‘all of Hashem’s actions are pure, as He has the ways of judgment.’”   


Yitzchak’s desire to bless Eisav, and the reason why Yaakov received the blessings:[4]

The above idea, that Hashem judges a person by his effort and not solely by his actions that come as a result of his natural born tendencies, can also be seen in the episode discussed in this week’s Parsha regarding the blessings of Yitzchak. Yitzchak desired to bless Eisav, and when Yaakov entered in his place Yitzchak thought he was Eisav. Yitzchak proclaimed, “Your smell is like the smell of the orchard of G-d [Gan Eden]”. How could Yitzchak be so misled regarding Eisav? Furthermore, doesn’t the verse itself state that Yitzchak proclaimed that the voice is the voice of Yaakov, hence proving Yitzchak’s knowledge of Eisav’s character? The explanation is as follows: Yitzchak knew very well of Eisav’s character of evil and wrongdoing. At the same time, he also knew that Eisav contained within him great sparks of holiness that needed to be extracted and redeemed from their Kelipos. Although Eisav was externally evil, he contained within him great potential Holiness. Yitzchak desired to assist Eisav in battling his evil and turning the evil into good, hence redeeming the Holy sparks he contained. This is the reason why Yitzchak desired to bless Eisav, as the blessings represented a gift of spiritual powers that would give Eisav the ability to have his holiness revealed. Yaakov, on the other hand, did not need this extra assistance as he was already refined and pure. It was, however, on this point that Yitzchak was mistaken. Eisav was not on a level that he could receive spiritual powers and use them for Holy purposes. If Eisav would have received the blessings, he would have used them for impure matters. Rather, the refinement of Eisav had to be done specifically through Yaakov. It is for this reason that specifically Yaakov needed to receive these added blessings in order to be given the extra soul powers to refine the level of Eisav. [In any event, it can be learned from this story that although a person may seem to have spiritual difficulties, in truth Hashem has planted within him great spiritual potential for which even the righteous are here to refine him and help him in his battle.]



Lessons of the Mamar

·         Hashem gave every person a different nature and character. It is within your purpose in life to refine and direct your nature toward Holiness so that it is only used for Kedusha.

·         Your natural good traits do not suffice. Push yourself to refine them even more until they are pure of all negativity. 

·         One can never judge another person, as we do not know or experience their inner battle. True judgment is only in the hands of Hashem.



[1] Rebbe Yossi Ben Kisma was a famed Tanna who had a warm relationship with the Roman Empire. See also Yevamos 96b

[2] Hilchos Teshuvah 3

[3] Shaar Hagilgulim Hakdama 28

[4] Torah Or, Mamar “Riei Reiach Beni” p. 20

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