Talmud Tips

For the week ending 22 March 2014 / 20 Adar II 5774

Succah 48 - 54

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Whoever is greater than another person has a greater yetzer hara than him.”

This teaching on out daf is a statement made by an elderly Sage to Abaye, which helped Abaye understand a situation described in the gemara that puzzled him greatly. A great rabbi in Jerusalem explained this intriguing statement to me as follows: The greater a person is (the higher his spiritual level), the clearer is his realization of the importance of being close to G-d and also how distant he still is. And this is the “weak link” where the yetzer hara inclination “goes to work” and incites the person to stray by saying, “You have this feeling of lacking and I can make you feel compete if you do the following….” The greater a person is, the greater his feeling of lacking, and the greater his temptation.

The Rambam in “Shmona Perakim”, his introduction to Pirkei Avot, qualifies the statement in our gemara. He says that a great person will only feel tempted greatly to transgress “chukim” — commands that we do not see any logical reason for, such as shatnnez or kashrut. However, laws which are logical and reasonable to us – such as not to steal or murder – are certainly not greater temptations for a great person.

  • Succah 52a

Hillel the Elder used to say, “If I am here, everyone is here; but if I am not here, who is here?”

A beraita on our daf relates that this is what the great Sage would say when he rejoiced in the Beit Hamikdash during the “Simchat beit hasho’eva” celebrations during Succot.

Rashi writes that although Hillel was speaking in the first person – “ani” which translates as “I” – he was actually speaking in the name of G-d. His message was that if the Jewish People are righteous then G-d’s Divine Presence will dwell in the Beit Hamikdash and everyone will come there. But if they transgress, G-d will remove His Divine Presence from there and no one will come (Rashi).

Commentaries ask why Hillel referred to G-d as “I”. A great rabbi in Jerusalem taught me that on Succot the simcha of mitzvah that followed the days of judgment, purity and atonement of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur help a person truly recognize that a “piece of Divineness” is inside him. Succot is the only time of the year when we say in prayer “I” but are referring to “Him” — as we learned above in our masechta that we pray, “Ani v’Hu hoshia na”, which is a plea for G-d to save us (45a).

  • Succah 43a

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