Tuesday, April 17, 2007



Rabbi Meir Shapiro, the founder of the Daf Hayomi, was known as a child prodigy. His sharpness allowed him to grasp even the deepest concepts quickly.

It is related that the Vishnitzer Rebbe once sought to observe Reb Meir when he was merely nine years old. Little Meir recited for the Rebbe the entire first section of Yoreh Deah by heart. Meir was not only capable of reciting the words verbatim, but he also was able to explain the rulings in a manner similar to a Torah scholar.

Once during a Shabbos meal, Meir was asked to explain an enigmatic passage that is sung in the Shabbos zemiros. The zemiros state: To the mountains, I lift my eyes, like Hillel and not Shamai. Meir was asked, “What is the juxtaposition of these two seemingly unrelated ideas and what is their correlation to Shabbos?”

The little genius did not have to think long before responding. The Gemora in Chagigah (10a) states: The laws of Shabbos are like mountains hanging on a hair, as they have few Scriptural allusions, but many halachos. The Gemora explains that the Torah only prohibits one to perform a meleches machasheves, a calculated labor, on Shabbos. Rashi explains that the Torah juxtaposes the laws of prohibited labors on Shabbos to the construction of the Tabernacle. Regarding the construction of the Tabernacle it is said meleches machasheves, calculated labor. Since the guidelines are not written by Shabbos, they are compared to mountains hanging on a hair.

The Gemora in Menochos (40a) cites a dispute between Beis Shamai and Beis Hillel whether one is permitted to wear a garment of tzitzis that contains shatnez (wool and linen mixed together). Rashi explains: Beis Hillel maintains that the linen garment is subject to the mitzva of tzitzis because the Torah juxtaposes the mitzva of tzitzis to the commandment against wearing shatnez. Beis Shamai disagrees because he does not expound juxtapositions.

This then is the meaning of the verse: To the mountains, I lift my eyes; the halachos of Shabbos are compared to a mountain hanging on a hair. Like Hillel and not Shamai; for Beis Shamai does not expound juxtapositions and therefore he cannot derive the principle of meleches machasheves by Shabbos because this is written by the Mishkan and not by Shabbos.


Bas Melech said...

Well, the dvar Torah is nice. I've actually wondered what that phrase meant.

But the story... I don't know... these child prodigy stories never sit well with me. I think they fail to account for the effort and struggles that it takes to become great. Even if a person started off at an advantage, they still must have worked tremendously hard to reach and maintain the level of a leader of Yisrael, yet these stories make it sound like it just happened to them. This is very dicouraging to your average Yankel who has many struggles way before he reaches greatness.

Rav Hutner actually has a powerful, inspiring letter in which he supports that idea.

Avromi said...

Make sure that you keep in mind that not every greta man started out that way. There are stories of Gedolim who struggled in the beginning (Netziv and others). I was once by a Torah Umesorah Convention where a question was posed to Roshei HaYeshivos that a book should be compiled of Gedolim's mistakes. They answered "No," but thats probably a slightly different discussion.

Avromi said...

When compiling a book about Gedolim or one in particular, it is vital to take all your words into account - as an Elementary School teacher, I am well aware of this, especially in our times, when seemingly, we do not have many of these exceptionally gifted and motivated children. The vort that I wrote was for the purpose of explaining the zemiros with a 'chap' connection - it happens to be that Rav Meir Shapiro said it when he was nine.

Again, your point is well taken - keep up the strong commenting.