Friday, June 22, 2007


brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Yerushalayim

QUESTION: The Gemara (27b-28a) records a number of incidents wherein the Talmidim of a Tana or Amora asked their teacher how he merited living such a long life. In each case, the Tana or Amora answered by relating an act (or acts) of especially upright conduct which he practiced. In the middle of the Sugya, the Gemara relates that Rebbi Akiva once asked Rebbi Nechunya ha'Gadol how he merited to live so long. Rebbi Nechunya's attendants thought that Rebbi Akiva asked his question mockingly, as though he was upset that Rebbi Nechunya had lived so long, and they began to hit him. Rebbi Akiva escaped to the top of a tree from where he called to Rebbi Nechunya, "If the Torah says, '[You shall prepare] a lamb' (Bamidbar 28:4), then why does it add the word 'one (Keves Echad)'?"

Rebbi Nechunya understood from Rebbi Akiva's question that he was a genuine Talmid Chacham, and he ordered his attendants to leave Rebbi Akiva alone. Rebbi Akiva then answered his own question: the Torah adds the word "Echad" (one) to teach that the lamb must be the most special lamb of its flock.

Rebbi Nechunya informed Rebbi Akiva why he merited living so long. "I never accepted any presents, I never stood up for my due (to get back at someone who had wronged me), and I was forgoing with my money."

This incident needs clarification. Why were the attendants so upset with Rebbi Akiva's question to Rebbi Nechunya, and what did Rebbi Nechunya see that changed his viewpoint about Rebbi Akiva's question?

explains as follows. The Gemara in Yevamos (49b) records a dispute among the Tana'im about the meaning of Hashem's blessing to His people, "The number of your days I shall fill" (Shemos 23:26). The Beraisa there says that the blessing refers to the days of a person's lifespan. Rebbi Akiva says that if a person is worthy, Hashem lets the person live his entire allotted time. If a person is unworthy, Hashem cuts his life short and takes him before his allotted time is completed. The Chachamim disagree and say that if a person is worthy, Hashem adds to his allotted time (and not that Hashem merely keeps the person alive for his allotted time). Since Rebbi Akiva is the minority opinion, the Halachah should follow the Chachamim.

For this reason, the attendants of Rebbi Nechunya became upset with Rebbi Akiva when he asked how their master merited living so long. Since his extra years were a blessing of addition to his allotted lifespan, it was not proper to speak about it openly because a "blessing [of addition] exists only upon something which is hidden from the eye" (Bava Metzia 42a). They feared that by revealing the extra years granted to Rebbi Nechunya and discussing why he was blessed, the blessing would become one that was no longer hidden and, as a result, cease to continue.

Rebbi Akiva, however, was acting according to his own opinion (in Yevamos) that when a person lives for a very long time, those years are
not an addition to his allotted life but rather a blessing from Hashem to live out his allotted time (which, in Rebbi Nechunya's case, happened to be a very long time). Therefore, Rebbi Akiva wanted to know the proper manner of conduct which brings merit to complete one's allotted lifespan. Since that does not involve a blessing of extra, additional years, it is not subject to the requirement that it remain "hidden from the eye."

Rebbi Akiva conveyed his intention by hinting to the lamb of the Korban Tamid. One who consistently uses each day of his life to carry out
Hashem's will -- thereby fulfilling his "daily obligation" like the Korban Tamid -- will merit living for his entire allotted lifespan.

Rebbi Akiva's intent is also evident in Rebbi Nechunya's response. When Rebbi Nechunya understood that Rebbi Akiva was asking how he managed to live for his allotted time (and not how he merited to have additional years added to his lifespan) he answered, "I never accepted any presents," meaning that he felt full and satisfied with his portion in life and needed nothing else. Measure for measure, he was awarded with the full portion of his lifespan. Similarly, "I never stood up for my due, and I was forgoing with my money" -- he trusted in Hashem to repay his due in full measure, for which he was rewarded with fully living out his allotted years.

This is the only incident of all of the incidents recorded by the Gemara which discusses the ways to merit fully living one's allotted lifespan,
since the question in this incident was posed by Rebbi Akiva. All of the other cases are in accordance with the view of the Chachamim in Yevamos, and thus they discuss how to add to one's lifespan.

A remarkable support for this understanding can be found in the words of the MESILAS YESHARIM. The Mesilas Yesharim (ch. 19) writes that these stories teach how to act with the attribute of Chasidus (adding to the requirement of the law) for which one will be rewarded measure for measure by having more time added to his allotted lifespan. The Mesilas Yesharim cites a number of the stories mentioned in the Gemara before the incident with Rebbi Akiva and Rebbi Nechunya, and he also cites the story of Rebbi Zeira which follows the one with Rebbi Akiva. Why does he entirely omit the story of Rebbi Akiva?

According to the above approach, the reason for the omission is that the story of Rebbi Akiva does not demonstrate how to add to one's lifespan, but rather how to merit completing one's allotted time.

This explains why -- when Rebbi Nechunya said that he never accepted any presents -- the Gemara cites an example for this attribute from the conduct of Rebbi Zeira, who never accepted presents. In the very next case of the Gemara, however, Rebbi Zeira was asked how he merited livingso long. He answered with six reasons but he did not mention that he never accepted presents! It must be that the conduct of not accepting presents is a reason to have one's allotted time completed, but not a reason to have more years added, and thus Rebbi Zeira did not mention that attribute when he was asked how he merited having more time added to his life.

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