Sunday, March 07, 2010

Keep away from a Lie, Empty Vessel

Keep Far from a Lie
By: Meoros HaDaf HaYomi

The Gemora related: Rabbi Zeira used to hide himself to avoid ordination, because Rabbi Elozar had said: A person should remain obscure, for then he will live. But later, having heard yet another saying of Rabbi Elozar that one does not attain a position of greatness unless all his sins are forgiven, he himself made every effort to obtain it. When they ordained him, the people sang before him, “no eyeliner, no rouge, no braids, and yet, she radiates grace.”

A Torah scholar pleaded with Rabbi Aryeh Leib Shapira, the Rabbi of Kovno, to give him a certificate of rabbinical ordination. At first he refused but eventually gave in to the young man’s pleading and started to write the certificate. He then used the customary wording but left a long space before signing his name. “What are you wondering about?” he asked the other dayanim, “After all, the Torah says, Keep far from a lie” (Emunas HaTechiyah).

The Empty Vessel
The Gemora related: When the Rabbis ordained Rabbi Ami and Rabbi Assi, they sang as follows: Only men as these, only men as these, ordain for us, but do not ordain for us any of the “sarmitin” (rags; people who cannot provide proper reasoning for their words) and “sarmisin” (people who distort the reasons of the Torah), or as some say, “machmisin” (people who hold back from saying the reasons of the Torah) or “miturmisin” (empty-headed people).

A simple person came to the Chida for a letter of recommendation that would help him in begging from door to door. The Chida took pen in hand and described him with outstanding titles of honor, adding that had he lived in the days of the prophet Elisha, the miraculous oil would not have stopped flowing! The beggar showed the letter on his rounds and had much success. In a certain town, though, the local rabbi noticed that the mendicant did not seem to be such an outstanding scholar. Rereading the letter of recommendation, he came upon the above statement and, pondering the matter, realized the point: Elisha commanded Ovadiah’s wife to borrow empty utensils and pour the oil in them, promising that there would be enough to fill them all. When there were no more vessels, “the oil stopped” (Melachim II, 4:6) but were this person there, it wouldn’t have stopped as there would have been one more empty vessel. The Chida wanted to imply to the more discerning that they mustn’t rely on his recommendation for matters not pertaining to charity (Shivchei HaRav Chida).


Kichul, Pirkus and Serak
The Gemora mentions that when they ordained Rav Zeira, they lauded his greatness, and they expressed themselves with the same words that was used in the time of the Gemora to praise a bride, “without kichul, without serak, without pirchus, and yet she is still full of chein”, meaning that without adding any embellishments to Rav Zeira, he was still a great scholar. Rashi defines; kichul - makeup for the eyes, serak - makeup for the face, pirchus - braiding the hair. Tosfos points out that Rashi in Kesuvos (4b) learned that pirchus is really serak.

Understanding the exact meaning is not just academic, for there are halachic differences.

1) The above mentioned Gemora in Kesuvos discusses that a woman, when either she or her husband is in mourning, may not do kichul and pirchus. For a married woman this only applies during shivah (the seven days of mourning), but after that, she may do so in order that she should not be misganeh al baalah (repulsive in the eyes of her husband) (Yoreh De'ah 381:6).

2) A bride that is in mourning may do kichul and pirchus for up to thirty days after her wedding, even during shivah (ibid).

3) A girl that has reached marriageable age, and she is in mourning, may too do kichul and pirchus (ibid).