Tuesday, October 28, 2008

Aggadic Appreciation

"If Rabbi Akiva knew about the Bnei Akiva Youth Movement, he would be turning in his grave"

I heard this statement dozens of time when I attending a Right Wing Orthodox Jr. high school yeshiva in the NY area.

As a parent, I may not be thrilled that my kids spend hours out of the house during Bnei Akiva's "chodesh irgun", but the following competition is simply heart warming.

YNET and Bnei Akiva teamed up to host the "Aggadic Appreciation Competition" and asked 6 "people of the arts" to state their favorite "Aggada" -- and people can vote for their favorite one.
The 6 people aren't all religious, but are all Jews living in Israel with an appreciation for their heritage. What more of a wonderful Jewish embodiment of the Israel experience can be expressed than a spectrum of notables chosing their favorite aggadic story?

The competition includes the following:

Chaim Be'er: "When Moshe met Rabbi Akiva" (תלמוד בבלי, מסכת מנחות, דף כ"ט עמוד ב)

The Talmud in Menachot states: "Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: When Moshe Rabeinu ascended to Heaven, he found the Holy One, Blessed be He, tying crowns onto the letters of the Torah. He said to God: ‘Creator of the Universe, who prevented You?’ [The Maharsha explains that Moshe received the entire Torah on Mt. Sinai - including everything that a skilled student would eventually clarify. All of a sudden, Moshe sees "crowns" on the letters, representing another layer of Torah truth, its greatest secrets. So he asks Hashem: ‘Who prevented You [from revealing these secrets to man in the basic text of the Torah that You have to add on information through the addition of such crowns - (Rashi)? What's more, You wrote the Torah in order to reveal it to man. These secrets are beyond man’s comprehension and therefore seem superfluous".]"God answered: 'There will be a person several generations from now and Akiva the son of Yosef is his name. He will extrapolate innumerable halachot from each of the crowns.' Moshe responded: 'Master of the Universe, let me see him!' God: 'Take a step back.' (This is a difficult statement. Moshe Rabeinu is speaking to God face to face and yet when he is about to meet Rabbi Akiva, he is told to "move back") Moshe thereupon went and sat at the back of the eighth row - and when he listened to Rabbi Akiva’s class, he did not understand the content of what was being discussed. He became exasperated. At one point during the class, however, a student asked Rabbi Akiva: 'What is the source for that law?' To which the teacher responded: 'It’s a halacha transmitted from Moshe on Mt. Sinai.' Moshe was relieved." (link)

Shahara Blau: "Two Sisters and the 'Bitter' Waters" (מדרש רבה ט', ה')
[missing this in English...anyone have a link to it?]
Sivan Rahat Meir "The Legacy of R' Yochana Ben Zakai" (תלמוד בבלי, מסכת ברכות, דף כ"ח, עמוד ב)

When Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakkai became sick, his students came to visit him. When he saw them enter, he began to cry. "Rebbi, the light of Yisroel, the right pillar, the strong hammer," said his students, "why do you cry?" Answered Rebbi Yochanan, " If I would have to appear in front of an
ordinary King who rules only temporarily and whose anger is not lasting and whose death penalty is only of short duration, wouldn't I be terrified? Now that I must come before the King of Kings, Whose rule is eternal and Whose anger is eternal and Whose punishment of death remains everlasting, should I not be frightened?"" Furthermore," he said "there are two paths in front of me, one leads to Gan Eden while the other leads to Gehenom, and one can never be sure on which path he will be led, shouldn't I therefore cry?" Thereupon they said to him "Rebbi, please bless us". He thereupon told them "If only your fear of heaven be equal to your fear of man". "And not more?" they asked. "When a person sins he is always afraid lest a person see him," was his reply. "If only you realize that HaShem is always watching." (

Miron Issacson, "The Guest of R' Yanai" (ויקרא רבה, פרשה ט', ג)

"Rabbi Yanai was once walking along a road and he saw a richly dressed man. He took him into his house and gave him food and drink. He tested the guest in verses of the Tanach but he didn't know, he tested him in Agada but he didn't know, and he tested him in Talmud but he didn't know. He said to him, wash your hands and make the blessing, and he replied, let Yanai make the blessing in his own house (that is, he didn't know to recite the blessing). So Rabbi Yanai declared: A dog has eaten Yanai's bread ... But he said to Rabbi Yanai: it has never happened that I heard something bad and that I replied by gossiping about the person, and I never saw two enemies fighting without being able to bring peace between them. So Rabbi Yanai said: You have such good customs, how could I have called you a dog? Rabbi Yishmael bar Rabbi Nachman said, Derech Eretz preceded the Torah by twenty-six generations, as is written, 'To guard the route to the Tree of Life' [Bereishit 3:24] - the route is derech eretz, natural habits, and only after this does it mention the tree of life, which is Torah." [Vayikra Rabba 9:3]. (link)

Ruchama Weiss, "Achnai's Oven" (תלמוד בבלי, מסכת בבא מציעא דף נ"ט)

"Achnai's oven" deals with the severe controversy that erupted among the sages regarding the impure clay oven that broke and was put together again with sand.The Gemara tells us that Rabbi Eliezer declared the oven to be pure and the sages declared it impure. Rabbi Eliezer, who held a minority opinion, called forth many signs from heaven to prove his point. A carob tree was pulled out of its place. An aqueduct changed its course. The walls of the Beit Midrash tilted as though they would fall, and even a celestial voice was heard to justify his stand. However, the majority opinion prevailed over the minority, even though G-d was on Rabbi Eliezer's side. (link)

R' Chaim Sabato, "Shmirat HaLashon [watching one's tongue]", (תלמוד בבלי מסכת תענית דף כ, עמוד א)

The Gemora cites an incident with Rabbi Elozar illustrating this theme. R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon rode his donkey along the riverbanks, traveling from his yeshiva to Migdal G'dor, his hometown. He was extremely happy, and self-assured having learned so much Torah. Suddenly, he met an exceptionally ugly man.

"Shalom alecha, Rebbi," the man greeted R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon. R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon however, instead of greeting him in return, scolded him.

"You -- good for nothing -- how ugly you are! Are all the people in your town as ugly as you?"

"I don't know," answered the man, "but maybe you'd like to tell the Craftsmen who made me, how ugly His work is!

R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon immediately realized that he had made a bad mistake. He got down from his donkey, and bowed down before the man.

"Please, forgive me," he begged.

"First," answered the man, "tell the Craftsmen who made me, how ugly His work is. Then I will forgive you!"

The man walked off, with R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon tailing humbly after him. They came to Migdal G'dor, R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon's hometown. There, many people came out to greet the great
scholar. "Shalom alecha, Rebbi, Rebbi, Mori, Mori," they called.

"Whom are you calling Rebbi, Rebbi," the ugly man asked them.

"The person who walks behind you," they answered.

"If this is a rabbi," he exclaimed, "may there not be too many of them in Yisrael."

"Why do you say this?" they asked.

"Do you know how he treats people?" he answered, and told them the story.

"Even so, forgive him, for he is a Torah giant," the people requested.

"For the sake of this town I will forgive him," the man responded, "as long as he promises never to act like this again."

R' Elozar b'Rebbi Shimon then entered the shul and the people assembled there. "A person needs always to be as flexible as a reed," he taught them, "and not hard like a cedar." This, says the Gemora, is the reason, the common reed is used as a quill to write the Torah, tefillin, and mezuzos (link)

What's your favorite Aggada?
Chodesh Tov,

Wherever I am, my blog turns towards Eretz Yisrael טובה הארץ מאד מאד


Friar Yid (not Shlita) said...

I have always been profoundly affected by the Oven of Akhnai- of course, as a non-OJ I would take the "not in Heaven" principle further, but I think it's a wonderful message- the Torah and our lives are truly in our hands and it is up to us what we do with them and if (or how) we will use them. I also love the image of God laughing at being "defeated" by his children. The idea of a God who is not threatened but rather impressed by his children challenge brings a smile to my face.

And I also like that line about the walls of the Beit Midrash neither fall down nor stand back up straight again- out of respect for both R. Joshua and R. Eliezer, they BEND. I think this image speaks to the conditions of the Jewish people today. In the name of respect towards each other, I think we could all benefit from learning to "bend."

Batya said...

How lovely. We're in between, kids too old, grandkids too young.

Lovely that non-dati Israelis frequently have a strong knowledge of Jewish sources.

yitz.. said...

my favorite would probably have to be in Midrash Rabbah about how when Adam HaRishon was created, the angels wanted to say 'Kadosh' before HaShem (ie. perform their avodah) but they couldn't tell which was Adam and which HaShem -- since Adam was created 'btzelem elokim,' until HaShem put Adam to sleep and then it was clear that (obviously) HaShem doesn't sleep, and so they were able to determine which was HaShem.

to me it's a great example of our responsibility to live up to tzelem elokim. it's a greater challenge than any other accomplishment.

Lurker said...

The aggada about Moshe Rabbenu and R. Akiva is particularly notable for being the only story from the Talmud or midrash (to my knowledge) that involves time travel.

Jameel @ The Muqata said...

Friar Yid: Thanks - I like your drash.

Yitz: very true...

Lurker: Wrong. How else is "Ad Hayom HaZeh" explained?

Anonymous said...

Lovely post - hard to choose.
Thank you!

Anonymous said...

There is an aggada (which I have heard but not seen inside and probably about to butcher)which describes how after Avraham Avinu sent away Yishmael, a few years later he went to visit him. Yishmael was not home but his wife was. Avraham asked for some food and water and she said she did not have. He left a message for Yishmael with her -to tell her husband that the threshold of his house did not befit him. A few years later Avraham again traveled back to visit and again Yishmael was not there but he was greeted by a different woman. This wife of Yishmael gave him food and water generously and Avraham left a messagae -tell your husband that your threshold befits you.

I find this story very meaningful because I was always bothered by the story of Avraham sending away Yishmael (not insofar as he listened to Sara, but insofar as it must have been so difficult for him and we do not have a lot of info about that) The story shows that as we would imagine, Avraham's love for his son Yishmael remained strong and his son Yishmael understood and listened to his father's message of Chesed even after Avraham had sent him away. Perhaps this strong love of Avraham was a factor in why Yishmael ultimately did Teshuva.

Commenter Abbi said...

I don't have a favorite aggada but I *HEART* Sivan Rahav Meir (it's Rahav not Rahat)

The Rebbetzin's Husband said...

Now, that's a great idea!

yaak said...

The story with the sisters can be found in Hebrew here and with the awful Google translation that you see below here. Here's hoping most of your readers know Hebrew. :-) I'm too lazy to really translate it.

אמרו: מעשה בשתי אחיות, שהיו דומות זו לזו והייתה האחת נשואה בעיר אחרת, בקש בעלה של אחת מהן לקנאות לה ולהשקותה מים המרים בירושלים, הלכה לאותה העיר שהייתה אחותה נשואה שם. "They said act in two sisters, who were similar to one another and was married to one another in the city, ask the husband of one of them Lknaota her Clhashkeotaha water המרים Jerusalem, which had gone to the same city where her sister is married.

אמרה לה אחותה: מה ראית לבא בכאן? Her sister told her: but what do you see in here?
אמרה לה: בעלי רוצה להשקות אותי מים המרים, ואני טמאה. She said: My husband wants me water to irrigate her, and I ritually unclean.
אמרה לה אחותה: אני הולכת תחתיך ושותה. Her sister told her: I'm going and below you.
אמרה לה: לכי ועשי כן. She said: Go Oashi Yes.
מה עשתה? What did she do?
לבשה בגדי אחותה והלכה ושתתה מים המרים, ונמצאת טהורה. Her sister was wearing clothes and went Oshatatha water her, and is located pure. חזרה לביתה יצאה אחותה שזנתה לקראתה, חבקו ונשקו זו לזו. Back home, her sister was Ssenatha towards it, Hevko and his weapon to one another.
כיון שנשקו זו לזו, הריחה במים המרים מיד מתה, לקיים מה שנאמר (קהלת ח): אין אדם שליט ברוח לכלוא את הרוח ואין שלטון ביום המות ואין משלחת במלחמה ולא ימלט רשע את בעליו. When his weapon to one another, to escape the water המרים died immediately, to comply with what has been said (Kaeat H): No person Shalit in the spirit of the wind and there is no lock on the rule of Mota and there is no delegation shall be delivered during the war and the evil owner.
הוי, לא אראנו וגו' , לכך נאמר: ומעלה בו מעל. Oh, no Eraano et cetera, that stated: Over and above it.

Lurker said...

Jameel: Wrong. How else is "Ad Hayom HaZeh" explained?


YMedad said...

a) that should be Sahara (she didn't ike her given name, Sarah; I interviewed her on my old Arutz 7 media program)

b) my best Aggada, the most political one:

Our Rabbis taught: On the twenty-fourth of Nisan12 the revenue farmers13 were removed from Judah and Jerusalem. For when the Africans14 came to plead against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon, they said, 'Canaan belongs to us, as it is written, The land of Canaan with the coasts thereof;15 and Canaan was the ancestor of these people [i.e., ourselves].' Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa16 said to the Sages, 'Authorise me to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon: should they defeat me, then say, "ye have defeated but an ignorant man of us;" whilst if I defeat them, then say to them thus: "The Law of Moses has defeated you." 'So they authorised him, and he went and pleaded against them. 'Whence do ye adduce your proof?' asked he. 'From the Torah,' they replied. 'I too,' said he, 'will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, And he said, Cursed be Canaan; a servant of servants shall he be unto his brethren.17 Now if a slave acquires property, to whom does he belong, and whose is the property?18 Moreover, it is now many years that ye have not served us.'19 Then Alexander said to them, 'Answer him!' 'Give us three days' time,' they pleaded. So he gave them a respite; they sought but found no answer. Immediately thereon they fled, leaving behind their sown fields and their planted vineyards. And that year was a Sabbatical year.

On another occasion the Egyptians came in a lawsuit against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon. They pleaded thus: 'Is it not written, And the Lord gave the people favour in the sight of the Egyptians, and they lent them [gold and precious stones, etc.]20 Then return us the gold and silver which ye took!' Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa said to the Sages, 'Give me permission to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon: should they defeat me, then say, "Ye have merely defeated an ignorant man amongst us;" whilst if I defeat them then say, "The Law of Moses has defeated you."' So they gave him permission, and he went and pleaded against them. 'Whence do ye adduce your proof?' asked he, 'From the Torah,' they replied. 'Then I too,' said he, 'will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, Now the sojourning of the children of Israel, who dwelt in Egypt, was four hundred and thirty years.21 Pay us for the toil of six hundred thousand men whom ye enslaved for four hundred thirty years.' Then King Alexander said to them, 'Answer him!' 'Give us three days' time,' they begged. So he gave them a respite; they sought but found no answer. Straightway they fled, leaving behind their sown fields and planted vineyards. And that year was a Sabbatical year.22

On another occasion the Ishmaelites and the Ketureans23 came for a lawsuit against the Jews before Alexander of Macedon. They pleaded thus: 'Canaan belongs jointly to all of us, for it is written, Now these are the generations of Ishmael, Abraham's son;24 and it is [further] written, And these are the generations of Isaac,' Abraham's son.'25 Thereupon Gebiha b. Pesisa said to the Sages: 'Give me permission to go and plead against them before Alexander of Macedon. Should they defeat me then say, "Ye have defeated one of our ignorant men;" whilst if I defeat them, say, "The Law of Moses has defeated you."' So they gave him permission, and he went and pleaded against them. 'Whence do ye adduce your proof?' asked he. 'From the Torah,' they replied. 'Then I too,' said he, 'will bring you proof only from the Torah, for it is written, And Abraham gave all that he had unto Isaac. But unto the sons of the concubines which Abraham had, Abraham gave gifts:26 if a father made a bequest to his children in his lifetime and sent them away from each other, has one any claim upon the other? [Obviously not.]'

What gifts [did he give them]? — R. Jeremiah b. Abba said: This teaches that he imparted to them [the secrets of] the unhallowed arts.27


Lurker said...

Yisrael -- the website you linked to is a vicious antisemitic site of the most extreme sort, full of horrid slander against Jews and the Talmud. (Just browse around there a bit and you'll see what I'm talking about.) I think that linking to their illegal copy of the Soncino Talmud should be discouraged.

the sabra said...

That was really pleasant--to read the aggadot, both in the post and in the comments.

Nice to ask readers to share such stuff.

wannabe frum said...

lurker - there's an aggada about Hashem showing Adam the life (or lack thereof) of David Hamelech, at which point Adam donated 7 years of his own life to David.

Search the Muqata


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