Sunday, April 29, 2007

Tosefet Bracha - Acharei Mot

“You shall afflict your souls” (16; 31)
Several times in the Talmud it teaches the well known drasha: If someomne eats and drinks on the ninth (of Tishrei – the day before Yom Kippur) it is considered as if he has fasted on both the ninth and the tenth.
The reason for this drasha is not clear, why should there be such a great reward for eating and drinking such that it is considered like fasting on Yom Kippur? Rashi takes it a step further and says (Rosh Hashana 9a) that anyone who eats a lot and drinks a lot …. This just makes it more confusing and we have to figure out why this should be true.
Perhas we can explain based on the Mishna in Ta’anit (26a) that the anshei mishmar (the representatives from each town who went to the Temple in shifts to ‘supervise’ the sacrifices) would sit and learn constantly in the Beit Hamikdash and would dedicate their learning and the sacrifices to all of Israel. They would fast every day of the week except for Sunday. The Talmud explains the reason for not fasting on Sunday, so that they should not go directly from the rest and enjoyment of Shabbat into fasting, which may weaken them significantly and endanger their lives. The conept of dying refers here to the weakening of the body, just as the phrase ‘the Torah will only be acquired properly by someone who ‘kills’ themselves over it’ (Brachot 63b). This doesn’t mean actual killing, but weakening themselves, because if they would actually kill themselves over it that would certainly not be acquiring it at all. Once a person dies they become free from the Torah (as it says in Nida 61b). In the Talmud of Tamid (32a) it asks: what should a person do to live? Kill themselves (in other words humble themselves). There are many other examples of this use of the word ‘kill’ or ‘death’.
So the Mishna in Ta’anit means that on Shabbat a person spoils themselves with food and drink, as Rashi explains in Beitza (16a) regarding the extra soul of Shabbat. He says that the soul expands the ability of the heart to enjoy and be happy with food and drink without being repulsed by it. We can understand that ‘being repulsed’ teaches that the nature of a person is that when they have eaten their fill and there is no room left in their bellies, they lose their appetite for any more food and they become repulsed by it. But on Shabbat a person is able to eat and drink more without becoming ill from having eaten too much.
Therefore it is clear that a fast that comes straight after Shabbat is very difficult. This is why the anshei mishmar would not fast on Sunday. Similarly, the more one eats and drinks on the day before Yom Kippur, the more difficult it is for them to fast on Yom Kippur. This is why it is praiseworthy to eat and drink on the ninth and it is considered as if they had fasted. The difficulty of the subsequent fast is considered like a double fast. We can see that Rashi was very precise when he said ‘eats and drinks a lot’, because it is the extra food that makes the fast more difficult.
You should know that based on this explanation we can understand the statement of the Talmud (Brachot 34b) that in a place where ba’alei Teshuva stand completely righteous people are unable to stand. At first glance it seems difficult to understand why someone who has sinned should be on a higher level than someone who has not. The sinner has sated their body and soul with sins and all kinds of forbidden things – how can they reach a higher level than someone who has never sinned but lived their life in purity and holiness?
According to our explanation above, we can explain that the higher level of someone who has sinned and done Teshuva is precisely because they have filled themselves with the pleasures of sin and physical desires. This makes it much more difficult for them to separate themselves from the physicality. To make the transition from a lifestyle of hedonism to the ‘afflictions’ and ‘suffering’ of keeping the mitzvot makes them much greater than those who were completely righteous all of their lives. (based on Rashi who explains (Succah 52a) that the word ‘chasid’ refers to someone who has never sinned in their life). Therefore the challenge of someone who becomes a ba’al Teshuva is much greater and their reward is similarly much greater.

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