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Chagigah, 15

CHAGIGAH 14 & 15 - anonymously dedicated by an Ohev Torah and Marbitz Torah in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel.


AGADAH: The Gemara relates that when Acher died, the heavenly tribunal was at a loss for what to do with him. On one hand, he could not be judged in Gehinom, because he had been deeply involved in Torah study during his life. On the other hand, he could not to be brought to Olam ha'Ba, because of his sins. Rebbi Meir, Acher's student, exclaimed, "It is better that he be judged in Gehinom in order to eventually be brought to Olam ha'Ba. When will I die and be able to make smoke rise from his grave!" Indeed, when Rebbi Meir died, smoke rose up from the grave of Acher.

Subsequently, Rebbi Yochanan declared that he wanted to end Acher's punishment; no one in Shamayim would stop him from bringing Acher to Olam ha'Ba, Rebbi Yochanan said, if he took him there personally (after death).

How was Rebbi Meir able to cause Acher to be judged in Gehinom (symbolized by smoke rising from his grave)? Why was Rebbi Meir unable to bring Acher directly to Olam ha'Ba, without first being judged in Gehinom? After all, enabling Acher to enter Olam ha'Ba was Rebbi Meir's objective, as he said ("It is better that he be judged in Gehinom in order to then be brought to Olam ha'Ba").

RAV ELIYAHU DESSLER zt'l explains as follows (Michtav me'Eliyahu 4:193). Tosfos (15a) says that when Acher's father brought him to learn Torah, his intention was Lo Lishmah. Acher's father had seen the respect given to Talmidei Chachamim, and he wanted his son to have the same respect. Consequently, Acher, all his life, learned Torah she'Lo Lishmah.

The Yerushalmi (cited by Tosfos) says that one of two things caused him to turn wayward. One opinion says that he saw a person die while honoring his father (which the Torah says is rewarded with a long life) by sending away a mother-bird from the nest in order to take the chick (which the Torah also says is rewarded with a long life). Another opinion says that he saw the tongue of Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nachtom being dragged by a dog, after Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nachtom had spent his entire life learning and teaching Torah (see also Bavli, Kidushin 39b). Since Acher perceived the purpose of learning Torah as being a means of gaining respect, when he saw that one could learn Torah and not receive honor for it (in this world), and even be disgraced for it, he could not tolerate the incongruence. This is why he went wayward.

Judgment in Gehinom means that a soul realizes the terrible void that characterized one's life in this world due to the Aveiros that he committed. This terrible shame continues until the soul has suffered enough for all of the Aveiros that the person did. Then, the soul is cleansed of the Aveiros, and the person is able to receive reward for all of the Mitzvos that he did Lishmah.

Since Acher had learned so much Torah and had excelled to such great heights in his Torah learning, even though it was Lo Lishmah, his soul could not experience the feeling of void and lacking that is the Gehinom experience. Since his soul could not be purged of his Aveiros, he could not enter Olam ha'Ba. Rebbi Meir, therefore, decided that he would help Acher.

Rebbi Meir excelled in learning Torah Lishmah. It was Rebbi Meir who said, "One who has learns Torah Lishmah merits many things" (Avos 6:1). Since Rebbi Meir's learning was totally Lishmah, when Rebbi Meir died and Acher saw the difference between his learning and Rebbi Meir's, his soul finally felt the lowliness of the way he had learned Torah while he was alive. Thus, it was through Rebbi Meir that Acher was able to experience Gehinom and be cleansed of his Aveiros, and then be rewarded for his Mitzvos.

Rebbi Yochanan, though, wanted to bring Acher directly to Gan Eden. We find that through learning Torah, a Talmid gives merit to his deceased Rebbi. Rebbi Yochanan often quoted teachings that he heard from Rebbi Meir, and it is likely that he pointed out that their source was Acher. (See TOSFOS in Sotah 12a, DH Acherim Omrim, who says that when the Gemara quotes the opinion of "Acherim" throughout the Gemara, it refers to Rebbi Meir who heard that teaching from Acher.) By giving over the teachings of Acher, Rebbi Yochanan was able to arouse the Zechus of Acher.

When Rebbi Yochanan died, people quoted his teachings that he taught in the name of Rebbi Meir and Acher, and thus he was able to raise Acher out of Gehinom and bring him to Olam ha'Ba. (Rav Dessler explains Rebbi Yochanan's strategy for saving Acher somewhat differently.) Rebbi Meir, though, could not bring Acher to Olam ha'Ba in that manner. Since Rebbi Meir lived in the same generation as Acher, he could not quote Acher and give honor to Acher's teachings, because he did not want others to respect Acher and learn from his ways (even after Acher's death). Therefore, the only way Rebbi Meir could cause Acher to go to Olam ha'Ba was to be judged for his Aveiros. Rebbi Yochanan, though, lived later, in a generation when people could not possibly have known Acher personally, so he had nothing to fear by quoting him.

QUESTION: Eliyahu told Rabah bar Shila that Hashem was saying over the teachings of the Rabanan, except for those of Rebbi Meir, because Rebbi Meir learned Torah from Acher. Rabah bar Shila defended Rebbi Meir, explaining that "he ate the inside of the fruit and discarded the shell." Eliyahu then told him that now Hashem is saying, "Meir My son says that when a person is in pain (from being punished as a result of his Aveiros), the Shechinah says, 'Heavy is My head, heavy is My arm! (Kalani me'Roshi, Kalani me'Zro'i!)'"

Why specifically are the head and arm used in this metaphor?


(a) The MAHARSHA (Sanhedrin 46a) explains that when a person is in pain, he rests his head on his arm. Pain is expressed by a feeling of heaviness in his head and in his arm.

(b) The ANAF YOSEF (in Ein Yakov) explains that "My head" alludes to Olam ha'Ba, the spiritual world of Machshavah (thought). "My arm" alludes to Olam ha'Zeh, the physical world of Ma'aseh (action). Since a person is a combination of spiritual and physical elements, when he suffers there is a lack in both the spiritual and physical worlds.

(c) The Gemara in Berachos (6a) says that Hashem dons Tefilin on His head and on His arm. The Parshi'os in Hashem's Tefilin proclaim Hashem's love for the Jewish people and their uniqueness in the world, just as the Parshi'os in the Jews' Tefilin proclaim their love for Hashem and His Oneness. When a person commits Aveiros and is punished because of them, Hashem complains, as it were, that His head and arm -- the areas where the Tefilin are placed -- have become weakened. That is to say, the bond between Him and the Jewish people is weakened, since this Jew has sinned and had to be punished by the Shechinah removing its presence to some extent from Klal Yisrael. (TORAS CHAIM, Sanhedrin, ibid.; CHAMRA V'CHAYEI there in the name of TOSFOS RABEINU PERETZ.)

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