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Ta'anis 21

TA'ANIS 21, 22 - Ari Kornfeld has generously sponsored the Dafyomi publications for these Dafim for the benefit of Klal Yisrael


QUESTIONS: The Gemara relates the story of Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan. Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan were deeply immersed in learning Torah, and they suffered from abject poverty. Finally, their situation became so difficult that they decided to leave the Beis Midrash and go to work, in fulfillment of the verse, "There will be no destitute among you" (Devarim 15:4). When they were on their way to find work, Rebbi Yochanan overheard two Malachei ha'Shares conversing with each other, saying that these two people deserved to be killed for leaving the life of eternity (Torah study) and involving themselves in the temporary life of pursuing a material livelihood. The only reason they did not kill Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan is because one of them would soon be experiencing a propitious fate. Rebbi Yochanan, who heard this conversation, decided to continue learning Torah in poverty and not to go to work, while Ilfa, who did not hear the words of the Malachim, went to work.

By the time that Ilfa returned from his business endeavors, Rebbi Yochanan had been inaugurated as the Rosh Yeshivah, a position of great prestige and wealth (Rashi). The people of the town said to Ilfa upon his return, "Had you stayed and learned Torah (like Rebbi Yochanan), you would have become the Rosh Yeshivah!"

When Ilfa heard this, he ascended the mast of a ship and suspended himself in the crow's nest at the top of the mast. He proclaimed, "If anyone can ask me a question -- which I cannot answer -- regarding the source in the Mishnah of any statement of Rebbi Chiya and Rebbi Oshiya's teachings in the Beraisa, I will jump down from here and drown myself!"

This fascinating incident poses a number of questions.

First, why did Ilfa climb to the top of a ship? Why did he not simply go to the top of a Beis Midrash, or some other structure on land? Second, how could he threaten to kill himself? No matter how disappointed he might have been, killing himself is certainly forbidden! (See BEN YEHOYADA)

ANSWER: RAV JOSEPH PEARLMAN of London quotes his father, RAV REFOEL DOVID zt'l, (HA'MEIR, Parshas Vayechi, 5742), who gave a beautiful explanation for this Gemara.

He explained that Ilfa felt that he was being criticized when he returned from his business endeavors for not reaching the heights in Torah which he could have reached. He felt that this criticism was unjust; he was perfectly justified in choosing the path of "Torah combined with Derech Eretz," learning Torah while at the same time working for a livelihood. He wanted to prove that his Torah had in no way suffered as a result of his involvement in pursuing a livelihood (as Rashi writes, "[Ilfa said:] Even though I became involved in commerce, I did not forget any of my learning").

Ilfa was a merchant who, like the people of Zevulun, traveled by ship to far away places to trade his wares. (This might be why he was called Ilfa; the word "Ilfa" in Aramaic means "ship.") By climbing to the top of the mast of the ship, Ilfa meant to say that although he had attained the highest pinnacle of success in his business, it had not interfered with his Torah learning.

He declared that he was prepared to answer any question in Torah that he was asked, and if he was unable to answer it, he would "jump down" from the top of the ship -- that is, he would leave his immensely successful business and wealth and abandon his Derech of learning and working together -- and "drown himself" completely in the sea of Torah, in the same manner that Rebbi Yochanan had done. If his Torah learning had suffered as a result of his involvement in business, he was willing to jump down from the world of business and immerse himself in the sea of Torah.

Let us add, that according to this Ilfa felt no regret for what he had done; he considered himself to have chosen the correct way in the service of Hashem, just as Rebbi Yochanan felt that *he* had chosen the correct way in the service of Hashem. But isn't it clear from the "threat" of the two angels at the beginning of the story that Rebbi Yochanan, and not Ilfa, was correct? RAV REUVEN MARGOLIOS (introduction to Margolios ha'Yam) suggests that both Rav Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan did exactly what they were supposed to do; Ilfa accomplished no less than Rebbi Yochanan did.

The Midrash (Shir ha'Shirim Rabah 8:7) says that Rebbi Yochanan told Rebbi Chiya bar Aba that he used to own a large amount of real estate, but he sold it in order to continue learning Torah. Rebbi Chiya bar Aba cried for him that he no longer had anything with which to support himself when he became old. Ilfa, on the other hand, perhaps came from a very poor family. Had he not worked for a living, he would have had nothing at all to eat. Since Rebbi Yochanan had what to eat, and only wanted to work as to ensure that he would have sustenance when he became older, he made the right choice in giving up his plans of working and instead living off of his inheritance until it would be used up. He would trust in Hashem and not worry about what he would do when he became old. Ilfa, though, had nothing to sell, so he made the correct choice in deciding to involve himself with commerce.

According to this explanation, one may ask, why did the Malachim want to kill both of them for leaving the life of Torah study? What could they have had against Ilfa?

The Gemara says that they were sitting underneath a weak wall which the Malachim wanted to topple on them. What difference does it make if the wall was weak? If leaving Torah is such a bad thing, then even if the wall was a strong one, the Malachim should want to push it onto Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan for leaving Torah!

The Gemara earlier (20a) says that one may not walk below a weak wall, because doing so diminishes one's Zechuyos, which become "used up" protecting him from the danger that it poses (Berachos 55a, Rosh Hashanah 16b). Ilfa and Rebbi Yochanan's lives were in danger simply because they neglectfully sat under a weak wall. The Malachim said that if they were still learning Torah, their Torah study would have protected them (Sotah 21a). Torah is not part in the realm of nature, and therefore those who study it are freed from nature's grasp (Bamidbar Raba 10:8: "The only one who is truly free is one who learns Torah."). But since they decided to stop learning Torah and instead to be involved in a worldly occupation, they no longer merited Divine protection from natural calamities. Nevertheless, they were protected in the Zechus of Rebbi Yochanan, who was destined to become the next Torah leader.


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