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Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
Sunday June 4, 2017
The class will begin in:
6 days, 4 hours, 20 minutes
Instructor: Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman
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Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Sunday 1:00PM
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Course Description

In this course we will take an in-depth look at Ein Ayah, Rav Kook’s commentary on the aggadot (anecdotal texts) of the Talmud. We will focus on the aggadot of Massechet Shabbat to gain a stronger understanding of the lessons one can learn from the stories in the text.


Torah learning on WebYeshiva.org in Spring Semester 2017 is dedicated in the memory of Yehezkel and Sarah Lemel z”l by their loving family.     יחזקאל בן אשר למל ושאשא יוכבד ז”ל ושרה מניה פייגע בת יום טוב וטשארנה רבקה ז”ל

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About Rabbi Dr. Stuart Fischman
Rabbi Stuart Fischman graduated from Yeshiva University in 1980 and the dental school of Columbia University in 1985. Since 1989 he has been studying and teaching at Yeshivat Hamivtar in Efrat. He has rabbinic ordination from Rav Zalman Nechemia Goldberg.

Class Resources & Information

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April 23, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    Here is a review of yesterday's shiur on the עין איה.

   The Gemarah in masechet Shabbat discusses how  three different  Amoraim prepared themselves for prayer. רבא בר רב הונא would put on special shoes before he prayed. He explained that he did so to prepare himself for meeting Hashem, as is written:

עמוס פרק ד

 ...הִכּוֹן לִקְרַאת אֱ-לֹהֶיךָ יִשְׂרָאֵל:

רבא on the other hand would remove his special cloak, fold his hands together and pray. He explained that he viewed himself while praying as a slave before his master.

Finally, Rav Ashi said that he saw Rav Kahanah pray. When there was suffering in the world, then Rav Kahanah would follow the practice of רבא. When times were good he would follow the practice of   רבא בר רב הונא.

    Rashi in his commentary explains that each rabbi's practice reflected his feeling towards prayer. רבא בר רב הונא felt that it was important to dress before prayer in a manner that befits an important occasion while רבא felt that wearing a fine cloak would be inappropriate when seeking something from God. Rav Kook expands on these ideas.

   Rav Kook writes that prayer has two aspects. We praise Hashem in our prayers (רינה) and we petition Hashem in our prayers (בקשה). Prayers which focus on praise of Hashem are ecstatic and lead to a great outburst of love for Hashem. Ecstatic love needs to be watched carefully. It has often happened that people became carried away by their love for Hashem and came to think that they have a "special relationship" with God. They convinced themselves that the mitzvoth were only given to us to teach us self-control. The goal of the mitzvoth is to allow us to reach the level of comprehension which leads to the love of Hashem. Once we reach that level, their thinking goes, the mitzvoth are no longer needed.

    This idea is of course wrong. The mitzvoth are always binding. There is no "end" to the comprehension which we can reach regarding Hashem who is infinite. The more we understand about Hashem the more we need to take care in our observance of mitzvoth. Chazal teach us כל הגדול מחברו יצרו גדול מחברו. This is why רבא בר רב הונא took such pains to wear the correct shoes when he prayed. רבא בר רב הונא prayed ecstatically, saying the praises of Hashem. But רבא בר רב הונא     was sensitive to the need to praise Hashem out of a sense of awe and respect. That is why he paid attention to something as trivial as his footwear. To fail to wear the right shoes would have been a sign of disrespect for Hashem which would have led to others as well, and רבא בר רב הונא  was careful about not falling into that trap.

    רבא prayed, as Rashi explained with an attitude that differed from that of  רבא בר  רב הונא. רבא prayed while oppressed by the needs of the time. He needed to free himself of those concerns in order to pray properly. By removing his formal cloak and folding his hands together he was showing that he understood that all that he needed was not in his control. On the contrary human effort is insignificant and everything in this world is given by Hashem. This attitude frees a person from worry and allows him to reach the level of prayer which is based on the praise of Hashem.[1]

    רבא בר רב הונא  and רבא had particular and apparently fixed attitudes towards prayer. Rav Kook notes that most of us do not have such fixed spiritual traits. The best way for a person to know how to pray, either with a sense of joy or as a slave seeking a gift, is to look at the world. If the world is in trouble then by all means pray as a servant and seek Hashem's aid. If the world is at peace then the person should free himself of his worries and pray joyously. This was the practice of Rav Kahanah.

   I hope you enjoyed the shiur. Stuart Fischman

[1] It seems to me ( and I may be mistaken) that Rav Kook zt"l gives primacy to "spiritual" prayers as opposed to prayer which focuses on the person's needs. I mentioned in the shiur that Rav Soloveitchik zt"l in his essay רעיונות על התפילה"" wrote that there is no need to apologize for asking Hashem to help us when we need His assistance and that this sort of prayer is totally appropriate.


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April 30, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    In today's shiur in the עין איה we saw how Rav Kook zt"l understood the balance between study of Torah and prayer.

    The study of Torah and prayer are two of the most intimate ways that a person communicates with Hashem. With the former, the person applies his or her mind to understanding Hashem's law as expressed in the Torah. With the latter a person pours out his or her thoughts and wishes to Hashem. That there is a tension between the two mitzvoth is almost inevitable. Both mitzvoth can demand all of a person's energies. When the mitzvoth are taken seriously the question arises to which mitzvah should a person devote his or energies; to the mitzvah which engages the mind or the mitzvah which engages the heart?

    This question is the focus of several stories in the Gemarah and has been dicussed  down to our day. Rav Soloveitchik zt"l wrote an essay titled "איש ההלכה" which defended the scholars of Halacha against the charge that their focus on the study of Halacha leaves spiritually dead. On the other hand, Rav Kook zt"l who authored many Halachic monographs and hundreds of תשובות wrote that he found the study of Halacha spiritually  stifling. The passages in עין איה which we studied today were based on two stories which address the issue of study versus prayer, the head versus the heart:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף י עמוד א

רבא חזייה לרב המנונא דקא מאריך בצלותיה, אמר: מניחין חיי עולם ועוסקים בחיי שעה! - והוא סבר: זמן תפלה לחוד, וזמן תורה לחוד.

רבי ירמיה הוה יתיב קמיה דרבי זירא, והוו עסקי בשמעתא. נגה לצלויי, והוה קא מסרהב רבי ירמיה, קרי עליה רבי זירא: מסיר אזנו משמע תורה גם תפלתו תועבה.

In both stories we see tension between a sage who wished to pray and another sage who views prayer as interfering with the study of Torah.

    Rav Kook explains that the first story about the exchange between Rava and Rav Hamnunah was a debate between two different types of religious personalities. The study of Torah gives the student  greater and clearer insights into Hashem. This development of the intellect is priceless. Prayer on the other hand does not lead to new insights. Rather prayer deepens the religious understanding  which a person already possesses. It develops sensitivity and feeling.

    Our souls live on after our deaths and they take with them all the Torah that we have studied during our lives. Our feelings and our emotions however die with us. Rava rebuked Rav Hamnunah for spending too much time with his prayers because the time spent developing the soul could be better spent on developing the mind. The eternal  is more valuable than the ephemeral. Rav Hamnunah replied to Rava that there are people whose emotional lives are bound up with their intellectual lives. Yes, Torah is the most important value in the Halachic system, but there is a need to balance the legitimate needs of the heart with the demands of the mind. Hence the statement of Rav Hamnunah- זמן תורה לחוד זמן תפלה לחוד.

   There is a body of thought which claims that people have an innate spiritual sensitivity. The proponents of this idea would like to see everyone engage in spontaneous prayer as the spirit moves them. Rigid systems of religious behavior, such as the Halacha, are at best unnecessary and at worst oppress those who would wish to express themselves to God freely.

    Rav Kook, for all that he appreciated and endorsed spiritual expression explains that untrammeled spirituality is not a good thing. We humans need to constantly be aware that when we pray we are addressing our Creator. This is what רבי זירא pointed out to רבי ירמיה when the latter wished to end their lesson so that רבי זירא could pray. רבי זירא  quoted a verse from משלי:

משלי פרק כח פסוק ט

מֵסִיר אָזְנוֹ מִשְּׁמֹעַ תּוֹרָה גַּם תְּפִלָּתוֹ תּוֹעֵבָה:

Even a person such as רבי ירמיה who could never be accused of being one who is "מסיר אזנו משמע תורה" needs to understand that his yearning to pray, to speak with Hashem, needs to be balanced by the intellect as guided by the Torah.

    Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

   A happy יום העצמאות to all.

Stuart Fischman

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May 7, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Here is a summary  of yesterday's shiur on  עין איה.

   There is a remarkable story in מסכת שבת. A man's wife passed away, leaving him with an infant who required nursing. The man was very poor and could not afford to hire a nurse. Hashem made a miracle for this man. The man developed breasts and nursed the baby himself. The Gemarah records a difference of opinion regarding the man and the miracle which was performed for him:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נג עמוד ב

אמר רב יוסף בא וראה כמה גדול אדם זה שנעשה לו נס כזה

אמר לו אביי אדרבה כמה גרוע אדם זה שנשתנו לו סדרי בראשית

Rav Yosef felt that this miracle demonstrated that this man was truly great. Abayei felt that the opposite was true. The fact that Hashem would only send him miraculous support as opposed to providing him with more conventional help proved that he was an unworthy individual.

   Rav Kook[1] zt"l explains these two divergent perspectives on the role of miracles.

   Rav Kook explains that we ought to see the entire world and everything that happens as a series of miracles. Everything is a result of Hashem's guidance. Unfortunately we are so accustomed to the routine which follows the laws of nature that we have lost sight of the fact that the laws of nature were created by Hashem.

   Rav Yosef remarked when he heard about the man who developed breasts to nurse his baby: ".כמה גדול אדם זה"  We can understand that Hashem makes miracles for the exceptional individuals among us and that He makes miracles to rescue the Jewish people. But the man in this story was apparently not exceptional at all.[2] Rav Yosef taught that even though we fail to see anything exceptional in this father he must have great merit since Hashem made a miracle for him and his child. The lesson which this teaches us is that there is nothing in this world which is insignificant. Hashem in His wisdom saw that this man and his child at that moment and place needed to be saved miraculously, and so it happened. Rav Kook wrote that this is the taught by the verse:

תהלים פרק קיא פסוק ב

גְּדֹלִים מַעֲשֵׂי ה' דְּרוּשִׁים לְכָל חֶפְצֵיהֶם:

Abayei disagreed with Rav Yosef's attitude towards this miracle.

אמר לו אביי אדרבה כמה גרוע אדם זה שנשתנו לו סדרי בראשית

Hashem created a world which operates with certain laws which we view as "nature." Miracles are the tool which Hashem uses to remind us that He is managing the world through the medium of nature. Miracles are impressive, but we should not become enamored of them. We should strive to see Hashem in nature. If a person is incapable of seeing Hashem in the everyday events that surround him then Hashem will make a miracle to make His presence felt. The person who needs a  miracle to see Hashem in his life is not worthy at all- כמה גרוע אדם זה.

    Rav Yehudah and Rav Nachman commented on the story:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף נג עמוד ב

 אמר רב יהודה בא וראה כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם שנשתנו עליו סדרי בראשית

 אמר רב נחמן תדע דמתרחיש ניסא ולא אברו מזוני

Since the man was poor and the immediate need was for his infant son to be fed, Hashem could have of course provided the father with a conventional livelihood. Why did Hashem take the dramatic step of providing the father with breasts?

   Rav Yehudah and Rav Nachman taught on this basis " .כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם"

What are they teaching us with this observation? Rav Kook explains that Hashem created the world in such a way that we need to apply our greatest efforts towards making a living. The economic structure of our lives (and even the economic life of ancient Babylon) is immensely complex. For Hashem to intervene in the economy of a locale in order to provide a person with a livelihood would demand Divine intervention in a myriad of relationships. That is what Rav Yehudah meant when he remarked ".כמה קשים מזונותיו של אדם"  That is the reason that Hashem chose to provide a man with breasts as opposed to improving the man's economic state. Creating breasts in a man required less tampering with the usual course of events than creating a successful business.

   Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur. Yesterday there was a problem with the shiur's web-platform which prevented many people from logging on and I apologize for the inconvenience.

Stuart Fischman



[1] We opened the shiur with the commentary of the משך חכמה to פרשת בחקתי because many of his ideas are echoed in Rav Kook's comments.

[2] Ms. Sinensky correctly observed that the miracle was performed for the baby and not for the father who remained poor. This point is also made by Rav Zilberstein shita"h in his commentary חשוקי חמד.


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May 14, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

   Here is a summary of yesterday's shiur on the עין איה of Rav Kook zt"l. I am happy to be able to report that there were no technical problems with WebYeshiva site so the shiur proceeded smoothly.

   The Gemarah says in masechet Shabbat:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב

ואמר רבי חנינא בקושי התירו לנחם אבלים ולבקר חולים בשבת

   The word "בקושי"  is quite odd in this context. Visiting the sick should be permitted or forbidden on Shabbat. If it is permitted, why is it permitted "with difficulty?" What is Rabbi Chaninah telling us by saying that visiting the sick is permitted "with difficulty?"

    Rav Kook says that what we need to know about Shabbat is taught in the chapter of Tehilim that is the שיר של יום of Shabbat:

תהלים פרק צב

(א) מִזְמוֹר שִׁיר לְיוֹם הַשַּׁבָּת:

(ב) טוֹב לְהֹדוֹת לַה' וּלְזַמֵּר לְשִׁמְךָ עֶלְיוֹן:

(ג) לְהַגִּיד בַּבֹּקֶר חַסְדֶּךָ וֶאֱמוּנָתְךָ בַּלֵּילוֹת:

     Shabbat is the day of the week when we can allow ourselves to look at the creation in its entirety.  On Shabbat we need to allow ourselves to look at eternity and not just at the world that we see. The world which we inhabit has suffering and evil. It provokes thoughts along the lines of נח לו לאדם שלא נברא יותר משנברא "." It is difficult to ignore the ugly sides of life but on Shabbat we need to live not in the present but in the future. As Rav Kook says:

"כל מי שיש בו דעה כאלו נבנה בית המקדש בימיו  העתיד יתיצב  נגד עיניו כמו שכבר הוא במציאות."

   The great benefit of Shabbat is the wealth of spiritual insight that the person gains from seeing the great future now.

   By visiting the sick we perform a great mitzvah. But the difficulty of visiting the sick and mourners on Shabbat is to put aside the painful sights and regain the tranquility needed to put the present aside and concentrate on the future.

   When we pray for the sick on Shabbat we don't actually request their recovery. What we say on Shabbat is:

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף יב עמוד ב

 "...שבת היא מלזעוק ורפואה קרובה לבא..."

Why do we say "שבת היא מלזעוק"- what do we mean when we say that "we don't cry out on Shabbat?"

   Rav Kook explains that Hashem sends illness in order to urge a person to do teshuvah. The person stricken with illness turns to Hashem in prayer and is cured. But there are two types of prayer. One type of prayer focuses on the person's needs. The person who is ill prays for health, the person who is poor prays for a livelihood. There is nothing wrong with this type of prayer, but there is a higher level of prayer. A person can realize that whatever Hashem does is for the best. Truly, a person should accept whatever Hashem does since whatever Hashem is merciful. A person should only pray to be allowed to be a vehicle for performing God's will on Earth.[1]

    Only a very small number of people are  capable of reaching this higher level of prayer. To pray for one's needs is perfectly legitimate. What is expected from everyone is to pray differently on Shabbat. On Shabbat our work-related concerns weigh us down. On Shabbat we are able to shake those concerns off and contemplate Hashem's glory in prayer.

    When we achieve this sort of exalted prayer on Shabbat there may be a lurking thought in our minds. We   may think that by not praying for the recovery of our sick friend on Shabbat his or her recovery may be delayed. This, Rav Kook says, is not so. The spiritual height that is reached on Shabbat, the level of בטחון that we achieve by not praying for the recovery from illness elevetes all concerned and the person suffering from illness will receive his or her cure.

שבת היא מלזעוק- It is Shabbat and we do not cry out; ורפואה קרובה לבא- And healing comes swiftly.

     Thanks to everyone who participated in the shiur.

     Stuart Fischman



[1]  We saw that Rav Soloveitchik zt"l in his essay "רעיונות על התפילה"  addressed this idea. He wrote that Rav Kook's ideal of selfless prayer was endorsed by the מקובלים but has no support from the Halachic literature. Rav Soloveitchik emphasized that our prayer book and especially the שמונה עשרה addresses human concerns and needs.


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May 21, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat

Hello Everyone,

    In yesterday's shiur on עין איה we studied Rav Kook's explanation of a suggyah in masechet Shabbat.

תלמוד בבלי מסכת שבת דף טו עמוד א

כשחלה רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי שלחו לו רבי אמור לנו שנים ושלשה דברים שאמרת (לנו) משום אביך שלח להם כך אמר אבא מאה ושמנים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית פשטה מלכות הרשעה על ישראל שמנים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית גזרו טומאה על ארץ העמים ועל כלי זכוכית ארבעים שנה עד שלא חרב הבית גלתה לה סנהדרין וישבה לה בחנויות למאי הילכתא אמר רבי יצחק בר אבדימי לומר שלא דנו דיני קנסות דיני קנסות סלקא דעתך אלא אימא שלא דנו דיני נפשות

The sages asked רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי  to share with them some historical facts that his father רבי יוסי passed  to him.[1] רבי ישמעאל ברבי יוסי  told the sages the dates of three events:

a) 180 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Romans occupied Israel.

b) 80 years prior to the destruction of the Temple, the Rabbis decreed that the countries bordering Israel were impure and that glass vessels are to be included in the laws of impurity.

c) 40 years prior to the destruction of the Temple the Sanhedrin left their chambers on the Temple Mount. The reason for the move was to abandon jurisdiction in capital cases.

    What  did these three dates have in common? What do they teach?

   Rav Kook zt"l explained the connection between these  dates. The Rabbis knew that the Second Temple would not stand indefinitely. 180  years prior to its eventual destruction the sages of that era knew that they would need to prepare the people for a life in exile. The problem facing the sages was that no one shared their sense of urgency. In order to help the sages with their goal Hashem allowed the Romans to occupy their land. Once the Romans occupied Israel and the Jews began to lose their sovereignty the task facing the sages was sadly made easier. The erosion of political power led the people to understand that exile was a real possibility.

   As part of the preparation for exile the sages decreed impurity on חוץ לארץ as well as on glassware. When the situation of the Jews in Israel was positive there was no need to decree impurity on חוץ לארץ. However as the situation in Israel deteriorated and the people began to abandon Israel for neighboring countries the rabbis needed to  point out the negative attributes of the neighboring countries. Therefore, eighty years before the חורבן , the Rabbis  instructed the people  that חוץ לארץ is tainted . Ideally the rabbis could teach the people what is worthwhile in Israel without any need to build an identity based on negativity. This changed  with the  חורבן .The loyalty of the people to the land needed to be strengthened by pointing out the deficiencies of the neighboring countries which became our homes.

   Why was it important to decree impurity on glassware? The Torah speaks about the possible impurity of pottery, wooden and metal utensils, and textiles. Glassware was not in widespread use when the Torah was given so it is not discussed. As glassware became more widely used the rabbis needed to teach that the Halacha adapts to new circumstances. The Jewish people were facing new challenges and they needed to see that the Rabbis are aware and sensitive to the new circumstances.

    Finally, ר' ישמעאל ברבי יוסי taught that forty years prior to the חורבן the Sanhedrin abandoned the prerogative of passing death sentences. Why did they take this step?

    Rav Kook explains that societies need to be able to punish criminals. This is essential for the maintenance of order. But a healthy society needs to be led by a balance of joy and fear. A society governed only by fear of punishment will never achieve anything great. Fear paralyzes and stifles initiative.  Nevertheless, there does need to be an awareness that criminals will answer for their crimes.

    The balance of fear and joy would be changed by the חורבן. Jewish society would lose its autonomy. Society would no longer be held together by  an organized government with the authority to punish those who break the law according to the Torah's rules of justice. Instead of a nation bound together by laws it would be a nation held together by choice. Fear of punishment would no longer be relevant. The Sanhedrin therefore chose to suspend the ultimate punishment. Forty years before the חורבן the Sages began a program to lead  with love.

    This is a summary of yesterday's shiur. Thanks to everyone who participated.

Stuart Fischman



[1] רבי יוסי was the author of the historical work, סדר עולם.


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May 28, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
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June 4, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
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June 11, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
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June 18, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
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June 25, 2017 1:00PM - 2:00PM
Ein Ayah: Rav Kook on Aggadot of Shabbat
no handouts posted yet
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