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Sunday, 15 March 2015

Happiness is getting people to agree with you

Daf Yomi Kesubos 40
 
Rabbi Meir Shapiro is the person most responsible for revolutionizing Torah study in modern history.  Due to his Daf Yomi concept, tens of thousands of individuals learn a page of Talmud every day.  Prior to his idea, scholars would spend a week or more on a single page; and laypeople would attend a class in Ein Yaakov, which is a compendium of stories from the Talmud.  Rabbi Shapiro obviously felt that we were selling ourselves short with this model, and that even the simplest of Jews could handle the rigors of the full Talmud.  And so today, no matter one’s ability or background, one can attend a Daf Yomi class and grapple with the debates of the Gemara in all its glory.

But Rabbi Shapiro was very clever.  He didn’t get up and criticize the previous approach to learning and suggest a new method.  Instead, he made the following suggestion: Wouldn’t it be great if a Jew from Minsk could meet a Jew from New York and be on the same page of the Gemara and thus able to engage in a Talmudic conversation?  That was a fabulous idea with which no one could argue.  And so, slowly but surely, Daf Yomi took off around the world, revolutionizing the way we learn Torah!  

The Mishnah states: Regarding an orphan who was betrothed and divorced, Rabbi Elazar teaches: One who violates her is liable to pay the fine, but one who seduces her is exempt.

Rabbah bar bar Chanah quoted Rabbi Yochanan: Rabbi Elazar stated this law according to the view of Rabbi Akiva, his teacher, who said, ‘A maiden who was betrothed and divorced, and subsequently violated or seduced, is entitled to receive the fine and she keeps it herself (as opposed to it being given to her father).
How do we know that Rabbi Elazar agrees with Rabbi Akiva?  From that which our Mishnah states regarding an orphan – Rabbi Elazar teaches that the violator is liable and the seducer exempt – is it not obvious that one who seduces an orphan is exempt?  She has no father to receive the fine, and she herself is not entitled since she acted willingly!
Rather, Rabbi Elazar is teaching us that a maiden who was betrothed and divorced has the same status as an orphan.  Just like an orphan is independent and personally receives the fine, similarly a maiden who was betrothed and divorced becomes independent of her father and personally receives the fine.

Rabbi Zaira quoted Rabbah bar Sheila who quoted Rabbi Hamnuna the Elder, quoting Rabbi Ada bar Ahavah in the name of Rav: The Halacha accords with Rabbi Elazar.
Rav then declared about Rabbi Elazar: He is the happiest sage! 

What made Rabbi Elazar the happiest sage?  He managed to sway people to his opinion without anyone realizing that he was offering a conflicting view!  What’s more, he successfully corrected his own teacher, Rabbi Akiva, without sounding disrespectful in the slightest!   How did he do it?  He offered a ruling that seemed completely independent of the previous discussion, but implicitly commented on the prior teaching.

Rabbi Akiva ruled regarding a divorced maiden that she personally keeps her fine.  Rabbi Elazar essentially comes to argue and point out that his teacher’s ruling is true only in the case of violation, but not in the case of seduction.  Instead of arguing with Rabbi Akiva, he presents the different case of the orphan-girl, which implicitly demonstrates what the ruling should have been regarding the divorced maiden.  And so without being disrespectful, he corrected his teacher and the Halacha accords with him!  That’s why he deserves the title ‘happiest sage!’

The most effective way to sway people to your way of thinking is not head-to-head conflict.  When you argue with their position, they become defensive and begin to attack yours.  You want people to think like you?  Approach it from a completely different angle and demonstrate the logic of your view.  That was Rabbi Elazar’s approach to differing with Rabbi Akiva – how blessed and happy was he!  

And that was Rabbi Meir Shapiro’s approach when he revolutionized Torah learning.  Instead of criticizing the contemporary worldview, he offered a completely novel way to think about Torah – as a means of communication between Jews around the world.  And before we knew it, his revolutionary idea had taken root and he became personally responsible for tens of thousands of daily Torah study hours; hours that most people otherwise probably would not have spent engaged in Torah study whatsoever! 


If you want to convince people of your opinion, don’t argue with them.  Find a different way of looking at things.  Once you have the boxing gloves on, nobody’s listening.  May you merit demonstrating to others new perspectives on life, and just like Rabbi Shapiro, bringing people closer to our Father in Heaven without them even realizing it!