- R. Yehuda said in the name of Rav: What is meant by the verse (Michah 2:2): And they shall exploit a man and his home, a person and his inheritance? It once happened that a man desired his master's wife and he was an apprentice carpenter. Once the master had to borrow [money]. He [i.e. the apprentice] said: "Send your wife to me and I will give you the loan." He [the master] sent his wife [to pick up the loan] and he [the apprentice] stayed with her for three days. He [the master] came to the apprentice [when his wife failed to return] and said: "Where is my wife whom I sent?" The apprentice replied: "I sent her back immediately but I heard that the children mistreated her on the way back." He asked him: "What shall I do?" The apprentice answered: "If you will listen to my advice, divorce her [because of her unbecoming conduct]." He said: "Her kesubah is large [and I lack the funds to pay it]." The apprentice answered: "I will lend you the money so that you can give her the kesubah" The man divorced her and the apprentice went and married her.
When the time came [for the master to repay the original loan], he did not have the means with which to repay. The apprentice said: "Come and work for me to pay off your debt." And they [i.e., the former apprentice and his master's former wife] would sit and eat and drink and he [the former master] would serve them and tears would fall from his eyes into their cups. And because of that time [i.e. this incident], the verdict [that called for the destruction of the Beis ha-Mikdash and the Land of Israel] was sealed.
In concluding its discussion of what transpired during the period of the destruction, the Talmud relates this incident so as to point to the real cause of the destruction- Israel's spiritual deterioration. This was evidenced by the incident of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza with which the Talmud began its discussion, and is reinforced by the incident of the apprentice and the master with which the Talmud concludes. In both cases, no specific laws were violated and the behavior of the parties was within the bounds of the permissible. [emph mine]Nevertheless, the viability of Israel as a nation/ state is dependent upon more than fealty to the letter of the law. Israel is dutybound to create a state of national spirituality with the law serving as the springboard for community development. Hence, when incidents such as those recounted by the Talmud become the norm within society- albeit their being non-punishable in and of themselves- Israel evidences that her unique spirituality is no longer charcteristic of her and she forfeits the Divine protection and guidance which allows her to avoid the calamities of natural historical development.
R. Yaakov Emden writes that this latter incident shows that there are transgressions that are not spelled out by the Torah but which are more despicable than those which are specifically mentioned. The apprentice was careful to act within the letter of the law and, indeed, employed the law as part of his plot. Ramban refers to this kind of person as a Naval B'rshus HaTorah- a scoundrel acting according to the Torah.
In his introduction to Logic of the Heart, Logic of the Mind Rav Soloveichik writes:
- Our Sages say, "If you want to understand God, delve into aggadah, for through aggadah you can recognize God and cleave unto His ways" (Sifre, Ekev).
Our Sages also say, "Do not say, 'I learned halachos, this is enough for me." No. The Torah says [Deuteronomy 8:3], "For not on bread alone does man live, but on everything that emanates from the mouth of God does man live" (Ibid.).
On the verses, "And you shall love the Lord, your God, with your whole heart, yur whole soul and your whole might. And these words that I command you today shall be put upon your heart" (Deuteronomy 6:5-6), our Sages comment, "What is this love? "And these words shall be..." If you want to understand God, delve into the words of the Torah [halachah]" (Sifre, Va'eschanan).
How can these two sayings be reconciled? Our Sages say, "And of the blood of the grape you drank foaming wine" [Deuteronomy 32:14]- these are the aggados that attract man's heart like wine" (Sifre). This means that halachah is compared to bread while aggadah is compared to wine. Bread is indispensable for man's existence, but wine is indispensable for man's happiness, as it is written, "Wine gladdens the heart of man" (Psalms 104:15).
I heard from my mother, of sainted memory, that there are two approaches to the appreciation of nature. One is the approach of the scientist, and the other is the approach of the poet. When scientists look at a forest, they are interested in each tree, nay, in each specific leaf, in each specific flower, in each root and in each stem. They are not interested in the forest in its entirety. Poets, on the other hand, take an overall view of the forest, and they proclaim, "How vast are Your Creations, O God" (Psalms 104:24).
Similarly, the Torah, just like the universe at large, is endowed with a mind and a heart. The halachah represents the mind of the Torah, while the aggadah represents the heart of the Torah. The mind of the Torah and the heart of the Torah represent one inseparable entity. There is a logic of the heart and a logic of the mind. One is immanent in the other. Just as you cannot separate the raysof the sun from the sun itself and the color of the apple from the apple itself, so you cannot separate the halachah from the aggadah and the aggadah from the halachah.
The halachah and the logic of the mind are compared to bread, while the aggadah and the logic of the heart are compared to wine. On Shabbos and Yom Tov, a Jew recites a blessing first on wine and then on bread, because the logic of the heart precedes the logic of the mind. Likewise, the publication of my hashkafah shiurim precedes the publication of my chidushei halachah, because the logic of the heart precedes the logic of the mind.
A practical example of such a place (where the law itself and the aggadah suggest different courses of action) is also provided by Rav Ahron:
- The Torah states, “Tzedek, tzedek, you shall pursue” (Deuteronomy 16:20). Why should the Torah repeat the term tzedek? Rabbenu Bachaye, the student of the Ramban, in his work Kad Hakemach, interprets that the Torah intimates how the same standard of justice and righteousness that is applied toward our Jewish brothers is also to be applied toward all Gentiles. When one delves into the halachah, one can readily see that the Torah does not make a distinction between Jews and non-Jews within the realm of mishpat and tzedek. A trespass committed against the property of a pagan is just as criminal as one committed against the property of a Jew. It is truth that the aveidah, the lost object of a pagan that inadvertently comes into the possession of a Jew is permitted. However, this halachha is subject to two qualifications. One distinction is between an idol worshipper, whose lost object is permitted, and a non-pagan Gentile, whose lost goods are forbidden. Significantly, the Meiri (in the Shitah M’kubetzes on Bava Kama 113a) writes that based on this difference between the status of pagans and non-pagans, we assume that today there are no pagans for religious worship. Hence, all lost property that comes into possession of a Jew must be returned to its proper owner. The second qualification of the halachah permitting lost goods of a Gentile is mentioned in the Sefer Mitzvos Hagadol: Lost items of a pagan are not really permitted. Rather, such objects do not fall into the category of gezel, stealing, but still involve a violation of “The remnant of Israel shall not do inquity or speak lies” (Zephaniah 3:13). Taking and keeping the lost object of a pagan would still be considered an unjust and unfair act inasmuch as it runs counter to the principle of human rights and to the concept of tzedek, which must be shown to Jews and non-Jews alike.
- The Talmud Yerushalmi (Bava M’tziya) tells the story of Shimon ben Shetach, who worked in the flax business, struggling to make a living. His disciples advised him to give up the flax business and buy a donkey, which would provide a better source of income. Shimon ben Shetach agreed, and his students bought a donkey from an Arab pagan. After buying the animal, these disciples found a large diamond tied to it, and they brought both the animal and the jewel to their teacher. Upon seeing the acquisitions of his students, Shimon ben Shetach asked, “Did the Arab know that there was a diamond tied to the donkey?” The disciples said, “No.” At that point, Shimon ben Shetach said to his disciples, “Go immediately and return the diamond.” The disciples, however, were curious—is it not stated that all agree that the lost goods of a pagan are permitted to be retained? Shimon ben Shetach responded, “Do you think that I am such a barbarian? I am more interested in hearing the exclamation, “Blessed be the God of the Jews” from the mouths of pagans than I am in making a living.” Although perhaps the act of keeping the diamond might not have been stealing according to the law, it was still forbidden as an act of “barbarism” since “The remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity or speak lies.” It is inconsistent with k’vod habriyos and human rights.
- In this story, Shimon ben Shetach gives a remarkable definition of the term “barbarian.” According to him, anyone who fails to apply a uniform standard of mishpat, justice, and tzedek, righteousness, to all human beings regardless of origin, color, or creed is deemed barbaric.
- From this Yerushalmi, coupled with the concept of k’vod habriyos, one must assume that those people who refuse to grant any human being the same degree of respect that they offer to their own race or nationality are adopting a barbaric attitude.