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Sunday, December 02, 2007

Reb Chanina Ben Dosa's Dream. For Vayeishev, the Parsha of Dreams

The Gemora in Tainis 25 brings a story about Reb Chaninah ben Dosa. He was desperately poor, and at one point his wife said she couldn’t stand the poverty and shame, and a heavenly hand miraculously appeared and proffered the golden leg of a table. This would have enabled them to escape their crushing poverty and live a comfortable life. That night, Reb Chaninah had a dream about sitting at a two legged table in olam haba, and the next morning he told his wife about his dream. She said she didn’t want to sit at a two legged table in olam habo, and so she rejected the heavenly gift and resigned herself to poverty. Indeed, a hand once more appeared and took back the golden leg. The Gemora ends with “gadol haneis ho’achron min horishon, de’gmiri dmishmaya meihav yahavi, mishkal lo shakli.” The second miracle was greater than the first: we have a tradition that from heaven they give, but they do not take back.

Several questions arise. Why indeed doesn’t Hashem take things back? And what changed Reb Chanina's mind? Didn't he immediately realize the cost of accepting the gift? And why did he leave the decision to his wife?

Regarding the first question, the Mahrsha there says that “taking back” is like reversing a gzeira letov, which Hashem doesn’t do, as we find in the story of Choni Hame’ageil and the excessive rain. But was this a good thing at all? After all, she quickly realized that it not a good thing!

Harav Dovid Zupnik zatzal, one of the gedolei talmidei Mir in Europe, told me two things. First, that he once saw a pshat in Ashrei, that Retzon yerei’ov ya’aseh means that Hashem grants brachos to do the will of those that fear Him, but Ve’es shavosom yishma ve’yoshi’eim, that if they realize they don’t want the brocho, then Hashem will take it back, as he did with Reb Chaninah. He later showed me that he found this pshat brought in the Har Tzvi, Orach Chayim tshuva 1:1.

(Harav Frank is talking about the Beis Yosef’s kashe in the beginning of Orach Chayim, the the Tur says you should say the parsha of Chatos but not Yehi Rotzon...ke’ilu hikravnu, because it doesn’t come be’nidovo. The Beis Yosef asks, so what good is saying it? The Beis Yosef answers that reading is mechaper a little, so if he sinned, it will be mechaper a little, and if not, it will be like reading chumash. Harav Frank asks, what does the ‘little’ business have to do with this question? He answers that according to the Beis Yosef, there are three dinim: If he knows he did an aveira, and brings a korbon mamosh, it erases the aveira completely. If he knows and reads the parsha, it is toleh until he can bring a korbon. If he doesn’t know, and reads, it is mechaper for unknown aveiros ‘a little.” Then he brings the Bach that says that saying the Yehi Rotzon is what makes the korbon, and he has to avoid chulin bo’azoro. Harav Frank says that this is like what he heard that the derech of Hashem’s hashgocho is to give a tzadik what he asks for even if it’s not good for him, as we find by Dovid in Sanhedrin 107a, that he asked to be tested and Hashem sent him Bas Sheva. So, too is the pshat in Ashrei: that Hashem grants what they ask, and when they see that what they asked for is a tzoroh and they ask that it be taken away, Hashem grants them this wish too. Here, too, we can make it into a korbon by saying the parshas korbon, but if it turns out that we don’t need it, we can erase the metaphysical korbon later.)

I later found that the Gri’z says this, with an additional kneitch, from R’ Chaim, in his Gri’z on Torah stencil in Tehillim 145, which is probably where Harav Frank saw it. Rabbi Zupnick later showed me another source of the pshat. It is in R’ Shlomo Kluger’s pirush on the siddur, found in the R’ Yakov Emden siddur, in the first Ashrei in Shachris. He says the pshat, and adds (as Rabbi Zupnick did) that this is what happened to R’ Chanina Ben Dosa.

Lehavdil elef havdolos, Oscar Wilde (1854-1900) once coined this witticism: "There are only two tragedies in life: one is not getting what one wants, and the other is getting it.

Second, Rabbi Zupnik told me that he heard from the Alter of Slabodka that the Gemora that says "gedola hachnosas orchim" means that the degree of sacrifice done to accomplish a chesed elevates the character of the chesed accordingly, and so Avrohom’s request to Hashem that he be excused from hashro’as hashechina in order to receive the guests made the hachnosas orchim greater than kabolas pnei shechina. Here, therefore, for Reb Chanina, acquiescing to his wife’s needs, despite the great cost to his olam haba he knew it entailed, magnified the chesed. But then he had the dream, and he told his wife the precise price they would pay, she said that she was unwilling to pay that price. He also said that for Reb Chanina, there was no choice, because his wife had a legitimate claim that he take care of her.

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