Sunday, March 11, 2012

Berachos 20a: Does effort in observing tznius guarantee parnasa?

 Rabbi Eliyahu Falk writes in the supplement to his book on Modesy page 38.

It should be noted that in the merit of mesiras nefesh for Tznius the community at large is blessed with sustenance and parnasa. See Berachos (20a) where the Gemora presents a question: "Why is it that as soon as Rav Yehuda removes a shoe  (as he prepares to pray for rain) it starts raining right away, whilst we pray and pray for rain with no response?" To this the Gemara answers: ... The earlier ones were moser nefesh for the sanctification of Hashem's name. For example, Rav Yehuda took the courageous step of ripping off a woman an outrageous cloak she was wearing ( which could have brought him dire trouble from her husband and family) in order to eliminate the scourge of pritzus from amongst the Jewish people. They therefore merited to have their tefillos for sustenance answered. We, however, have not shown mesiras nefesh on behalf of Tznius."
It is spelled out  clearly in this statement that rain, one of the most elementary substances needed for the preservation of human life, is guaranteed when people are moser nefesh for Tznius. Accordingly, women who change their inadequate clothes for adequate ones in spite of the enormous bother and expense involved are to be envied for in their merit Klal Yisrael is blessed with ample food and parnassa (provided they pray for it).

I am having great difficulties in understanding how Rabbi Falk derives his conclusion from this gemora. The gemora - which I have cited in full below - says that prayers are not answered for contemporary generations - despite their much greater knowledge of Torah because they don't have the mesiras nefesh of previous generations. The example of mesiras nefesh the gemora gives is that Rav Adda ripped off a garment from a woman that he considered immodest. But the gemora notes that the woman was not Jewish and that because he embarrassed her by uncovering her hair (which was against the modesty of goyim at that time) he was fined 400 zuz. 1) There is no promise of paransa mentioned for wearing modest clothes, 2) The act of mesira nefesh described in the gemora of a man forcibly removing a woman's red garment - is obviously not something that Rav Falk would recommend. 3) Rav Adda was in fact punished for this by being fined 400 zuz. So how was this act commendable? Also this is not the halacha.

שולחן ערוך (יורה דעה הלכות נידוי וחרם סימן שלד:מח

אם נידו לאדם אחד על שעבר עבירה, וגזר השר עונש על מי שיחזיק הנידוי, חייבים ליכנס בספק עונש כדי להחזיק דתנו. אבל אם נידוהו על דברים שבינו לחבירו, כגון שהוליכו לערכאות של עובדי כוכבים, אין אנו חייבים ליכנס בסכנת העונש. הגה: וע"ל סי' רכ"ח גם סעיף מ"ז וגם בסימן רל"ב סעיף י"ב. אף על פי שחייב אדם למחות בעוברי עבירה, וכל מי שאינו מוחה, ובידו למחות, נתפס באותו עון,  מכל מקום אין אדם חייב להוציא ממונו על זה. ולכן נהגו להקל מלמחות בעוברי עבירה, שיש לחוש שיהיו עומדין על גופנו ומאודנו (מהרי"ו סימן קנ"ז).

Berachos(20a): Said R. Papa to Abaye: How is it that for the former generations miracles were performed and for us miracles are not performed? It cannot be because of their [superiority in] study, because in the years of Rab Judah the whole of their studies was confined to Nezikin, and we study all six Orders, and when Rab Judah came in [the tractate] ‘Ukzin [to the law], ‘If a woman presses vegetables in a pot’3 (or, according to others, ‘olives pressed with their leaves are clean’),4 he used to say, I see all the difficulties of Rab and Samuel here.5 and we have thirteen versions of Ukzin.6 And yet when Rab Judah drew off one shoe,7 rain used to come, whereas we torment ourselves and cry loudly, and no notice is taken of us!8 He replied: The former generations used to be ready to sacrifice their lives for the sanctity of [God's] name; we do not sacrifice our lives for the sanctity of [God's] name. There was the case of R. Adda b. Ahaba who saw a heathen woman wearing a red head-dress9 in the street, and thinking that she was an Israelite woman, he rose and tore it from her. It turned out that she was a heathen woman, and they fined him four hundred zuz. He said to her: What is your name. She replied: Mathun. Mathun, he said to her: that makes four hundred zuz.10


  1. R' Falk's thesis would also have us believe that R' Chanina ben Dosa's home -- fit for G-d to allow vinegar to burn rather than go without Shabbos lights -- had a tzenius problem.

    But in any case, how can anyone propose hashkafic theses that are so out of touch with reality? A common occurance, but wrong nonetheless. Is R' Falk unaware of any poor righteous and modestly dressed women?

    It's not just illogical to assert something that has so much counter-proof, it's dangerous. Someone who buys into this thesis who then has first-hand experience with such a woman, what happens to their emunah?

  2. Actually I would say that the Gemarra paints Rav Ada in rather bad light.
    First it says he was lacking in Matun(patience) which, "מתון בדין" we find to be one of the foundations of Torah(Pirkei Avot 1:1, and meforshim there). Many meforshim(I'm going specifically from memory of the Seh L'Beit Avot) say that without all of these middot it is impossible to learn Torah, and in measure that they are lacking one will be lacking in Torah.
    Second to that, if I'm understand the Ben Ish Hai correctly in his Sefer Benyahu Ben Yehoida on the Gemarra he seems to infer that Rav Ada lost his portion in this world and the world to come through his actions(I know that his is a more forced diyuk based on gematriot and Ketubah prices).
    So I really do not follow that we are promised parnassa, if nothing else Rav Ada lost parnassa.

    1. בניהו בן יהוידע (ברכות כ.): סבר בת ישראל היא. יש להקשות מנא ליה דמסר נפשיה כיון דסבר דבת ישראל היא. ונראה לי בס"ד אף על גב דסבר כך מכל מקום לא נתברר זה אצלו, ועל כל פנים היה לחוש למיעוטא אולי נכרית היא, אלא ודאי כך אמר אותו צדיק ממה נפשך, אם היא ישראלית טוב אני עושה, ואם היא נכרית ועל זה יתחייב ממון, או יסורין של סכנה, כשהיא מן נשי השרים ארויח בזה שיתקדש שם שמים על ידי, כי השומעין יאמרו כמה חרדין ישראל על מצות שלהם, שזה החכם נתקנא והביא עצמו לידי סכנה, ולא חש שמא היא נכרית, ושמא היא מנשי השרים שיתחייב בה עונש גדול ועצום, ונמצא אנחנו למידין שמסר עצמו על קידוש השם:

    2. השל"ה (שער האותיות - אות מ' מתון): (ג) דוד המלך עליו השלום אמר (תהלים קיט, נט), חשבתי דרכי ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך. כך אמר דוד, כל דרך שהייתי חפץ לילך בה, וכל דבר שהייתי רוצה לעשות, הייתי מחשב בו בטרם שאעשנו, אם היא טובה וישרה בעיני המקום ובעיני הבריות ?, הייתי עושה והולך בה, ואם נראית בעיני דרך לא סלולה, הייתי מניחה והולך, לפי שכל דבר יש לו שני דרכים, ומכח זה ואשיבה רגלי אל עדותיך לעולם. על כן ידבק האדם במידה זו ויעשנה טבע אצלו, שלא יעשה שום מעשה בעולם הן גדול הן קטן ולא שום דיבור בעולם, ואף ששומע חרפתו לא ישיב, עד שישים אל לבו ויתייעץ עם שכלו כדת מה לעשות, ויזכור בהשם יתברך ובתורתו הקדושה, וישים לנגד עיניו מדות תרומיות, ואז ילך לבטח דרכו ולא יכשל:
      (ד) ולא זו בדבר הרשות שיעשה כן, אלא אפילו בדבר מצוה יעשה במתון. דהא ההוא עובדא דברכות (כ.) שאמר עלה, מתון מתון ארבע מאות זוז שוה, היה לדבר מצוה ולקידוש השם, דרב אדא בר אהבה קרע מכבנתא מההיא אתתא דהוה לבישא בשוקא, כסבור שהיא ישראלית, עיין שם. והא דאמרינן דזריזין מקדימין למצוה, וצריך לעשותה בזריזות, זה ענין מצוה שכבר היא מפורסמת ומושכלת אצלו, כגון לילך לבית הכנסת ולבית המדרש, וקיום כל מצות המעשיות שבתורה. אבל בדבר שצריך התבוננות, למשל מי שבדעתו ליתן כיס מלא מעות לחלק זה לעניים, ופגעו בו עניים, לא ימהר עד שיתבונן מתחילה איזה עני חשוב, והחשוב חשוב קודם, והכל לפי צרכיו המרובים, וכיוצא בזה הרבה. ומכל שכן וקל וחומר בדבר הרשות, שלא יעשה מעשה או דיבור עד שיקח מועד וישכיל. ובקל וחומר בנו של ק"ו אלף פעמים אם הוא מעשה או דיבור של איסור, כגון הכאה או ריב ומחלוקת וכיוצא בזה, שיהיה בשובה ונחת ואל ימהר, ואז יבא שלום וינוח וישקוט כל ימיו ממכאובות, וימצא חן ושכל טוב בעיני אלהים ואדם:

  3. The Gemora praises Rav Adda for ripping off the garment of who he thought was a Jewess. His ONLY error was that she was a gentile.

  4. The gemara says that previous generations were answered immediately due to miserus nefesh. Of all possible cases that could be brought they showcase miserus nefesh about tznius. The gemara states that because of actions like this Hashem answered them immediately. The implication that having your tfilos answered and being moser nefesh for tznius are closely linked is not so hard to see. The connection to personal parnassa is not shown however.

    1. It is not clear that this was a praise worthy act - see Shaloh. So while it was an act of mesiras nefesh it showed a total lack of concern for consequences. And thus it could have caused more spiritual damage and chilul hashem. So aside from the fact that their is no indication of the causal link Rav Falk has stated the gemora itself presents difficulties that prevent us from getting a clear message of how we should deal with tznius issues.

    2. The reason the Gemara brings it is to illustrate why they had their tfilos answered immediately. The story shows a positive attitude that we don't have. The Shaloh is pointing out that even though their mesirus nefesh was the right attitude and they merited having their tfilos answered immediately even so,it is a good idea to think before you act. The lack of concern for the personal consequences of mesirus nefesh is what is being praised. That is what mesirus nefesh means.

    3. Well Said, Alan.
      And R' Daniel, Why does it bother you if another yiddene is makpid on tznius, albeit for an inaccurate reason?

    4. You mean you have no trouble making up drashos to get people to do what you think is right? or distorting chazal to get them to say something they didn't say? The Satmar Rebbe was even against making up stories regarding real tzadikim that were said to encourage proper behavior. In short there is a need for emes and accuracy in understanding the Torah.

      There is a more practical reason - which Rabbi Berger pointed out. There will be major difficulties when a woman is moser nefesh for tznius and she suffers from proverty.

      There is a story I heard from Rav Yaakov Kaminestky's son in law Rav Diskin. In 1948 there was a campaign in Rav Yaakov's community in Canada to prepare for Moshiach by a certain chassidim group. People were going around telling the nonreligious to at least keep Shabbos because Moshiach was coming. When Rav Yaakov found out about it he said - that it is better for them not to keep Shabbos. Now they are mechallel shabbos - but when 1948 passes and Moshaich hasn't come they will not only stop observing Shabbos but they will also be kofrim regarding Moshiach.

  5. As a student of Rabbi Falk, I have difficulty understanding most of the things he says about tznius. For R' Falk, every single pasuk, maamar chazal, and piyut is either explicitly or implicitly referring to tznius and the lack of it in our generations.
    I remember sitting in his tehillim class. We started by reading the passuk. I spaced out for a few seconds, and before I knew it, he was ranting about how pritzusdik pregnant women are and how their shirts are extremely tight. And I was honestly trying to understand where in tehillim was Dovid Hamelech referring to shirts of pregnant women.
    I think they call this OCD.


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