Thursday, 18 April 2019

Chullin 142: Living a Good and Long Life

Today we end Massekhet Chullin with yet another Mishna regarding shilu'ach ha'ken, removing a mother bird from her nest before taking the offspring.  This Mishna teaches that fulfilling this mitzvah ensures a long life (Devarim 22:7).

Devarim (5:15) includes a similar guarantee, "your days may be long and that it may go well with you" if you observe kibbud av va-em, respecting your parents.  This is taught by Rabbi Ya'akov who once saw a child sent by his father to perform the mitzvah of shilu'ach ha ken and who died while performing two mitzvot - shilu'ach ha'ken and kibbud av va-em.  Rabbi Ya'akov suggests that the guarantee is one's share in the World to Come.

We are reminded that Massechet Kiddushin (39) teaches that this was the point where Tanna Elisha ben Avuya, also known as Acher, the Other, left Judaism (when learning of seeing this tragedy).

The rishonim note that in Chagiga (14), we learn that Acher's statement of heresy stemmed from a different incident.  Acher was one of the aria she'nichnisu ba-pardes, the fours tanaa'im who studied esoteric secrets of the Torah.  Acher apparently looked into heaven and found Archangel Mitatron, one who was writing the merits of the Jewish people.  The Midrash teach that Mitatron is the one angel responsible for the entire world.  Seeing Mitatron made Acher. believe that there were two G-ds, the Gnostic belief at the time.

We learn from Steinsaltz that the rishonim believed that Acher was a heretic from multiple angles.  The Iyyun Ya'akov says that Acher's experience in the pardes led to a questioning of beliefs.  He remained a practicing Jew hoping that he would receive reward for his action.  After learning about the incident described in today's Gemara, he lost faith in reward and punishment in heaven, and he rejected Judaism fully.

It is interesting to note that one would be. assumed to lose his or her faith in Judaism after learning that reward and punishment is unfair.  Today's world hardly considers whether or not consequences are meted out in a World to Come.  Instead, we base our beliefs on what seems logical to our individualistic sensibilities.