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Pilgrimage

 

I. Disputed Practices

The eighteenth century polemic surrounding the emerging Chasidic movement took place on multiple levels, among them halakhic. One important anti-Chasidic disputant was R. Yechezkel Landau (link), whose scholarship was so massive that he continues to be a major force in Jewish law even two centuries later. A number of his halakhic rulings can be seen as disputing Chasidic practices, such as his responsum forbidding the recitation of a “Le-Shem Yichud” formula before performing a mitzvah (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 1 Yoreh De’ah no. 93 – link). Another is his forbidding the common Chasidic practice of visiting one’s rebbe on holidays (Noda Bi-Yehudah, vol. 2 Orach Chaim no. 94 – link).

The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings, and scholars continue to discuss their theoretical underpinnings. In his book The Commentators’ Shavuos (pp. 283-294), the formidable R. Yitzchak Sender examines the latter example above.

II. Visiting Your Mentor

The Talmud (Rosh Hashanah 16b) states that you are obligated to visit your mentor, your rebbe, on festivals. R. Landau, in response to a query why this obligation is omitted from the halakhic codes, states that this mitzvah only applies when the Temple in Jerusalem is standing. In those times, when you visit God in Jerusalem on the festivals, you must also visit your rebbe.

However, you may not show your rebbe more respect than God (see Kiddushin 33b). If you do not make a pilgrimage to Jerusalem then you may not visit your rebbe either. Therefore, R. Landau argued, the codes omitted this obligation because in contemporary times the practice is forbidden.

III. Shabbos Visits

R. Sender asks two question on R. Landau’s position. First, the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) concludes that if a student lives close to his mentor then he must visit him every Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh. This would certainly be more frequent than he visits the Temple in Jerusalem. According to R. Landau, this should be forbidden as an affront to God.

R. Sender responds on R. Landau’s behalf that an affront can only occur when both obligations apply. If a person is obligated to visit both the Temple and his rebbe on a festival but only visits his rebbe, he is detracting from his respect shown to God. However, if, because of proximity, a person is obligated to visit his rebbe every Shabbos, these visits are not an affront to God whom one is not required to visit so frequently.

IV. Talmudic Visits

The second question is that we find sages of the Talmud who lived after the Temple’s destruction visiting their rebbe on festivals. Rav Chisda and Rabba bar Rav Huna (Sukkah 10b), R. Ilai (Sukkah 29b), and R. Yochanan ben Broka and R. Elazar ben Chismah (Chagigah 3a) all visited their mentors on a holiday. Does this not undermine R. Landau’s entire argument?

R. Sender suggests that visiting your rebbe to learn Torah was allowed, just visiting for the sake of greeting him was forbidden. However, that was in the time when Torah was only taught orally. After the advent of the printing press, even visiting for the sake of learning Torah is forbidden.

V. Reasons For Visiting

R. Sender offer multiple possible reasons for this obligation, regardless of whether it currently applies. R. Landau suggested that a teacher receives unique inspiration on a festival and is therefore better able to influence his students. Another possibility is that this is simply a form of showing respect to Torah scholars. Or perhaps it is for the sake of studying Torah. In the time of the Temple, people would often save their halakhic questions for the festivals, when they visited the Temple and could consult with senior scholars.

Another explanation is that such a visit inspires you to greater fear of God. Or perhaps visiting your rebbe adds to the joy of the holiday.

Today, when we lack the Temple in Jerusalem, we also lack the ability to properly fulfill this mitzvah of visiting your rebbe on the festivals. Until the Temple is rebuilt, our holidays will remain lacking this significant and meaningful element.

(reposted from last year: link)

 

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Gil Student

Rabbi Gil Student is the founder, publisher and editor-in-chief of Torah Musings.

 
The opinions and facts here are presented solely by the author. Torah Musings assumes no responsibility for them. Please address religious questions to your rabbi.
 

13 Responses

  1. IH says:

    Earlier this year, I delivered a d’var torah on the choreography of the 3 steps before and after the amidah. Much can be learned about the attitudes of the tana’im regarding the relationship between student and mentor from this short excerpt of Bavli Yoma 53b:

    אמר רבי אלכסנדרי אמר רבי יהושע בן לוי המתפלל צריך שיפסיע שלש פסיעות לאחוריו ואחר כך יתן שלום

    R. Alexandri said in the name of R. Joshua ben Levi,
    One who prays [the amidah] must take 3 steps backwards and then ‘Offer Shalom’

    אמר ליה רב מרדכי כיון שפסע שלש פסיעות לאחוריו התם איבעיא ליה למיקם

    R. Mordechai added: having taken the 3 steps backwards, there he must stand (and pause)

    משל לתלמיד הנפטר מרבו אם חוזר לאלתר דומה לכלב ששב על קיאו

    The analogy is to a disciple who takes leave of his teacher; for if he returns immediately, he is like a dog who returns to his vomit.

  2. IH says:

    Too late: (early EY) Amora’im not Tana’im.

  3. avi says:

    While reading this article, I had to keep reminding myself that “visiting your Rabbi” does not mean what the words say it means.
    Because growing up, we used to always visit our rabbi on hoildays. We would also visit our cousins, and friends, and also visit strangers.
    It’s a nice thing to visit people on holidays.

  4. yehupitz says:

    The polemic context of these rulings do not diminish from the cogency and authority of these rulings

    In this case, the polemic agenda most certainly DOES diminish the authority of his ruling. At least the way you have summarized the Noda B’Yehuda’s opinion, the objective of condemning the practice permeates all the way through.

    Some clear cases in point:

    The conclusion that if a Gemara-endorsed practice is omitted in the Shulchan Aruch, it is forbidden! Not optional, mind you. But forbidden!

    The next blatant example is perhaps more directed to R Sender, who “suggests that visiting your rebbe to learn Torah was allowed, just visiting for the sake of greeting him was forbidden. However, that was in the time when Torah was only taught orally. After the advent of the printing press, even visiting for the sake of learning Torah is forbidden.” Really now: It is safe to acknowledge the advent of writing and later printing of Torah she’Baal Peh has transformed the mitzvah of Talmud Torah. But the suggestion that these developments render a visit on YomTov to hear Torah directly from one’s Rebbe “forbidden” shows nothing but a polemical agenda, and its resulting diminished cogency of argument. And although this was R Sender’s argument, the fact that the Gemara’s own case law and Maaseh Rav of this practice is post-Churban was left out of the NB’s teshuva seriously undermines the NB’s take as anything but polemic.

    Today, when we lack the Temple in Jerusalem, we also lack the ability to properly fulfill this mitzvah of visiting your rebbe on the festivals.

    I don’t know whose line that is: The NB’s, R’ Sender’s or R’ Gil’s. Either way, it is an unconvincing argument: Who says that this mitzvah has secret kavana or mystical/psychological aspects that preclude one from “properly fulfill[ing]” it?

    If this teshuva is supposed to stand on the non-polemical strength of its arguments, it does not stand.

  5. Shlomo says:

    The conclusion that if a Gemara-endorsed practice is omitted in the Shulchan Aruch, it is forbidden! Not optional, mind you. But forbidden!

    Only if there is an additional consideration which indicates against it, i.e. the danger of treating your rebbe more highly than God. The gemara already said this is a practical concern, and the SA’s ruling can be simply understood as an expression of this concern. Were it not for such a confluence of factors, a practice not mentioned in the SA would indeed be optional.

  6. Mordechai says:

    It is important to have, as much as possible, precise definitions of the terms involved here. Three terms in particular seem to call out for closer examination.

    1) The term used in the gemara is להקביל פני רבו. That carries a connotation of something greater than just a mere, plain visit. Something like paying respects to the Rebbe comes to mind.

    2) The term pilgrimage, which R. Gil uses at the top of the post, is good in that it connotes more than just an appearance at a Rebbe. However, it too, may not convey the full meaning of להקביל פני רבו.

    3) “your mentor, your rebbe”

    Is every Rebbe a mentor? It would seem to fit more in the case of a רבי מובהק – תלמיד מובהק relationship, or something in that vein.

    And on another aspect,

    “the Gemara (Sukkah 27b) concludes that if a student lives close to his mentor then he must visit him every Shabbos and Rosh Chodesh.”

    Not so simple. Even though the pasuk talks about Shabbos and chodesh, the gemara only mentions (in the beginning there) regel. The question is, how did we get regel, if the posuk only mentions Shabbos and Chodesh. There is an explanation I heard in the name of Vilna Gaon that Shabbos in the posuk means Yom tov (regel), based on the fact that it is mentioned after Chodesh. If it meant the seventh day Shabbos, it should be before chodesh, since תדיר ושאינו תדיר, תדיר קודם. Therefore, he says, we don’t take it to mean ‘regular’ Shabbos, but rather Yom tov, which is also referred to as שבת in the Torah, which is less תדיר than chodesh.

  7. MiMedinat HaYam says:

    IH — but the actual halacha of three steps back comes from sefer “shlah hakatan” (which is / is (prob) not the shlah.) though i guess it gets justification from the gemara mentioned.

    2. litvish yeshivas require their students to stay in yeshiva for holidays (except pesach — not worthwhile to clean and buy expensive pesach food.)

  8. IH says:

    MMhY — MT, Hilchot T’fila 5:10 (and note the change in mashal)

    כשגומר התפילה, כורע ופוסע שלוש פסיעות לאחוריו כשהוא כורע

    When finishing the Amidah, one bows and takes 3 steps back while in the bowed position

    ונותן שלום משמאל עצמו, ואחר כך מימין עצמו, ואחר כך מגביה ראשו מן הכריעה

    One then ‘Offers Shalom’ first from one’s left and then from one’s right
    And only then one lifts their head from the bow

    [...]
    וקבעו שייפטר מן התפילה, כמו שיהיו נפטרין מלפני המלך

    And this was established so that departing from prayer is like departing from the presence of the king.

  9. Steve Brizel says:

    IH’s comments re the three steps warrant a comment about other very basic elements of Hilcos Tefilah. Think about how the average Shliach Tzibur bends his knees and bows his head during Chazaras HaShatz and how many of your fellow Mispallelim keep their feet together for Shemoneh Esreh.

    I would suggest that the practice of Litvishe Yeshivah Talmidim ( including many YU students) to spend the Yamim Noraim in their yeshivos is because the davening is of a superior quality to that of a local shul.

  10. IH says:

    Just to be clear, I raised the example because this Gemara appears to contradict the criticism in section III of the post.

    In regard to the tangental discussion, it turns out to be an interesting journey into the development of an idea in liturgy. For those interested, I have uploaded the two-sideed source sheet for my D’var Torah to http://tinyurl.com/cryzg66

  11. Lawrence Kaplan says:

    Gil: I just read the Teshuvah. Perhaps I am missing something, but where does the NB say that it’s forbidden to vist one’s Rav on the Regel? He says, “ein hiyyuv be-kakh,” “there is no obligation.” Perhaps one might say that the reason he gives as to why there is no hiyyuv implies it should be forbbiden, but the NB does not say that.

  12. Hirhurim says:

    Dr. Kaplan: On re-reading, I think you are correct and I misread it originally.

  13. avi says:

    ” Much can be learned about the attitudes of the tana’im regarding the relationship between student and mentor from this short excerpt of Bavli Yoma 53b:”

    I don’t think you can learn anything about the relationship between student and mentor from this passage. You can however learn something about the attitude of students who return to ask questions about which they were just told about though.

 
 

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