By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Daf yomi reached an important milestone–completing Maseches Shabbos on Shabbos Chazak. I needed a d’var Torah that related to the end of Maseches Shabbos, but I was at my wit’s end to come up with one. Although Maseches Shabbos is full of fascinating stories, halachos, and various odds and ends, the final page doesn’t quite live up to the end of the bargain.
The final mishnah discusses the permissibility of measuring on Shabbos. The Gemara doesn’t elaborate much on that topic, leaving a lot of loose ends. The Gemara provides a brief anecdote to shed some light on the issue. Ulla visited the house of the exilarch, the reish gelusa, and found Rabbah bar Rav Huna bathing on Shabbos. In the times of the Talmud, it was permitted to take a cold bath on Shabbos. Nowadays, we have a custom to refrain from doing so except in cases of moderate discomfort. Ulla noticed that Rabbah was measuring the water. Rabbah found himself to be on the receiving end of Ulla’s rebuke. Ulla challenged, “The mishnah only permits measuring on Shabbos to fulfill a mitzvah need. How can you measure the bathwater on Shabbos? It is not relevant to any mitzvah.” Rabbah replied, “I am just idly measuring the water to no end. I have no need to know the measurement. It is permitted to mindlessly measure on Shabbos.” End of story!
Trying to find a suitable d’var Torah based on that story can make one go off the deep end. Yet I knew that if I didn’t deliver, I would never hear the end of it. With Divine assistance, I came across a comment of the Ben Yehoyada. Why was Rabbah mindlessly measuring the water? Rabbah learned Torah studiously for days on end. It was difficult for him to take his mind off Torah. Yet he needed to clear his mind of Torah thoughts while bathing. He came up with the idea of measuring the water to distract himself. The measuring fulfilled no real purpose. It was an end in itself. However, it kept his mind clear of Torah thoughts.
I was beginning to see the light at the end of the tunnel. Perhaps there was a way to come up with a d’var Torah based on this final passage. I would discuss how we should be so dedicated to Torah learning, that we’d need to go to the ends of the earth to clear our minds of Torah thoughts!
However, I then came across a homiletic interpretation of the story from the Tapuchei Chaim. Some would say that his pshat is the be-all and end-all. It says in Koheles (10:2), “The heart of the wise is to his right, and the heart of a fool is to his left.” One can interpret that verse as pertaining to Torah study. Hebrew sefarim open to the right. As one learns more, the pages that one has already covered are piled up on the right of the sefer. A wise man looks at how much he has learned and derives pleasure from his accomplishment. This motivates him to continue learning. A fool looks to the left of the sefer and sees how much he has left to learn. He may decide that there is just too much and decide to end it. He is literally looking at the wrong end of the sefer.
This lesson relates not only to Torah learning, but to all of life’s endeavors. After embarking on a new project or self-improvement plan, we are often met with setbacks. We may feel like we are stuck at a dead end. However, focusing on our past accomplishments can give us the fortitude to overcome these obstacles and plow ahead. The more we recall the pleasure of prior successes, the more motivated we will be to continue.
In various places in Jewish literature, the Torah is compared to water. The Tapuchei Chaim therefore explains the final incident in Maseches Shabbos allegorically. Ulla noticed that Rabbah bar Rav Huna was measuring the Torah. He was turning the pages of the Talmud seemingly to see how much he had left to cover. Ulla explained that such a practice can lead to discouragement. Rather, you should measure what you have already mastered. Rabbah replied that he was not measuring for the usual purpose of discovering how much he had left to study. Rather, he was fashioning a plan to finish the Talmud. He needed to divide the remainder of his study into manageable portions. He was developing a blueprint for his future study. If that is one’s end, he can measure how much he has left to study.
Those who finished Shabbos may be apprehensive at starting Eiruvin. It is billed as one of the hardest tractates in Shas. However, we should focus on our accomplishment of finishing Shabbos, and that will provide us with the wherewithal to forge ahead.
In the end, I played both ends and used the two aforementioned pshatim for my d’var Torah. Baruch Hashem, all’s well that ends well.
We should renew our commitment to Torah study so that we may be zocheh to see the end of days and the coming of Mashiach. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead and offers a program to help children with ADD increase focus and concentration. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.