SALT - Tuesday 3 Tevet 5776 - December 15, 2015

  • Rav David Silverberg

            We read in Parashat Vayigash that after Yosef revealed himself to his brothers, he sent them back to Canaan and instructed them to bring their father to live in Egypt so he can escape the famine that ravaged his homeland.  Before his brothers left Egypt, Yosef warned them, “Al tirgezu ba-darekh” (45:24).  Rashi, citing the Gemara (Ta’anit 10b), explains this to mean, “Al tit’aseku bi-dvar halakha” – “Do not engage in halakhic matters.”  According to the Gemara, Yosef urged his brothers not to delve into complex halakhic material as they journeyed, as this could cause them to lose their way.

            The Panim Yafot explains the Gemara’s comment in light of another passage in the Talmud, in Masekhet Kiddushin (30b): “Even a father and son…who are involved in Torah in the same gate become enemies of one another, but they do not leave from there until they [once again] love each other.”  The Gemara here notes that the nature of intensive Torah study is such that even close family members, who genuinely love one another, become “enemies” in the course of debating the material they study together.  This acrimony is only temporary, as the Gemara emphasizes, for in the end the father and son truly love one another, but while they study, the discourse and debate can be tense and fierce.  The Gemara finds an allusion to this phenomenon in a verse in Tehillim (127:5): “..they shall not be ashamed when they speak with their enemies in the gate.”  The “enemies” spoke of here, the Gemara suggests, are close family members, or friends, engaged in the fierce “battle” of Torah study.  The Panim Yafot (referring to his remarks in his Sefer Ha-makneh commentary to Masechet Kiddushin) notes that this applies only “in the gate” – in the comfort of the students’ familiar surroundings and regular place of study.  Once they leave the security of their familiar environment, the Panim Yafot writes, it is inappropriate for them to become “enemies” in the course of study.  The confrontational style of discourse is appropriate and beneficial in “the gate,” when the students enjoy the comfort of their regular place of study, but not beyond their familiar framework.  The Panim Yafot does not elaborate, but the likely reason for this distinction is that people are often tense and anxious when they leave their familiar surroundings, and under such circumstances, otherwise healthy debate and argumentation could evolve into personal attacks and outright hostility.

            According to the Panim Yafot, this was Yosef’s advice to his brothers.  He was not telling them to suspend all study during travel, but rather urged them to refrain from intensive argumentation as they journeyed. 

Difference of opinion and even heated debate are vital elements of the Torah process, but only under the right circumstances and in the right settings.  Only in frameworks where the brotherly love between the students is firmly established and secure is it appropriate for them to engage in heated debate and discourse.  In times and situations of tension and uneasiness, it is far preferable to engage in Torah discourse gently and pleasantly, with special sensitivity and respect, in order to ensure that the intellectual disagreement does not evolve into personal strife and acrimony.