Thursday, May 5, 2011

A Good Heart

"Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai received the Torah from Hillel and Shammai. He used to say, 'If you have studied much Torah, do not keep the goodness for yourself, because this is what you were created to do.'

"Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai had five [primary] disciples . . . He said to them 'Go out and discern which is the proper way to which a person should cling.'

Rabbi Eliezer says 'A good eye.'

Rabbi Yehoshua says 'A good friend.'

Rabbi Yose says 'A good neighbor.'

Rabbi Shimon says 'One who considers the outcome of a deed.'

Rabbi Elazar says 'A good heart'.

R' Eliezer Zvi Safran [d.1898] writes: After Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught that a person who has studied Torah has an obligation to share what he has learned, he told his students to "go out" in the world and begin teaching. However, people's souls are different, and each person needs to find a mentor to whom his soul can relate. Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai told his students to identify and make known their own approaches to spiritual success so that would-be students could choose an appropriate teacher from among them and cling to that teacher.

Rabbi Eliezer responded: A good and kindly eye is the key to success because one who looks kindly on others will consider how his mitzvot and sins will affect them, and will make proper choices accordingly.

Rabbi Yehoshua contended: One's own "good eye" is not enough. The key to spiritual success is having a good friend. Since no one can be on guard against sin at every moment, a good friend will help a person remain on the proper path. Thus it is written [Kohelet 4:9-10] "Two are better than one . . . for should they fall, one can lift the other; but woe to him who is alone when he falls and there is no one to lift him."

Rabbi Yose stated: A good friend can't help if he is not nearby. Rather, a good neighbor is the key to spiritual success.

Rabbi Shimon said: Even a good neighbor cannot be at your side constantly. However, if this neighbor can appreciate the outcome of your deeds, he can counsel you before you face a spiritual crisis. [Mitzvot, too, R' Safran observes, must be performed with forethought. Every mitzvah has its time and place, and not every good deed is appropriate at every moment.]

Rabbi Elazar argued: No! What good are a good eye or a discerning and insightful neighbor or friend if one does not himself have a good heart. That is the key to spiritual success! [The mishnah records that the master, Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, agreed with this last opinion]

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