Wednesday, November 21, 2012
Talmud Gems #1 - Elisha Ba’al Kenafayim
Article by "DafYomi Digest"
תפילין צריכין גוף נקי כאלישע בעל כנפים - מט.
Wearing tefillin requires a “clean body” as we find regarding Elisha Ba’al
Kenafayim - 49a
The Gemara says that tefillin can only be worn by someone who has a clean body, like Elisha Bal Kenafayim. The Gemara proceeds to relate how Elisha wore tefillin despite the decree that Jews were not
allowed to wear tefillin. When an officer suspected that he was wearing tefillin and pursued him, Elisha quickly put them into his hands, finding that they had miraculously turned into the wings of a dove.
Upon questioning, he said that he was merely carrying dove wings.
When his claim was verified, he was released. How is this story a proof that tefillin need to be worn with a clean body? What does it have to do with having a clean body?
The Klausenberger Rebbe zt”l (quoted in Margaliyos Hashas) prefaced his answer by quoting the opinion of Rabeinu Yonah. Rabeinu Yonah understands that someone who is known to be an extremely pious person must sacrifice his life to keep even seemingly minor mitzvos at a time when there is persecution against those who keep mitzvos. Elisha was such a person, and he therefore continued wearing tefillin. Why, then, did he not give up his life when the officer saw him?
The Klausenberger Rebbe answers that when Elisha saw the officer, he was so scared that he felt his body was going to become unfit to wear tefillin. He immediately realized that in such a situation it was
now prohibited for him to wear tefillin. Being that it was now prohibited for him to wear tefillin, he was no longer allowed to give up his life at this time for the mitvza of tefillin. He therefore started to run
away from the officer. While Elisha had these thoughts, Hashem performed a miracle that the tefillin on Elisha’s head should immediately become dove wings. Why was the miracle performed in such a fashion? It must be, the Klausenberger Rebbe answered, because it was forbidden for the Tzadik to wear tefillin with an unclean body. Hashem therefore turned the tefillin into dove wings, in order that Elisha should not
wear tefillin while having an unclean body. This is the Gemara’s proof from Elisha that one is not supposed to wear tefillin while having an unclean body.
[In order to illustrate the profound seriousness and holiness associated with the donning of tefillin as it was practiced in times of old, mention should be made of a remarkable and intriguing statement written by
Rav Meir HaMi’eli of Narbonne. He references a Yerushalmi that there were Amoraim that refrained from donning tefillin each day due to the great care and attention that tefillin require. These Rabbis held that the
concept of a clean body did not apply solely to the physical body, but also to the spirit, such that the soul had to be clean of sins! According to this approach, Rav Meir HaMi’eli interprets our Gemara to teach
that physical uncleanliness, although a necessity, is unacceptable while wearing tefillin, all the more so spiritual uncleanliness can not be accepted. It must be said that this was written in regard to previous generations and has no application today.]