Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Eiruvin 64: Torah Scroll's Amulet Power

I found this interesting custom, mentioned in the Talmud in this week's Daf Yomi cycle:
R. Aba and R. Menasiya: One who takes possession of the property of a convert [who died without heirs] should buy a Sefer Torah [with some of the money. People will envy him, for he profited without toil. The Mitzvah will protect him from Ayin ha'Ra'ah];

Rav Sheshes: The same applies even to one who married a woman with property. (He may use her property. He should buy a Sefer Torah with some of the profits);
Rava: The same applies even to one who profited from a business venture;
Rav Papa: The same applies even to [smaller profits that come easily, e.g.] one who found a lost object [in a case that he may keep it].
Version #1 (our text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): Even writing Tefilin will protect him. (end of Version #1)
Rav Chanin or R. Chanina: He learns from "va'Yidar Yisrael Neder..." (Bnei Yisrael vowed to be Makdish spoils that they will take from the nation that was about to fight them.) source

            It emerges from this Gemara that the Torah Scroll seems to have some sort of amulet power which will protect the person who got this money from envy. Rav Nachman Bar Yitzchak goes a step further and says that not only a Torah Scroll, which is used in public and seen by all, protects the person; even a Tefillin, which is private and usually hidden from the eyes of the public will protect the person's newfound fortune against Evil Eye (ayin harah).

           This is Rashi's understanding of the Talmud and it is quite puzzling. It's novel to say that the Torah Scroll and Tefillin have amulet-like powers and we actually only find this in the laws of Mezuza, which has the unique feature of protecting one's house. But that's a priori unique to Mezuza (see here a long and interesting achademic dissertation about that), and Rashi seems to somehow extend this property to Torah Scrolls and Tefillin as well. 
           The Meiri interprets this piece slightly different, ignoring the Evil Eye issue in his usual rationalistic approach to things. In his opinion, the person who  inherited money should use part of it for a Miztva solely so he shouldn't forget that this money is not his nor a result of his skills; it came to him because Hashem granted him this good fortune and the Torah Scroll (or Tefillin) will remind him that. According to this, the Gemara mentioned Sefer Torah and Tefillin solely as an example of a physical Mitzva which can remind the person about this important lesson.
          Now we get the last and most dissonant interpretation - the Maharsha. He doesn't understand why according to Rashi/Meiri, the Talmud writes that one should be "koneh" (buy) a Sefer Torah whereas when speaking about the Tefillin, the Gemara writes that one can even "kosev" (write) a Tefillin. The Maharsha says this doesn't makes sense - if anything, there's a clear Miztva of writing a Torah Scroll yourself opposed to Tefillin which doesn't necessarily needs to be written personally. Based on a differing manuscript of the Talmud, the Maharsha says that the Gemara means to say that only a Torah Scroll will be effective in protecting one's wealth. Period. The Tefillin will not. The proper understanding of the piece of Gemara which speaks about Tefillin is radically different:  
Version #2 (Maharsha's preferred text) (Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak): The same applies even to one who profits from writing Tefilin [in spite of Chachamim's prayer that scribes not get rich. He should attribute this to Hash-m, and buy a Sefer Torah].

        In other words, the Gemara in this version never said that even a Tefillin will protect you. The Gemara is talking about a specific case - a scribe who manages to make a lot of money from a pair of Tefillin.   

    Tuesday, May 14, 2013

    Auction Sefer Torah

    Nice recent story from a friend:

    "Since we mainly hear negative things that the internet produces, please read the following true story that happened to me over the last few days - it involves a rare Mitzvah that I have B'H managed to be mekayem - and the Mitzvah came our way ......thanks to the internet!
    I recently came across an "on-line" auction taking place in Berlin and whilst viewing the various lots to be auctioned - I saw one particular lot that gave me a big shock!
    I saw a picture of a sefer toireh that had been taken 'upside-down' and could see that the sefer was open to Parshas VeZois Habrucheh and the description of the auction was: 19th Century Jewish Scroll in very good condition. Size 98 Centimeters (they did not even know exactly what type of Jewish scroll it was (they may have thought that it was some type of megilloh) and had pictured it upside-down!).
    The Auction of this lot was fixed for Saturday. I could not believe my eyes - a Sefer Toireh of circa 200 years old to be sold on a Shabbos in Berlin?!
    I phoned up the Auction House and told them that I was interested in purchasing this lot but since I was an Orthodox Jew and  Orthodox Jews must not do business on the Sabbath, could they please assist me by moving the Auction date of this lot to Friday or any other day of the week - excluding Shabbos. They said that they would discuss it with the Auction House owner but did not believe that he would agree to move an Auction due to 'my religious problem'.
    I received a call back a day later telling me that the owner did not agree to move the auction date but if I wanted to, they would accept a bid from me in advance of the Auction which would be submitted by the Auctioneer on my behalf on Shabbos.
    They told me that the minimum that the Seller was looking to achieve was circa 5.000 EUR (including Auction commission). I was also told that the Owner of the "scroll" was a Goy - a dealer in Antiques. I immediately had a Shaaloh - was I allowed to submit a bid before Shabbos for a Sefer Toireh that was to be sold on a Shabbos?
    The Shaaloh was presented to Rav Padwa and he paskened that in order to be Matzil a Sefer Toireh - one was allowed to put in a bid before Shabbos as Hatzolas Sefer Toireh Midei Nochri was allowed via a chilul shabbos deRabonnon (mekach uMemker al yedei Nochri)
    I decided to speak again to the Auctioneer and asked him more details about the Sefer Toireh - the Seller did not want to provide any more information but they had tested the wood and silver atzei chaim and it was dated from the 19th Century. I understood that this was possibly a sefer toireh that a goy had stolen from a Shul on Kristallnacht and it had been hidden in the Goy's family for the last 75 years+ - but was already over 100 years old before Kristallnacht.
    I discussed this with my shutef and we decided that since it was 'bashert' that this goy was silly enough to have placed the sefer in an auction on shabbos - hopefully no Jew would buy it and if it was left unsold - we would be able to buy it at a cheaper price.
    B'H - our calculation of what would happen on Shabbos was correct - and on Monday after the auction I called the Auctioneer and it had been left unsold - no bidders at all! I decided to ask a Shaaloh here in London and in Eretz Yisroel when I was there last week, regarding the Shaaloh of being poideh a sefer toireh midei nochri and whether it mattered if the sefer was kosher or possul and the psak was clear - there is a chiyuv and a mitzvah to be poideh the sefer (no difference if kosher or possul) from the goy and it was a rare mitzvah nowadays almost 70 years after the end of World War 2.
    I  wrote a long email to the Auction House and asked them to pass it on to the Owner of the Sefer. I mentioned in my email that a Sefer Toireh only had any value if it was Kosher and since this scroll will require major amount of work by a soifer to repair it - it was not worth much money at all and certainly nothing near the 5.000 EUR he was looking for, but if he agreed to sell it to us for 2.000 EUR, we would agree to buy it from him. B'H on Erev Shabbos - we received an email back from the Auction House and the owner has agreed to sell it to us at this price.
    We expect to receive the Sefer Toireh in London this week and B'H we managed to mekayem a special & rare mitzvah". See the actual pictures of this Torah Scroll.