TORAH TO GO
Rabbi David Walk
Many years ago I taught at Rabbi Shlomo Riskin's high school in Riverdale. I was also director of the dormitory. Since I lived so close to the school (and was poor) I didn't own a car. Periodically, I needed a ride into the city and one of the other staff members who was truly a zadik, was always obliging. The wonderful thing about these excursions was that as soon as the car was in motion, my driver and colleague would ask for some u'valecticha baderech Torah. For those not familiar with that phrase from Shma, it means 'and when you are going on the road.' The reference is to our Torah which is to be studied at all times and in every situation. These wide ranging discussions down the
As the brothers are getting ready to return to Israel for the purpose of bringing Ya'akov down to Egypt, the verse records: And (Yosef) sent off his brothers, and they went, and he said to them, "Do not quarrel (get angry) on the way (Genesis 45:24)." This instruction to not fight on the way home seems to be advice to not get involved in a blame game over the selling of Yosef (Avraham Ibn Ezra). The Rashbam suggests that it means that they shouldn't be afraid of the journey, perhaps because they are on mitzvah mission. However, Rashi quotes a famous Midrash on the verse: Do not engage in a halachic (Torah) discussion lest the way cause you to stray (Ta'anit 10b). Wow, Rashi claims that Yosef was instructing them to not study Torah on the road! That's against our normal approach. Not surprisingly, I'm not the first to notice this problem.
The Kli Yakar (Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim ben Aaron Luntschitz, 1550 -1619) points out that Rebbe Ila'i taught that traveling scholars who don't discuss Torah are worthy of being burned at the stake. That's a bit extreme. I'll just consider that hyperbole. At that point the Kli Yakar explains that there are different kinds of Torah study. Reviewing Torah decisions would be fine, but debating still as yet undecided legal issues could bring them to trouble and strife. A reasonable suggestion. Getting involved with controversial issues while traveling is a bad idea, because of the rigors of the road. But for me the best comment of the Kli Yakar combines this Midrashic approach with the literal meaning that they shouldn't get angry and accusatory with each other. He explains that while traveling we should stay involved with Torah study and not desist from this mitzvah. The problem is that if you get angry, you can't really study Torah. The Kli Yakar adds that all anger leads to mistakes. If you're in a mistake prone mode, you'd better stop studying Torah. So, Yosef's advice is to stay distant from anger so that you can learn while traveling the road.
We in Judaism view anger as a very negative trait. In the seventh chapter of the Laws of Repentance, Maimonides actually counts anger as a sin. Every one gets angry on occasion. The goal is to minimize the damage we do while we are angry, and find strategies for ending the episode of rage.
In my life, I've had the sublime privilege to encounter, on a number of occasions, two amazing poskim, decisors of Jewish law. Both Reb Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) in
Now we can begin to understand the advice of Yosef. Anger has little or no up side. Please, do your best to avoid it. Yosef understood that there could be many recriminations amongst his brothers, but there was nothing to be gained, and much to be lost, by airing them. Add to that the tensions and dangers of the road, and you've got a recipe for disaster. Later the Rabbis, superimposed another layer of meaning, to advise us that decisions made while angry are not to be trusted, including Torah study.
I don't think that the Midrashic approach describes the original intent of Yosef in the verse, but it ends up giving us valuable, practical advice. For most of us, travel provides enough anxiety that we should refrain from heavy duty decision making while concerned about the voyage. And even more important, don't come to important conclusions in the heat of anger. Important judgments are like a delicate soufflé; no movement, no noise, no agitation are requirements for a satisfactory result.
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