Eruvin 54 Beruria, Learning out loud, and Torah as a cure

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases שיבדלו לחיים , among them Maran haGadol R’ Chaim Kanievsky שליט”א , and the Karliner Rebbe שליט”א. We also have in mind that great friend of Israel (אולי ככורש בדורו) , President Donald Trump- it goes without saying that we leave politics out of all the above.

As we continue to be cut-off from the batei-midrash and shuls that we hold so dear, one of the things that we all miss while learning at home is the constant buzz of Torah-learning that emanates from these sacred places.

Our halls of study are a stark contrast to the (at least officially) silent libraries and study-halls of the great universities, and are brought to life by the sounds of students and their chavrusos (study-partners) learning out loud, or even screaming in learning at one another.

This distinction is so sharp, that while I was investigating the possibility of zoom providing a feature to simulate this buzz online while still allowing people to focus at a higher volume on their chavrusos, I was told that there is simply no request for such a thing and the technology does not exist!

Our daf begins with the continuation of a story where the famous wife of Rabbi Meir, Berurya rebuked a certain student for learning silently.

We would be remiss in pointing out how despite her tremendous status in learning herself, she seems not to have allowed her own status as an אשה חשובה (“important” or noble woman) to diminish her respect for the teachings of Chazal, including even the seemingly “chauvinist” early ruling of Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim: אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה (do not chat too much with women), something she admonished none other than Rabbi Yosi haGalili for at the bottom of the previous daf!

(This makes a cryptic Rashi who explains the מעשה דברוריה referred to by Chazal (A.Z. 18b ) as a case where she made light of Chazal’s statement that נשים דעתם קלות even harder to explain, but that’s for another discussion, Hashem willing!)

Back to her rebuke of this student, she based this on the passuk “ערוכה בכל ושמורה” (set out in everything and looked after)- “If one’s Torah is set out in all 248 of one’s limbs ( learnt with one’s entire body,) it is looked after (and endures), otherwise it is not.”

The Gemara continues bringing various other statements about the importance of learning out loud, among them the case of a certain student of Rabbi Eliezer who learnt silently and forgot his learning after 3 years.

This leads into another discussion regarding the healing powers of Torah:

One of the pessukim brought to highlight the importance of learning out loud is “כי חיים הם למצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא “- the word מצאיהם is read for the purposes of this derasha as מוציאיהם and the passuk is thus rendered as “They (the words of Torah) are life for all those who bring them out (of their lips) and a cure for all his flesh.”

After the Gemara brings various other pessukim to show that the recommended action for one who has a headache, stomachache ,sore-throat, or pain in the bones is to יעסוק בתורה , busy oneself’ with Torah, it uses the second part of the above-quoted passuk (a cure for all flesh) to show that the remedy for pain in the entire body is also to busy oneself with Torah!

However, we also know from earlier discussions (see my posts on Shabbos 61 and 67) that using the Torah as a source of healing can be problematic, to the point that it is a severe prohibition to whisper a verse in order to heal a wound (see Mishna Sanhedrin 11/1) and Shvuos 15b)- this prohibition is taken so seriously by the Rambam, that he writes (A.Z. 11/12) that one who does this has not only transgressed a serious prohibition, but has made light of the Torah which is meant as a cure for the soul, by turning it into a bodily cure like mere medicine.

Whereas the above Rambam rules that it is permitted to say Tehillim for someone who is healthy so that the merit of learning Torah will protect him, he seems to view even the common practise of saying Tehillim for someone who is ill as incorrect, based on this prohibition. Yet it seems pretty clear in the verse we have quoted and the Gemara’s derivation from it that the Torah is indeed a cure for the entire body and that learning Torah as a remedy for physical pain is indeed recommended!

I am not sure how to reconcile this piece of Gemara with the Rambam, and I am not even sure if the Rambam viewed this possibly aggadic material to be authoritative enough to affect his ruling, which is based on how he learnt other more clearly halachik sugyas, but one must certainly acknowledge that a simple reading of this Gemara seems to indicate that Torah is certainly a valid therapy for physical pain, whether this effect is psychological or metaphysical.

One of the things that is most characteristic of great Torah personalities is the constant sound of Torah that comes from their lips- Everyone who knew the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל, remembers the almost constant sound of Torah and prayer emanating from his lips, whether he was at home, in his office, or the Beis-Midrash and shul, as well as when he was not feeling so good.

His learning was a constant song of praise to Hashem, and his signature hum displayed the sheer pleasure he got from his Torah and davening- Who can forget the melody of his signature “הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה…שמע ישראל ” or “אני מאמין” and the traditional Yeshivish chant to which he sang the words of Chazal that he learnt and taught?

May our own learning reveal the joy of Torah that he taught us, and may the merit of his Torah and all the Torah we learn because of him truly protect all of us from this terrible plague and all the other challenges life brings us, ודיה לצרה בעתה.

And may Hashem soon spread out upon us the ultimate place of Torah and protection , the fallen Sukkah of David, from where the sounds of the greatest Simchas haTorah imaginable will once again emanate, as we celebrate Simchas beis hashoeiva and hafakos in the newly-built Beis haMikdash, במהרה וימינו אמן.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

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