Monday, July 4, 2011

On Bennett Avenue

Arriving in WH after a drive up the FDR, I parked my car on Bennett Av and walked astride the street, making my way over to the beis hamidrash. Entering the room, I noticed that the rosh hakolel was sitting in his seat to the side of the auron, opposite the front-most wall. He was deeply immersed in a piece of learning; so I approached most cautiously, not wanting to disturb him unduly. I waited respectfully until he voluntarily looked up and recognized me. Quickly, I lunged forward, extending him a hand and offering a profuse greeting. Receiving me graciously, he responded in kind and sought at once to put me at ease.

He motioned for me to take a seat alongside him, understanding full well that I had come to discuss something with him. We began by exchanging the customary pleasantries, preparatory to getting to the matter at hand. At that point, I drew out a Gemara from under my arm and began fumbling my way through the pages, so that I might open it to a certain one. When the sought page was apprehended and appeared before me, I pointed to a Tosafos situated somewhere around the uppermost section of the daf.

The rosh kolel skimmed it intently, taking care to refresh his memory as to its content. Once satisfied, he turned to me, signaling preparedness to listen to what I had to say. I thereupon initiated the process by saying that there was something I didn’t understand. The rosh hakolel interjected smilingly, assuring me that ability to acknowledge lack of understanding was requisite to being able to achieve the same. Reassured, I proceeded to articulate the source of my difficulty.

Lest there be confusion, let me assert unceremoniously that the Tosafos in question is found in Maseches Berachos, 37a. Its d”h is: borei nefashos rabos veshesronom. What it says is that the word vechesronom, as used in this context, means necessities, i.e., things without which one cannot survive: for example, bread and water. Tosafos goes on to say that the phrase comprising the words al kohl ma shebara lehachayos bahem nefesh kohl chai means things without which man could perfectly well do, i.e., things that were created to give man pleasure: things like apples. So according to Tosafos, the beracha alludes to these two classes of thing: necessities and luxuries.

Something that emerges from Tosafos’ explication is that the word vechesronam, as used here, refers not to man’s deficiencies, which is to say, his needs, but rather to things that meet man’s needs, i.e., the food types that are necessary for satisfying man’s nutritional requirements. This is observation number one.

Observation number two is that on Tosafos’ reading, the phrase al kohl ma shebara introduces the second classification of things but not the first. This seems to make the beracha’s formulation somewhat asymmetrical. My question was this: why enter into an interpretation that incurs these two apparent anomalies, when an alternative interpretation that nicely averts them is at hand? The interpretation I have in mind is this: He creates many living things and, also, their deficiencies, i.e., the things they lack and therefore need - sources of nourishment, most notably. He creates these (living creatures) over and above, that is, in addition to, His creation of things (food) with which He sustains every living creature and meets its needs. The implication is that the creation of the latter chronologically preceded the creation of the former, which of course is true.  G-d created foodstuff, through which His subsequent creations – animals, man – would receive sustenance, before creating animals and man. By the time He had created the creatures whose sustenance would depend on the availability of food, He had already created the food.

Duly pondering my suggestion, the rosh kolel acknowledged that I had a point.

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