New York – There is a YouTube video (see below) that is circling the frum blogosphere, which, in a rather deprecating manner, makes light of the Gemorah in Yuma 28b (and the Midrashim as well) that Avrohom our forefather and the Avos fulfilled the entire Torah (see e.g. Bereishis Rabbah 82:14).
Often, people who wish to impugn the positions of others create a “strawman” espousing the opposite viewpoint, and then knock it down to the cheers and laughter of their fellow cynics. An analysis of the video reveals that the agenda of the Youtube video producer was to push some of the left-of-center aspects of the Yeshiva University Hashkafa and to undermine the lessons taught in the more Yeshivesh circles. It also mocks one of the Gedolei HaDor- Rav Elyashiv Shlita – and does so in a very unbecoming manner.
There are three approaches that can be found among the Meforshim when dealing with this Gemorah and others similar to it. They range from what we can term the maximalist position, to the minimalist position, to the mid-level position.
The maximalist position of course is the most well known and, much to the chagrin of the producer of the Youtube video, was espoused in its literal form by the greatest sages of Israel. Thus, for example the Radbaz in a responsa (Vol. II #696) explains that Yaakov was able to marry two sisters because he converted them and they were like a child just born from a halachic standpoint. This explanation is the most common manner in which the Meforshim deal with such halachic questions and is the standard approach to the Gemorah in Yuma. No less an authority than the Maharsha (Bava Basra 16b) understands the Gemorah in its most literal form. Rashi in numerous places understands the Gemorah in this manner, often in places where the other two positions simply would not fit in well. Indeed, Rabbi Yechezkel Landau (Tzlach Chulin 91a) writes explicitly that there is not even an opinion that learns any other way!
The minimalist position believes that this Gemorah should be understood in a somewhat allegorical sense – in other words we should and must look and view the Avos and their children in the sense that they actually did perform all of the Mitzvos. Why so? There might be a tendency among the masses to view the patriarchs of Klal Yisroel in a somewhat lesser light because they did not have the sophisticated and more developed aspects of Avodas Hashem that we might have. “For Avrohom Avinu – a Bris Milah was a nisayon – for me – it is a spiritual experience that I look forward to..” – might be an example of such thinking.
According to this view, the Gemorah in Yuma is instructing us not to view things in such a manner. Just like the Gemorah elsewhere tells us that whomsoever embarrasses someone it is as if he killed him ( Bava Metziah 58b) – the Gemorah is educating us to view things in such a manner in order to develop the proper outlook on such things. The same argument could be made for Bikkur Cholim and escorting a guest. In other words Chazal will sometimes make an extreme statement to make a point (Tosfos actually says this position). The minimalist position will extend that thought to our Gemorah here in Yuma 28b.
Below is the video clip that has generated more then 29K hits since it was posted a few days ago.
The Avos – the Patriarchs were the founders of who we are as a people – the trials and tribulations that they experienced formed who we are as a nation. Whomsoever is merciful, shy and performs acts of lovingkindness demonstrates a sign that they descend from the patriarchs (See Yevamos 79a). We must therefore look at the Avos, according to this view, with the perspective that they fulfilled every Mitzvah – even the Rabbinic ones. Why? So that no one will Heaven forbid think less of them than they should. [And let’s not think for a second that people will not do so. The agenda lately of historians and pseudo-historians trying to paint the founders of the United States in a very negative light, lehavdil, is proof positive that this view exists and affects people’s perceptions.]
The main proponents of the minimalist position can possibly be found on the verse in Bereishis 26L5 where Hashem says that Avrohom observed Hashem’s Mitzvos, Chukim and Torah laws. The RaDaK and other commentators go to great lengths to identify the specific incidents in Avrohom Avinu’s life that refer and fit into these words. The RaDak indicates that the words refer to the ethical Mitzvos. If the RaDak held to a maximalist position why is there a need to provide these alternative readings to Rashi? Also, even though the RaDaK prefers the Gemorah in Yuma’s explanation, his citation of the Gemorah as an alternative explanation shows that there is a minimalist view too.
The Ramban’s suggests an explanation that is counter to the maximalist position in his comments to this verse which he introduces with the words “And according to the manner of Pshat.” Clearly, he too allows for a minimalist position. Other Rishonim on the verse that propose alternatives to the maximalist pshat are Seforno, Chezkuni, and the Ibn Ezra.
The Ramah (responsa Siman 10), seems to indicate that he held of a minimalist position. Certainly, he learns that Yaakov Avinu did not observe the Mitzvos in this manner. The Kesef Mishna (Hilchos Malachim 9:1) seems to understand that Avrohom Avinu did not keep the Mitzvah of Maaser and only Yitzchok innovated it. Tosfos (Chulin 91a) deals with the possibility that the sons of Yaakov, in fact, did not fully observe the Mitzvos and this position could fit into the minimalist view as well. The Shirei Taharah cited in the Sdei Chemed [Letter Hay #1] writes that the Gemorah in Yuma refers only to Avrohom Avinu and not to the other Avos or the Shevatim.
The minimalist view also seems to be the understanding of first explanation in the Shla’s introduction (end of point zayin). The Avos, are viewed as the Merkavah itself according to the Zohar. They certainly observed the roots of the Mitzvos, but not actively bepoel until later (see point ches through tes in the Shlah). His understanding of the Gemorah in Yuma according to what he writes in the introduction would fit nicely with what we have written here. Even so, however, later on in Parshas Toldos, he reverts back to the maximalist position.
Another view that is somewhat related to the minimalist view is that the Torah specifically wanted us to view the Avos as having fulfilled every aspect of Torah and of Rabbinic law as a tool to assist in the exposition of Torah law.
[Rabbeinu Bachya (Bereishis 26:5) espouses the view that the Avos only kept the entire Torah while in Eretz Yisroel. This view is also somewhat related to a minimalist position.]
The midlevel position is espoused by Rav Tzadok haKohain in Pri Tzaddik – Dvarim leRosh Chodesh Elul (#3). He clearly learns that Avrohom’s Ruach HaKodesh did not extend to the point where he was aware of the future Mitzvos and future Rabbinic enactments. Rather, he derived them from sheer logic and the analysis of the behavior of the animal kingdom. He indicates this position by use of the words “uMehaichan lamad?” His conclusion is that he learned it from the Briah – creation. In other words there was a philosophical derivation of the Torah’s Mitzvos and that may be the intent of the Gemorah.
The viewpoints of saintly Torah authorities should never ever be subjected to ridicule. It is wrong and unbecoming of members of a Torah nation. This is especially true in regard to a Youtube video done with sarcasm, cynicism and an openly mocking, deprecating tone.
We should also bear in mind, of course, backing up the maximalist position, that there always existed a pre-Sinaitic Torah. Noach was told to take both Tameh and pure animals. This is clearly from the perspective of Kashrus. This demonstrably indicates that at least some aspects of Torah were known before Har Sinai. The Hammurabi Code also has many elements of Torah law, however miscommunicated those sections may be through the “Telephone Game” of those times.
There were also Mitzvos that existed in different forms in pre-Sinaitic times. For example, the Ramban tells us that the Mitzvah of Yibum prior to Har Sinai was different. Then the essential Mitzvah was on the father of the household. The Mitzvah of Bris Milah was also different during Avrohom Avinu’s time. He did not perform Priyah as the Gemorah (Yevamos 71b) informs us. We, however, do. In response to the specific issues brought up in the video – there is no question that this notion of Mitzvos in a different form was observed. So, no, Yaakov could not look ahead and read what it said about Mechiras Yoseph and saved him all that aggravation because even in the maximalist position, this Mitzvah was in a different form.
The overwhelming majority of Torah authorities, however, clearly and completely hold of the maximalist position, and this is the general position that should be taught in our Torah institutions. When one is involved in Kiruv or deals with people that have been raised in secular environments, it is the opinion of this author that all three positions should be presented. None of the positions, however, should ever be mocked or derided. This is not the Torah way.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org