Gemara on Abuse and Leaving the Derech

letter-447577_1280

Maybe.

I’m running a bit ahead of myself in the Daf, which means that when I run into issues and observations, I have no one to run them by. Perhaps readers will keep this in mind, and comment when they get up to Menachos 109 in a few days.

The gemara presents two conflicting versions of the story of Chonyo and the temple he built in Egypt. (He is known to the non-Jewish world through Josephus as Onias.) In one version, Chonyo was an acceptable successor as Kohen Gadol to his famed father; his jealous brother, however, betrayed him and framed him in a manner that compromised his safety. Fleeing to Egypt, he built an idolatrous temple there. The other version has Chonyo attempting to wrest the position from his brother who was the legitimate heir to the position. Chonyo’s machinations would have resulted in the death of his brother, but backfired when they were outed. Chonyo escapes the wrath of the public by fleeing to Egypt, where he establishes a temple dedicated to Hashem.

The two stories contain, it would appear, a curious inversion. In the first version, Chonyo is a good guy. Yet the temple he builds is devoted to avodah zarah. In the latter version, Chonyo is a despicable would-be fratricide. His temple, though, is kosher in intent (albeit still halachically objectionable).

Perhaps the gemara could be understood in the following way. The latter version tells us that serious sin is no bar to emunah. Chonyo could try to kill his brother for his aggrandizement, but this would not get in the way of his seeing himself as remaining within the basic faith. People rationalize all sorts of things, including the worst transgressions.

The former version, however, shows us that an upstanding member of the community whose safety is jeopardized by someone close and trusted, and who is then let down by a community that does not protect him, will easily run headlong out of the fold, and take up the embrace of an alien ideology. He has had enough of the one he used to be comfortable in. If he can be treated so savagely by people he trusts, and if the community at large is powerless to save him, he will walk out.

Maybe others will enlighten me to more attractive explanations when they get to this daf, but at the moment, this gemara has a very contemporary sound to me.

You may also like...

12 Responses

  1. Moshe Hillson says:

    I quoted your explanation of the Gemara in our Daf Yomi lesson this Sunday (not in my name, but I didn’t explicitly mention your name since no one in that Shiur knows Rabbi Adlerstein from LA) and the Maggid Shiur (Lecturer) was very impressed by it.

  2. Joseph Skaist says:

    My Chavrusah (your son) and I went through this Daf today and I shared with him your explanation of the first version. He enjoyed it.

    I understood the first version the following way:
    Chonyo was an ignoramus at least regarding the induction process of a Kohen Gadol but he was more G-d fearing. Shim-ee, his older brother had two problems: “1. I’m older and 2. I am more knowledgeable, therefore more qualified.” Shim’ee felt that he was wronged and justified his evil actions accordingly. Chonyo was a victim of his brother’s treachery and almost paid with his life. His treatment at the hands of important Jews in authoritative positions was a catalyst to his rejection of Yiddishkeit. In that Shim’ee thought that the evil he was doing was for the sake of heaven and that led to Chonyo building a temple for avodah zarah your analysis seems on the money, but I am not so sure that Shim’ee was initially aware of how badly he was jeopardizing his brother’s safety.

    As far as the second version, I also came up with something slightly different:
    In the second version Chonyo’s brother, Shim’ee was the ignorant, albeit older brother. Chonyo was chosen by his father because he was more qualified (at least regarding knowledge). However, due to his false humility he stepped aside. “How will it look if I do not let my older brother be the Kohen Gadol? People will think I want the position and will not view me as the Tzaddik I am!” He regretted this decision and at his brother’s expense laid a trap that would expose his brother’s lack of qualification. Chonyo’s teachery was exposed and no one in Eretz Yisrael was willing to protect him from the wrath of the Kohanim. He fled to Alexandria and built a temple to Hashem as a face-saver, not because he had great Emunah.

    The first version teaches us how even a G-d fearing person could end up off the derech and a priest for foreign beliefs when mistreated by prominent Jews or when mistreated by Jews and prominent Jews stand by and tolerate it. Not much different than your conclusion.

    The second version teaches us that when important and seemingly righteous Jews really get caught “in the act” they will never let go of their delusions of righteousness, even building temples for Hashem that are against Hashem’s will.

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      1) I like this. I can more than live with it, especially since I am more interested in the lesson from the first version, that we apparently both agree upon).
      2) You are making great progress. When I used to learn with him, he never agreed with anything I had to say!

  3. Joseph Skaist says:

    Rabbi Adlerstein, correct me if I am wrong: Your explanation of the first version is pointing to a common reaction to mistreatment, however not excusing the reaction. Not to judge anyone who does react in this way, but there is a famous piece from the Besh’t regarding how to respond to situations of adversity and grow from it instead of lowering oneself to the level of the mistreaters and exposing one’s own flaws for all to see. Such reactionary behavior gives license for the masses to misperceive the order of events and say regarding the mistreaters “They were right! Look at the da’as Torah and ruach hakodesh that they have!”

  4. Samuel Svarc says:

    “The former version, however, shows us that an upstanding member of the community whose safety is jeopardized by someone close and trusted, and who is then let down by a community that does not protect him, will easily run headlong out of the fold, and take up the embrace of an alien ideology. He has had enough of the one he used to be comfortable in. If he can be treated so savagely by people he trusts, and if the community at large is powerless to save him, he will walk out.”

    It’s not always when he’s mistreated, when he mistreats and gets rebuffed as well. The underlying cause is the same. ‘Mi b’rosh…’ When one’s desires are not fulfilled, what does one do?

  5. Miriam A says:

    i I’m running a bit ahead of myself in the Daf, which means that when I run into issues and observations, I have no one to run them by

    Perhaps this is ignorance on my part, but haven’t people been learning Gemara b’eyun for many many many many years? Surely there is SOMEONE out there who has learned this particular gemara in a non-daf setting and therefore need not be “up to it” to have this discussion with you….

    • Yitzchok Adlerstein says:

      I remember the olden days when I lived in NY, and I could walk into the Mirrer minyan in Boro Park and find someone with whom you could instantly speak about any daf in Shas. I hear that you can do the same in Lakewood, with a bit of guidance about which part of which beis medrash to look for someone who is intensely “in to” a give mesechta.

      Alas, in the galus of Los Angeles, we have no such access.

  6. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >His concern: tafasta meruba, lo tafasta.

    I agree that this was his concern, however, that does not stop the R’ Yosef or R’ Akiva from saying regarding him: “משיב חכמים אחור ודעתם יסכל”

  7. Raymond says:

    I never heard this story before, but it sure makes me want to delve into the aggadic portions of the Talmud. In any case, to me the more admirable or at least tolerable person is the Chonyo who is wronged rather than doing wrong, and who as a result explores other ideologies. I feel a strong connection with such a person, while feeling perplexed and nothing more toward the Chonyo who sees no contradiction between bad moral behavior and uncompromising worship of G-d.

  8. dovid2 says:

    “He SHOULD have asked for more.”

    His concern: tafasta meruba, lo tafasta.

  9. Chareidi Leumi says:

    >r yochanan b zakai asked for Torah not Temple

    Yes, but see what the gemara in Gittin says about his modest requests – it is not seen as a positive move! He SHOULD have asked for more.

  10. lacosta says:

    >>The latter version tells us that serious sin is no bar to emunah. Chonyo could try to kill his brother for his aggrandizement, but this would not get in the way of his seeing himself as remaining within the basic faith

    — how many hundreds of kohanei gadol anyway were , by today’s parlance non-O [not just not charedi}— yet until about year 70 the Prushim [O jews, whether haredi or modern] had no choice but to depend on these kohanim for their yearly kapara… like the current zionist entity, the haredi religious establishment had goals very separate from the Temple establishment , yet couldn’t push it aside… yet in spite of their name prushim [ was this name , like ‘parazitim’ given by their enemies], i assume they were very tied to the state of the State and Temple…

    of course when push came to shove, r yochanan b zakai asked for Torah not Temple–and i dont think it’s because the chachamim didnt control the mikdash; but rather tora ensures yahadut the world over