main postsSpiritual Masters

Ba’al Hahafla’ah: Worldly Matters for Tzaddikim?

Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz, known as the Ba'al HaHafla'ah after his series of books by this name on the Talmud and Shulchan Aruch, was born in the year 5491 (1731) to his father Rabbi Tzvi Hirsch, the Rabbi of Chortkiv. In his youth, he studied under the tutelage of his father. Following his marriage to his niece, his brother, Rabbi Nachum’s daughter, he studied with his brother, Rabbi Shmelkeh of Nikolsburg. During this time, he wrote most of his innovations. Both brothers studied for a period as disciples of the Vilna Gaon and were drawn to Chasidut under the influence of Rabbi Avraham of Kalisk, a disciple of the Vilna Gaon who became a chasid. In 5532 (1772), with the support of the Maggid of Mezritch, Rabbi Pinchas was appointed as the Rabbi and Rosh Yeshivah in Frankfurt am Main, the then capital of Ashkenazic Jewry (one of his students there was the illustrious Chatam Sofer). Rabbi Pinchas passed away on the 4th of Tamuz, 5565 (1805), at the age of 74 and was buried with honor in Frankfurt.

Once, Rabbi Pinchas came to the city of Nikolsburg to visit his brother, Rabbi Shmuel Shmelkeh, the head of the Rabbinical Court of Nikolsburg. Rabbi Mordechai Banet was learning at the time under Rabbi Shmelke. He had a special room in which he sat. Rabbi Pinchas passed by that room, turned to Rabbi Mordechai, and said, “Could a young scholar be a sinner?” Upon hearing these words that left the mouth of the revered Rabbi Pinchas, Rabbi Mordechai Banet searched his soul, but found nothing in himself that could be called a sin.

He related the matter to Rabbi Shmelkeh, saying that his brother had called him a sinner, but he did not find anything in himself and did not know to what to attribute Rabbi Pinchas’ remark. Rabbi Shmelkeh told him that when he will join his brother for a meal, he will ask him what he meant. When he asked, Rabbi Pinchas replied, "Your student is fasting, and it is hard on him, and he cannot focus on his studies. The sages said that a Torah scholar who is fasting and the fast is causing him to neglect Torah study is called a sinner."

The question that immediately comes to mind is, why Rabbi Shmelkeh did not rebuke his student himself? Apparently, the reason hinges on a fundamental difference in the approach of the two brothers, which was expressed in other aspects as well. For example, Rabbi Pinchas refrained from leading a chasidic courtyard in Frankfurt to avoid controversy. He only prayed in the Sephardic custom of prayer privately but never used it when leading the prayers publicly. In contrast, Rabbi Shmelkeh's approach was characterized by ignoring worldly, mundane matters. In his city, which was entirely under the influence of German Jewry, he openly conducted himself according to the “opposing” Chasidic customs and presented himself as a Chasidic rebbe, completely ignoring the storm of opposition he stirred up. He even encouraged his students and disciples to follow in the same spirit.

Hence, as a disciple of Rebbe Shmelkeh, it did not even occur to Rabbi Mordechai that the sin was related to the fast he was observing. Still, the words uttered by Rabbi Pinchas penetrated his heart, and he had to approach Rebbe Shmelkeh for a solution. When Rebbe Shmelkeh inquired with his brother about the rebuke, he too becomes the receiver of criticism from his brother due to his own approach.

Another illustration of the different approaches of the two brothers can be found in the following story:

The holy Rebbe Shmelkeh’s wife complained to her brother-in-law, the Ba’al HaHafla’ah, that her husband had not spoken to her at all for quite some time. Rabbi Pinchas promised her that he would approach his brother about this. When they sat down to eat, Rabbi Pinchas said to his brother, Rebbe Shmelkeh, “Why don’t you speak to your wife frequently and why haven’t you spoken to her for a long time?”

“I will tell you a parable,” Rebbe Shmelkeh replied. “A person who has a store for gems, and he has customers waiting in line to buy his excellent merchandise, do you think that he would tell his customers to wait for an hour while he speaks loving words to his wife? They would consider him insane! And the meaning of this parable is well understood.”

“Although what you say is true,” Rabbi Pinchas replied, “one should conduct oneself with Derech Eretz (manners) and should speak and approach his wife from time to time and speak to her heart.”

These two stories clarify that in Rebbe Shmelkeh’s study hall, they were detached from physicality and worldly matters. This point also explains the controversial step that Rebbe Shmelkeh took, becoming a Chasidic rebbe in a major stronghold of opposition to Chasidut, in Germany, all to the dismay of the local residents. Rebbe Shmelkeh did not notice the controversy at all. Conversely, Rabbi Pinchas was an expert at making peace between the student and his body, or between husband and wife. In both places, the best time for this was when eating. When eating, even the greatest tzaddik has to conduct himself in the way of the world.

Rebbe Shmelkeh was concerned about his customers-students and did not want to lose his and their time, so that he could seal more and more transactions—selling another diamond and another gem. Hence, he felt that he had no time for worldly matters. We might also venture to add that with his Divine inspiration, Rebbe Shmelkeh, who died at an early age, saw that his “store” would soon be closing, and thus wished to take advantage of every moment. After justifying his brother’s words, Rabbi Pinchas adds that this itself is a commandment of the Torah. In the words beloved to the Rebbe, “Torah shares a root with instruction (hora’ah)” and we must conduct ourselves in the way of the world.

Of course, the primary concern of Rabbi Pinchas, who is remembered for all generations as a genius in the revealed part of the Torah as well, was diligence in Torah study and service of God. This is illustrated in our final story, about how Rabbi Pinchas rebuked a merchant who invested all of his effort in worldly matters:

A merchant traveled to Leipzig for market day. He traveled via Frankfurt and reached the city at night. Most of the townspeople were already sleeping, all the homes were dark. To make matters worse, it was pouring rain and the merchant was soaked. The merchant searched through a number of streets and did not see a single house with a light on.

Finally, he came upon a house with a light and saw through the window that someone was awake inside. He knocked on the door and the man inside opened it, immediately recognizing that his unexpected guest was a Jew, drenched by rain. The man ushered his guest inside, gave him hot food, and drink and prepared a bed for him. The merchant ate and drank and realized that his host was no simple Jew. After speaking to him, he realized that this must be the Chief Rabbi of Frankfurt, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz.

“My livelihood requires much effort,” the merchant asked the Rabbi. “I have to travel afar, journey from place to place, and experience many tribulations along the way. Will I receive reward in the Garden of Eden for all of my suffering?”

“You have to learn from your own business,” Rabbi Pinchas replied. “What do you receive in exchange for all of your effort for your physical livelihood? A bit of bread and spice. How much more so for the Garden of Eden, which is wondrously pleasurable, never-ending, Divine pleasure. If we were to take all the pleasures of this world, they are not worth even one hour of the pleasure of the Garden of Eden. Do you wish to receive all of this pleasure without investing any effort at all? Do you think that it will come by itself, without your efforts?”

Image by Katja S. Verhoeven from Pixabay

Related posts

Why Do We Need Amalek?

Gal Einai

Q&A: Elul Blues

Gal Einai

“I Am Nothing but Dust and Ashes”

Gal Einai
Verified by MonsterInsights