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The Ta”z: The Power of Leniency

Rabbi David Halevi Segal (known for his book as the Ta”z), author of the Turei Zahav, was born in Ludmir, Poland, to his father, Rabbi Shmuel. He studied Torah under the tutelage of his older brother, Rabbi Yitzchak Halevi Segal (author of the Responsa Mahar”i Halevi) and the Bayit Chadash (Ba”ch), Rabbi Yoel Sirkis. He was the rabbi of important communities in Poland, one of the primary commentators on the Code of Jewish Law and a leading Ashkenazic decisor. From the age of 23 he served in various rabbinical position, first in Polticzi and later in Brisk and Cracow. The Ta”z married Rivkah, the daughter of his preeminent rabbi, the Ba”ch. After her passing, he married the widow of Rabbi Shmuel Tzvi, the Ba”ch’s son. Approximately in the year 5401 (1641) the Ta”z settled in Ostra’ah, where he established a yeshiva and authored his famous commentary on the Code of Jewish Law. During the pogroms of Tach and Tat (1648 and 1649), the Ta”z fled to Levov. In 5414 (1654) he was chosen to be the Chief Rabbi of the city, a position he held until his passing on the 26th of Shevat, 5427 (1667) at the age of 81.

Once, on Shabbat eve, the third Lubavitcher Rebbe, the Tzemach Tzedek, remained in his room and did not come to prayers. His sons and the rest of the chassidim waited for him. Finally, the Tzemach Tzedek exited his room and related what had taken place:

The Tzemach Tzedek’s grandfather, the Alter Rebbe of Chabad, would pray with extreme enthusiasm and divestment of physicality. It is told that the walls of his room were padded so that he would not break his bones when he would throw himself from wall to wall, praying from the bottom of his pure heart. It is told of Rabbi Akiva that when he would pray in a quorum he would pray like everyone else, but when he prayed alone he would begin in one corner but would be found in another corner.

Similarly, the Alter Rebbe would unconsciously throw himself from wall to wall while praying. One day, the tefillin on the Alter Rebbe’s head were moved out of place by his intense motion. It is written that the angels who participated in his prayers – or just came to see them – laughed at him. The Alter Rebbe was not aware of this, but the soul of the Ta”z, who lived some 150 years before the Alter Rebbe (and about whom the Alter Rebbe said that his book was written with ruach hakodesh [Divine inspiration]) was able to descend enough into physicality to allow him to straighten out the Alter Rebbe’s tefillin so that the angels would stop laughing at him.

Later, the Ta”z came to the Alter Rebbe and said, “I did you a favor, please do a favor for me. There is a discussion about a certain case in the laws of non-kosher meat in the Code of Jewish Law, Yoreh Dei’ah, that all the decisors prohibit and I concluded that it was permissible. I was the only decisor who decided to permit the case, and the law was decided according to the other opinions. You, however, are the chief decisor of your generation. Do me a favor, study the case closely and perhaps you will also come to the same conclusion as me. Write your decision to make this case permissible and this will be a big favor for me in the upper worlds, that there is someone else who agrees to make it permissible.”

The Alter Rebbe complied, studied the case and rendered his decision that it was permissible.  .

“Now,” the Tzemach Tzedek continued, “the Alter Rebbe is in the upper world and he also thought, ‘It is not enough that I rendered this decision.’ So he came to me, related what had transpired and said to me, ‘In this generation, you are the chief decisor. Please do me a favor, study the case and perhaps you will also render the decision, like me, that it is permissible. Then we will be three: The Ta”z, myself and you.’

“So,” the Tzemach Tzedek concluded, “I was very preoccupied. I did indeed study the case, and ultimately decided in favor of “the power of leniency is preferable” and thank God, I rendered the decision to make this rabbinical allowance in this case.”

The descent of the Ta”z from the upper world to help the Alter Rebbe alludes to a soul-connection between them, a connection similar to the connection between the Alter Rebbe and his grandson, the Tzemach Tzedek. Nonetheless, there is a significant difference between their personas. While the Ta”z and the Alter Rebbe are both personas of mochin d’abba.[1] the intellect of the attribute of wisdom. In our story, this attribute is the preferable power of leniency. When the law is not clear and the decisors do not know whether to prohibit it or render it permissible, the easier route is to prohibit it. This is the way to avoid pitfalls, for even if it was mistakenly prohibited, no transgression has occurred. It is only a great Torah scholar who can study the case and render it permissible even against the majority opinion.

In the sefirot, the sefirah of chochmah (wisdom) is on the right, which is the side of lovingkindness. Of the three parts of the brain, it is the right brain that is connected to wisdom. The lovingkindness is not only toward the person who has received the rabbinic allowance. In the Tanya, the Alter Rebbe explains that asur (prohibited) also means ‘imprisoned.’ The Divine spark in the prohibited matter is captive in the hands of the outer husks until it will be rendered permissible (heter, which also means ‘to unbind’) or until the end of times, when all impurity will be eradicated. Unbinding the prohibited is similar to the ‘opening’ used to release a vow, specifically performed by a wise sage. Just as the wise sage, with the help of the ‘opening’ can unbind the complications caused by the vow and free the person from the limitations that he took upon himself, so the wise sage in these cases searches for the opening that will allow him to free the prohibited entity from captivity.

The Alter Rebbe expresses his affinity toward the power of leniency by affirming the decision with relative ease. For the Ta”z, this is also expressed in the fact that he is a lone opinion in this particular case. Why is the attribute of wisdom specifically a lone opinion? The World of Emanation, in which the attribute of wisdom dwells, is also called “the domain of the single person” because of its nullification to the True One.

The World of Creation, which is the dwelling place of the attribute of binah (understanding) is called the “public domain” because the creations in it feel like independent entities. The Torah, of course, was given for us, here on earth and Jewish law is determined according to the mochin d’imma[2], which is the opinion of the majority. Hence, the Ta”z came to the Alter Rebbe and asked him to render his decision in the lower world. But although the Alter Rebbe rose to the challenge, he also felt some difficulty when he reached the upper world. He then turned to the Tzemach Tzedek, who relative to him is mochin d’imma, and asked him to join him in his decision. Even the timing of the request is significant: the passage from the weekdays to Shabbat is itself the passage from mochin d’imma to mochin d’abba. This passage is not simple for the Tzemach Tzedek, but when he succeeds, the decision attains finality and the story does not repeat itself in later generations.

Jewish Law by Personal Request?

Rendering Jewish law by personal request? Amazingly, the Talmud attributes a similar inclination to Moses! The verse “Hear God, the voice of Judah…his hands shall contend for him,”[3] is part of Moses’ blessing to the tribe of Judah. It is explained as prayer for Judah, that the law will be decided according to his opinion in the lofty yeshiva on high. (As is written about King David, a descendant of Judah, “God is with him” for the law is according to his opinion in every case[4]”). The ability to align oneself with the decision requires special heavenly assistance (and here, as well, it is connected to a particular person).

Furthermore, we learn in Chassidut and Kabbalah that Moses himself alludes to an acronym for מחלוקת שמאי הלל (disagreement Shamai Hillel) or משה    שמאי הלל (Moses Shamai Hillel).  From this we can learn that Moses himself is inclined to decide in accordance with the more stringent Beit Shamai, and then transfers to the more lenient Beit Hillel. This is also reflected in the verse, “Not so (literally ‘no yes’) My servant Moses (in My entire house he is loyal).[5]  First comes the ‘no’ as per Beit Shammai, and then the ‘yes’ as per Beit Hillel. More than anyone else, Moses personifies total nullification to God, which is the inner dimension of chochmah. It is this attribute that is necessary to render a true leniency. Moses is truth and his Torah is truth. He is not biased, God forbid, but nonetheless, his affinity and aspiration are in the direction of leniency.

In the world of Jewish law, the aspiration toward leniency is particularly visible in unbinding agunot[6] who, on the surface, would have to remain alone all their lives. Tremendous effort is invested by the decisors into finding the way to unbind them. Referring this work, God promises, “If you bring forth the precious out of the vile, you will be as My mouth.”[7] The tzaddik decrees, and God fulfills the utterances of his mouth. Even if complex leniencies do not sit well with all, the lesson that we learn is important for all those who study Torah. The word Torah is also from the root of heter (unbinding) and the ultimate goal is not to make prohibitions. The ultimate goal in Torah study is to go deeper and study more and to truly achieve the power of leniency.

Photo by Rui Silvestre on Unsplash

[1] A state of consciousness, mentality, or cognitive life-force in which one experiences chochmah, or insight.

[2] A state of consciousness or mentality, or cognitive life-force in which one experiences binah, or understanding or rationality.

[3] Deuteronomy 33:7.

[4] Sanhedrin 93b.

[5] Numbers 12:7.

[6] A woman whose husband has disappeared without giving her a divorce.

[7] Jeremiah 15:19.

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