Thursday, October 29, 2009

Hidden Treasures

A certain nobleman once asked a great tzaddik about the stories recounted by Rabba bar Bar Chana in the fifth chapter of Bava Basra. “How can such obvious exaggerations possibly teach anything meaningful?”
The tzaddik replied, “I will explain this with a parable. Once there was a wise king who was elderly and had only one young son. When the king saw that his days were coming to an end he worried about his child. The kingdom had vast treasuries and he fretted that his child would squander this wealth before he matured enough to understand how to use it properly.
“The wise king conceived of a plan to prevent such a disaster. He sent for artisans to make a magnificent picture of a lion in a certain part of the palace. But, strangely, the lion’s foot pointed towards a certain place in a very unnatural manner. This stood out, since the rest of the lion was completely life-like in every way. He had other similar works of art spread around the area of the palace where the prince would be.
“The purpose of this oddity was for his son to eventually notice it and wonder about it. When the boy matured he would understand that these anomalies must surely have a purpose, since the rest was done to perfection. He would eventually realize that these unnatural limbs point to something and search. In that very direction the old king cleverly placed a hidden cache of priceless jewels for his son to find when he was ready. In this manner his son would not squander the bulk of the treasure of the realm since he would only come into it when his wisdom was truly developed.
“The same is true for the deep teachings of the aggadata, of which the Rabba bar Bar Chana stories are an example,” concluded the tzaddik. “One who learns gemara sees the magnificent logic and depth of the Talmud and cannot understand how these strange sayings and stories are freely placed in the midst of the deepest sugyos. And for a while every student remains puzzled.
“But when the serious student matures, he realizes that these stories must have a deeper meaning and he begins to search for it. When he is worthy he finally recognizes that these stories hide the deepest secrets of Torah which only a truly mature person can appreciate and properly utilize.”


yehupitz said...

I love that moshol. I never heard the purpose of the cryptic-ness of aggadeta described in that way before. Thank you.

Dan - Israeli Uncensored News said...

This is a great explanation, but perhaps any predetermined meaning can be read into aggadah if we're bent on interpreting it metaphysically

Micha Golshevsky said...

Yehupitz: Thank you for the chizuk! I really love this story which is recorded in sefer "Divrei Torah," by the Munkatcher Rav.

Micha said...

Dan: Thank you.
Contextually it really doesn't make sense. The Talmud was compiled to save the important halachos of Torah as they were given over in beis midrash. What possible need is there to record such teaching? Especially in the middle of complex deep sugyos.
This question puzzles every serious yeshivah bochur. Not only when the agadata is incomprehensible. Even when it is teaching interesting lessons it is very often seemingly out of place.
Add to this the prohibition to write down the oral torah without extremely pressing need, what are these stories doing there? Unless they are essential they were not even allowed to write them down.