kosher bookworm

‘Mussar and Hashkafic Insights’ for Daf Yomi


In anticipation of the new Daf Yomi cycle that began this week, “Chizuk Shmuel: Mussar and Hashkafic Insights Tied to the Daf Yomi Cycle,” a new English commentary on the first two volumes of the Talmud, Berachos and Shabbos, was released by Envoy Publishing.

Its author, Rabbi Yeshaya Fruchter of Monsey, is a class-action attorney and a mediator of family business, partnership and other disputes who graduated from Yeshiva University in 1990 and from NYU School of Law in 1993.

The title of this work, “Chizuk Shmuel,” is in memory of his late father, R’ Shmuel Aharon, a Daf Yomi devotee and a talmid of Harav HaGaon Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, of blessed memory.

Rabbi Fruchter, in an on-line interview, shared with me the following thoughts as to the thinking that motivated this work.

“Our greatest sages have always stressed the vital importance of spiritual growth. As the Rambam writes, a Jew must tend to the wellbeing of his soul with the same diligence that he cares for the physical health of his body,” said Rabbi Fruchter.

“Individuals pursuing spiritual growth typically turn to one of the mussar classics such as Mesilas Yesharim or Chovos HaLevavos. But what about Daf Yomi study? Can it also serve as a daily source of mussar, hashkafah, and chizuk?

“Chizuk Shmuel says yes, and shows readers how by mining each daf for inspiring mussar and hashkafic insights [with occasional references to scientific principles remarkably anticipated by our sages].

“The goal is to make daf yomi study transformational, a catalyst for living a meaningful life in the modern world rooted in Torah values and devoted to continual self-perfection.”

With the above serving as introductory, I choose to share with you a sample of Rabbi Fruchter’s scholarship with his take on Berachos 23, with the following essay entitled. 

Sanctity of Tefillin: Resembling G-d

By Rabbi Yeshaya Fruchter

The Gemara (Berachos 23b) stresses the importance of maintaining physical cleanliness while wearing teflllin. Earlier, the Gemara (Berachos 6a) observes that Hashem wears teflllin (which contain verses praising the Jewish nation). Since Hashem has no physical body, shape or form, the reference to Hashem’s teflllin must teach us something about the nature of our own teflllin.

R’ Aryeh Kaplan explains that, in the physical realm, two items are close when the physical distance between them is small, but in the spiritual realm, two things are close when they resemble each other. To the extent our souls yearn to be close to Hashem, the greatest good Hashem can offer us are opportunities to resemble Him. When we perform kindnesses for each other, we are emulating Hashem (Sotah 14aj Shabbos 133b). By the same token, since the Gemara states that Hashem wears teflllin, when we wear teflllin we are imitating the Divine. …

Because we imitate Hashem when wearing teflllin, we must necessarily maintain a high degree of physical cleanliness and purity of thought when doing so (Shabbos 49aj Shulchan Aruch, OC 37:2). Any deviation from a state of total cleanliness would contradict the spiritual awareness we aim to achieve when donning teflllin.

These concepts help explain why only men have traditionally worn teflllin. As discussed earlier (essay on Berachos 20), women are technically exempt from wearing teflllin because, according to the prevailing opinion, the obligation to wear teflllin is a positive timebound commandment. Yet, women may voluntarily perform any positive time-bound commandment (and recite a blessing, according to Ashkenazic authorities). The Rama (OC 38:3), however, strongly opposed women wearing teflllin.

We can offer two explanations for this opposition, one practical and the other symbolic. First, according to the Mechaber (OC 37:2), the ideal fulfillment of the mitzvah of teflllin is to wear them all day. As noted, however, the sanctity of teflllin requires the wearer to maintain a high degree of physical cleanliness and purity of thought. Consequently, Chazal sharply curtailed the mitzvah of teflllin even for men (who are obligated in the mitzvah), by decreeing that teflllin should only be worn during the morning prayers, when worshippers need only maintain physical cleanliness and pure thoughts for a relatively short time. Women, however, are not obligated to wear teflllin. There is no reason to risk violating the sanctity of tefillin to perform a voluntary act.

R’ Kaplan offers a second, more symbolic explanation. As noted,

in wearing teflilin, we imitate the Divine, which allows us to feel close to Hashem. Women, however, already resemble Hashem in a manner that no man can ever achieve. Hashem is our Creator, and thus by creating and cultivating life within her body, a woman “partakes of Hashem’s attributes more intimately than any man.” R’ Kaplan observes that women celebrate their power to create and sustain life every Friday night when they light the Shabbos candles — a commandment uniquely assigned to women.”

The candles allude to the human soul (Mishlei 20:27), which can only be drawn down into this world through the medium of a mother’s womb. … Finally, by alluding to the human soul, the Shabbos candles remind women of their responsibility to set the spiritual tone of the home (for example, by monitoring how family members treat and talk to each other, and the extent of the family’s giving in terms of inviting guests and dispensing charity). For these reasons, R’ Kaplan maintains that the home (“bayis” in Hebrew) represents the woman’s teflllin (which are also called “bayis” and which are square-shaped like the typical home (see Negaim 12:1). …

That said, the pivotal role assigned to women in cultivating the spirituality of their families certainly does not preclude women who are so inclined from pursuing a fulfilling and successful career outside the home. To the contrary; Torah sources do not view a woman’s professional career as mutually exclusive with the fulfillment of her domestic roles. As but one example, the famous ode to the Jewish woman sung every Friday night at the Shabbos table — Ayshis Chayil, or Woman of Valor (Mishlei 31:10-31) — praises the enterprising woman engaged in commerce to the same extent as it extols a woman’s attention to domestic roles and maritable endeavors. Further, Midrashic sources attribute distinct intellectual strengths to women that would be highly valued in a professional or business environment. 

In the end, as R’ Yehuda Shurpin writes, Hashem “endowed man and woman with equally valuable but fundamentally different qualities and talents — and then in His Torah advised both man and woman how to maximize these unique strengths.”