1) AGADAH: SIXTY PULSES OF FIRE
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Acher entered the Pardes, he saw the angel "Mittat" sitting down and writing the merits of the Jewish people. Acher said, "We have a tradition that there is no sitting... [in the heavens] -- perhaps there are two powers!" Because "Mittat" did not stand up when he saw Acher enter, he was lashed with sixty pulses of fire.
The Gemara in other places mentions the same form of punishment in reference to angels (see, for example, Yoma 77a and Bava Metzia 85b). What is the significance of sixty lashes?
According to one opinion in the Rishonim, "Makos Mardus" -- lashes mandated by the Rabanan for transgression of a rabbinical prohibition, are comprised of only 13 lashes, instead of 39 which comprise Malkus d'Oraisa (TASHBETZ
2:51, citing RASHI
in Yevamos 52a; SHILTEI GIBORIM
on the Mordechai to Bava Basra, end of Perek Yesh Nochlim, citing RABEINU TAM
). (See Insights to Chulin 141:4
with regard to the differences between Malkus d'Oraisa and Malkus d'Rabanan.)
The TERUMAS HA'DESHEN explains this opinion as follows. The Mishnah in Makos (22a-b) describes the 39 lashes of Malkus d'Oraisa as three sets of 13 lashes. Two sets are administered on the person's back and one set on his chest. The Terumas ha'Deshen explains that this means that the actual number of lashes that should be administered is only 13, to correspond to the first 13 years of a person's life during which he is expected to learn to make the proper decisions. If he sins, he shows that he failed to learn to make the proper decisions, and thus he is punished with 13 lashes. However, the Torah prescribes two additional sets of 13 lashes on two other parts of his body as an additional penalty. (One set of lashes is given opposite his heart, the place where his thoughts originate, and two sets are given opposite his two kidneys, which counsel the body as to what actions to take.) The Rabanan do not have the prerogative to add two extra sets of lashes because their enactments themselves are already added penalties or restrictions, and the Rabanan cannot impose one penalty on top of another. Therefore, for the transgression of an Isur d'Rabanan only 13 lashes are administered. (Terumas ha'Deshen, Bi'urim on the Torah, end of Parshas Ki Setzei, as cited by the BACH on the Rif to Kesuvos, page 16b of the pages of the Rif; see also MAGEN AVRAHAM OC 496:2.)
A similar logic applies to punishments administered to angels. Although a person becomes accountable for his actions with regard to punishments in the hands of the worldly Beis Din at the age of 13, he is not liable for punishments at the hand of the "heavenly court" until the age of 20 (Shabbos 89b). Hence, when the heavenly court administers Malkus, it is in the form of 20 lashes repeated three times (like the lashes of the worldly courts), for a total of sixty lashes. (See also Insights to Yoma 77:1)
2) AGADAH: THE FATE OF ACHER
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Acher died, the heavenly tribunal was at a loss for what to do with him. On one hand, he could not be judged in Gehinom because he had been deeply involved in Torah study during his lifetime. On the other hand, he could not be brought to Olam ha'Ba because he had committed many sins. Rebbi Meir, Acher's student, exclaimed, "It is better that he be judged in Gehinom in order to be brought to Olam ha'Ba eventually. When will I die and be able to make smoke rise from his grave?!" Indeed, when Rebbi Meir died, smoke rose from the grave of Acher.
Subsequently, Rebbi Yochanan declared that he wanted to end Acher's punishment. He said that no one in Shamayim would stop him from bringing Acher to Olam ha'Ba if he personally took him there (after his death).
How was Rebbi Meir able to cause Acher to be judged in Gehinom (symbolized by smoke rising from his grave)? Also, why was Rebbi Meir unable to bring Acher directly to Olam ha'Ba without Acher first being judged in Gehinom? After all, enabling Acher to enter Olam ha'Ba was Rebbi Meir's objective ("it is better that he be judged in Gehinom in order to be brought to Olam ha'Ba eventually").
ANSWER: RAV ELIYAHU DESSLER zt'l (in MICHTAV ME'ELIYAHU 4:193) explains as follows. TOSFOS (15a) writes that when Acher's father brought him as a child to learn Torah, his intentions were impure, "Lo Lishmah." Acher's father had seen the great respect afforded to Talmidei Chachamim and he wanted his son to receive the same respect. As a result, all of his life Acher learned Torah "she'Lo Lishmah."
The Yerushalmi (cited by Tosfos) records two possible causes for Acher's waywardness. One opinion says that he saw a young man die while performing the Mitzvah of honoring his father (for which the Torah says one is rewarded with long life), when his father asked him to send away a mother-bird from the nest in order to take the chick (for which the Torah also says one is rewarded with long life). Another opinion says that he witnessed the tragic scene as the tongue of the martyred Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nachtom was dragged away by a dog. Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nachtom had spent his entire life steeped in the learning and teaching of Torah (see also Kidushin 39b). Since Acher perceived the purpose of learning Torah as a means of gaining respect, when he saw that one could learn Torah all of his life and receive no honor for it and even suffer torture and disgrace for it (in this world), he could not tolerate the incongruence. This incongruity caused him to go astray.
Judgment in Gehinom means that a soul realizes the terrible void that characterized his life in the physical world due to the transgressions he committed. This terrible shame continues until the soul has suffered enough for all of the transgressions that he committed. The soul is then cleansed of the stain of those transgressions and the person is able to receive reward for all of the Mitzvos which he fulfilled Lishmah.
Since Acher had learned so much Torah and had excelled to great heights in his Torah learning (even though it was not Lishmah), his soul could not experience the feeling of void and lacking which characterizes the Gehinom experience. On the other hand, since his soul could not be purged of his transgressions in Gehinom, his soul also could not enter Olam ha'Ba. Rebbi Meir, therefore, decided that he would help the soul of Acher.
Rebbi Meir excelled in learning Torah Lishmah. It was Rebbi Meir who said, "One who has learned Torah Lishmah merits many things" (Avos 6:1). Since Rebbi Meir's learning was entirely Lishmah, he had the ability to cause Acher's soul a great sense of shame. When Rebbi Meir died and Acher saw the difference between his learning and Rebbi Meir's, the soul of Acher finally felt the shame of the tainted way he had learned Torah while he was alive. Thus, it was through Rebbi Meir that Acher was able to experience Gehinom and be cleansed of his transgressions and, as a result, merit entry to Olam ha'Ba and be rewarded for his Mitzvos.
Rebbi Yochanan, however, sought to bring Acher's soul directly to Olam ha'Ba. Through learning Torah, a Talmid gives merit to his deceased Rebbi. Rebbi Yochanan often quoted teachings he had heard from Rebbi Meir. It is likely that he also ascribed them to their original source -- Acher, the teacher of Rebbi Meir. (See TOSFOS to Sotah 12a, DH Acherim Omrim, who says that whenever the Gemara quotes the opinion of "Acherim," it refers to a teaching taught by Rebbi Meir which he had heard from Acher.) By transmitting the teachings of Acher, Rebbi Yochanan was able to bring merit to the soul of Acher.
When Rebbi Yochanan died, people quoted the teachings he had taught in the name of Rebbi Meir and Acher, and thus he was able to raise Acher out of Gehinom and bring him to Olam ha'Ba. (Rav Dessler gives a somewhat different explanation for Rebbi Yochanan's strategy for saving Acher.) Rebbi Meir, in contrast, could not bring Acher to Olam ha'Ba in that manner. Since Rebbi Meir lived in the same generation as Acher, he could not quote Acher and give honor to Acher's teachings because he did not want others to respect Acher and learn from his corrupt conduct (even after Acher's death). Therefore, the only way Rebbi Meir could cause Acher to go to Olam ha'Ba was to cause him to be judged for his transgressions. Rebbi Yochanan lived later, in a generation in which no one could have known Acher personally and learned from his ways, and thus he had nothing to fear by quoting teachings in his name.
3) AGADAH: HASH-M'S "HEAVY HEAD AND ARM"
QUESTION: Eliyahu told Rabah bar Shila that Hash-m was relating the teachings of all of the Rabanan except for those of Rebbi Meir, because Rebbi Meir had learned Torah from Acher. Rabah bar Shila defended Rebbi Meir and explained that "he ate the inside of the fruit and discarded the shell." Eliyahu then told him that Hash-m now declares, "Meir, My son, says that when a person is in pain [from being punished as a result of his transgressions], the Shechinah says, 'Heavy is My head, heavy is My arm!'" ("Kalani me'Roshi, Kalani me'Zro'i!")
What is the meaning of this declaration?
(a) The MAHARSHA in Sanhedrin (46a) explains that when a person is in pain, he rests his head on his arm. Hence, pain is expressed by a feeling of heaviness in his head and arm.
(b) The ANAF YOSEF (in Ein Yakov) explains that "My head" alludes to Olam ha'Ba, the spiritual world of Machshavah (thought). "My arm" alludes to Olam ha'Zeh, the physical world of Ma'aseh (action). Since a person is a combination of spiritual and physical elements, when he suffers there is pain in both the spiritual and physical worlds.
(c) The Gemara in Berachos (6a) says that Hash-m dons Tefilin on His head and on His arm. The Parshiyos in Hash-m's Tefilin proclaim Hash-m's love for the Jewish people and their uniqueness in the world, just as the Parshiyos in the Jews' Tefilin proclaim their love for Hash-m and His Oneness. When a person commits Aveiros and is punished because of them, Hash-m complains, as it were, that His head and arm -- where the Tefilin are placed -- have become weak. This means that the bond between Hash-m and the Jewish people has become weak because the Jew sinned and caused the Shechinah to remove its presence to some extent from the Jewish people. (TORAS CHAIM, Sanhedrin 46a; CHAMRA V'CHAYEI to Sanhedrin in the name of TOSFOS RABEINU PERETZ)