1) A CHACHAM'S RIGHT TO FORGO HIS HONOR
QUESTION: The Gemara questions whether a Chacham may forgo the honor due to him ("Mochel Al Kevodo"). The Gemara attempts to prove that a Chacham may not forgo his honor from an incident in which Rava poured drinks for his students at the wedding feast of his son. When Rava poured drinks for the first two students, they stood up for him. When he poured for another two students, they did not stand up for him, and Rava became upset with them. The Gemara asserts that if a Chacham may forgo his honor, Rava would not have become upset when the second pair of students did not stand up for him.
The logic of the Gemara's proof is that the fact that Rava poured drinks for his students clearly showed that he intended to decline the honor due to him. If, however, he declined his honor, why did he become upset when the second pair of students did not rise for him? Since a Chacham may forgo his honor, as Rava clearly demonstrated when he poured drinks for his students, his students should not have been required to stand up for him. The fact that Rava became upset with them shows that a Chacham is not able to forgo his honor. (MAHARSHA)
The MAHARSHA asks that if, as the Gemara assumes, a Chacham may not forgo his honor, why was Rava permitted to serve his students in the first place? The simple answer is that there is a difference between the way a Chacham himself acts and the way others act towards him. A Chacham may forgo his honor with his own actions. That is, he is entitled to conduct himself like one who is not a Chacham and forgo his honor. However, others are not entitled to treat the Chacham like an ordinary person, and the Chacham may not instruct others to refrain from honoring him. Accordingly, Rava was permitted to pour drinks for his students, while, at the same time, his students were not permitted to remain seated in his presence.
However, the words of the Gemara later seem to contradict this distinction. The Gemara asks whether a Nasi may forgo his honor. The Gemara proves that he may forgo his honor from the conduct of Avraham Avinu who personally served his guests. The Gemara cites further proof from the conduct of Hash-m Himself who forgoes His honor when He serves mankind and sends rain and wind to the world. It is clear from the Gemara that if a Nasi would not be permitted to forgo his honor, he also would not be permitted to serve others. He may not forgo his honor even by his own actions. Why, then, was Rava permitted to serve his students if a Chacham is not permitted to forgo his honor? (MAHARSHA; see PNEI YEHOSHUA.)
ANSWER: Perhaps there indeed is a difference between a Chacham's own conduct and the way others act towards him. The Gemara later, which proves that a Nasi may not forgo his honor even with regard to the way he acts, refers specifically to a Nasi. In the case of a Nasi, there is no difference between the way he acts and the way others act towards him. If the law does not allow a Nasi to forgo his honor, even he must act according to the honor that is due to him. The difference between a Nasi and a Chacham is that a Nasi's honor represents the honor of the nation. If he acts in a demeaning way, he demeans the nation, and thus he may not forgo his honor even with regard to the way he acts.
In contrast, the reason why a Chacham may not forgo his honor is that he represents the Torah. He is not entitled to instruct others not to respect the Torah that he represents. However, the Torah that he represents is his Torah, as the Gemara says, since he acquired it through his toil (or Hash-m gave it to him as a gift; see Nedarim 38a). Therefore, he has the prerogative to act in a way which forgoes the honor that his Torah deserves. (The Gemara understood that once a person learns Torah, that Torah becomes his Torah, and therefore the Chacham may act as he wants. However, the Gemara assumed that the acquisition he makes on the Torah does not give him the right to permit others not to respect his Torah, because his Torah is still Torah which requires respect.)
Alternatively, since Rava was involved in a Mitzvah (Hachnasas Orchim) when he served his students, his act was not a disgrace to his Torah; the Torah itself commands one to perform Mitzvos. His students, on the other hand, were not involved in any Mitzvah when they remained seated as Rava served them, and therefore they should have risen for him. By remaining in their seats they committed an affront to the honor of his Torah.
2) THE RIGHTS OF A NASI AND A KING TO FORGO THEIR HONOR
QUESTION: Rav Ashi rules that a Nasi may not forgo his honor. The Gemara challenges his view from a Beraisa which describes how Raban Gamliel personally served his disciples. Rebbi Eliezer, one of his disciples, did not want to accept the cup from him, while Rebbi Yehoshua accepted it. Rebbi Yehoshua asserted that there was nothing wrong with accepting the cup from Raban Gamliel, since even Avraham Avinu personally served his guests. Rebbi Tzadok asked why Rebbi Yehoshua cited proof from mortal man when he could have cited proof from the conduct of Hash-m Himself, Who forgoes His honor when He serves man by sending wind and rain to the world. The Gemara therefore corrects its understanding of Rav Ashi's statement and says that Rav Ashi means that a king may not forgo his honor because the Torah states that "the fear of a king must be upon you" (Devarim 17:15).
The Gemara's answer is problematic. Just as Hash-m's conduct (sending wind and rain to the world) proves that a Nasi may forgo his honor, His conduct also proves that a king may forgo his honor, for Hash-m is not only a Nasi but also the King! (MAHARSHA)
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that the honor due to a Nasi is his personal honor; it is not the honor of the people whom he represents or the honor of Hash-m. Therefore, he may forgo his honor. In contrast, the honor of a Jewish king represents the honor of Hash-m, as the Gemara teaches, "Malchusa d'Ar'a k'Ein Malchusa d'Reki'a" and "Min Shemaya Manu Lei" (Berachos 58a). Therefore, a king who forgoes his honor demeans the honor of Hash-m. This mandate, however, applies only to a mortal king. Hash-m Himself certainly may forgo His own honor.
(b) The AYELES HA'SHACHAR writes that the difference between a Nasi and a king is that the people are required not only to respect the king but also to fear him, as the Gemara says, "Tehei Eimaso Alecha" -- "fear of him shall be upon you." The reason for this difference is that a Nasi is a leader appointed by the people to take care of their spiritual and physical needs. A king, on the other hand, is responsible not only for the spiritual and physical needs of the people, but he must coordinate the peaceful coexistence of all of the subjects of his kingdom, a task which may necessitate punitive measures. In order to fulfill his responsibility properly he must command the fear of his people so that they accept his word.
Accordingly, a king may not forgo his honor because doing so diminishes the people's fear for him. In contrast, when Hash-m brings wind and rain to the world, the people do not fear Him any less. (Although Hash-m lowers Himself to become personally involved, as it were, with the needs of His subjects, doing so does not lessen His honor because no one else can provide for those needs other than Hash-m.)
(c) It is possible that the Gemara rules like Rebbi Yehoshua, who proves from the conduct of Avraham Avinu that a Nasi may forgo his honor (in contrast to Rebbi Tzadok, who cites proof from the conduct of Hash-m). Rebbi Yehoshua maintains that the fact that Hash-m forgoes his honor is no proof that a mortal Nasi may forgo his honor, because all honor in the world belongs to Hash-m ("Melo ha'Aretz Kevodo"). According to Rebbi Yehoshua, there is no proof that a mortal king may forgo his honor, only that a Nasi (like Avraham Avinu) may forgo his. Rebbi Tzadok disagrees and maintains that also a king may forgo his honor.
3) AGADAH: "ZAKEN" -- ONE WHO HAS ACQUIRED WISDOM
QUESTION: Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili disagrees with the Tana Kama about the meaning of the word "Zaken" (Vayikra 19:32). The Tana Kama explains that "Zaken" means "an aged sage." Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili says that it refers to "one who has acquired wisdom." Accordingly, the Mitzvah to honor a "Zaken" includes the requirement to honor even a young sage. RASHI explains that Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili interprets "Zaken" as an acronym for "Zeh she'Kanah" Chochmah -- "this one has acquired" wisdom.
The acronym "Zaken," however, alludes only to the words "Zeh she'Kanah" ("this one has acquired"). How does it imply that a Zaken is one who has acquired wisdom (as opposed to some other quality, such as wealth)?
ANSWER: The PNEI YEHOSHUA explains that the Gemara in Nedarim (41a) teaches that "one who does not have De'ah (wisdom) has nothing; one who has it has everything." According to Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili, since the word "Zaken" in the verse means that "this one has acquired," it must refer to an acquisition of wisdom, because anything else is not considered a Kinyan and the verse would not imply that he "acquired" it. Only one who has acquired wisdom is considered to have acquired everything else.
(What is the source for the assertion of the Gemara in Nedarim that one who does not have wisdom has nothing? The Midrash (Vayikra Rabah 1:6) quotes the statement in Nedarim with the preface, "There is a 'Mashal' that people say," meaning that it is common knowledge. Alternatively, the Pnei Yehoshua may mean that Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili's interpretation of the word "Zaken" proves that the only thing which is considered a worthy Kinyan is wisdom, because the topic of the verse is the respect due to a wise person, and the verse refers to such a person simply as "Zeh she'Kanah" ("Zaken"). The logical implication of the verse is that it is only the wise person who deserves honor. This approach answers the original question as well.)
The statement of the Gemara in Nedarim may reflect the fact that the acquisition of De'ah through the study of Torah brings about Shalom, peace, as the Gemara says, "Talmidei Chachamim Marbim Shalom ba'Olam" (Berachos 64a, Yevamos 122b, Nazir 66b, Tamid 32b, Kerisus 28b). The RAMBAM (Perush ha'Mishnayos, Pe'ah 1:1) explains that Torah study brings Shalom to the world more than any other means.
RASHI (Vayikra 26:6) cites the Toras Kohanim which teaches that "even if one has gold and silver..., if he does not have Shalom he has nothing." Shalom is the most important possession one may own. Since the wisdom of the Torah brings about Shalom, it is appropriate to say about wisdom that "one who does not have De'ah has nothing; one who has it has everything."
The TOSFOS YOM TOV (end of Uktzin) notes that this explains why the six orders of the Mishnah conclude with the verse, "Hash-m Oz l'Amo Yiten, Hash-m Yevarech Es Amo va'Shalom" (Tehilim 29:11). "Oz" in this verse alludes to the wisdom of the Torah (Zevachim 116a; see Koheles 7:19: "Wisdom gives strength (Ta'oz) to the wise"). The study of the Mishnah, which is the corpus of Torah she'Ba'al Peh, brings Shalom to Hash-m's people. (M. KORNFELD)