Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
May 1, 2010
“Rabbi Chanina ben Tradyon says: If two sit together and there are no words of Torah between them, it is a session of scorners (moshav laytzim)… But if two sit together and words of Torah are between them, then the Divine Presence rests between them (Schenah shruyah bainayhem)…. If even one person sits and occupies himself with Torah, the Holy One, Blessed is He, determines a reward for him.”
This seems to describe two extremes.  If people are talking about sports or the stock market, then it’s moshav laytzim, a very derogatory term.  But if they are talking words of Torah, the Schenah comes and rests between them.  The result is either very high, or very low, with no middle ground.  Why does Chanina ben Tradyon paint such two extremes?
Messechet Avoda Zara says that Chanina ben Tradyon visited Yossi ben Kisma, one of the Gedolei Hador, who was very sick.  Yossi ben Kisma didn’t live long afterward.  This happened during the Hadrian decrees of the Romans, that made teaching Torah in public punishable by death.  Yossi ben Kisma said to Chanina, “The Bais Hamikdosh has been destroyed, the Haichel has been burned, the Chochomim are being killed, and you’re teaching Torah in public while holding a Torah? If you persist, you will be burned at the stake, while still holding the Torah.” Chanina ben Tradyon replied, “Hashem Yerochem”, may Hashem have mercy.
Yossi ben Kisma said, “I’m saying something with reason, and that’s how you answer?”  Chanina ben Tradyon asked, “Will I at least get Olam Habah?”, implying that he was resigned to longer having Olam Hazeh.  Yossi ben Kisma responded, “Do you have any zchus?” which seems like a strange question, considering that Chanina ben Tradyon was a tremendous Talmud Chachim and Tzadik.
Chanina ben Tradyon answered, “Once when I was collecting Tzedaka for Matanas Levyonim on Purim, I thought that I might have mixed up some of the money for the poor with other money.  So I paid for the difference with my own money.” (Chanina ben Tradyon is mentioned in the Gemorah as a collector of Tzedakah of great integrity. For example, it says that when a person collects Tzedakah, he should be accompanied by another person to make sure that he doesn’t do anything inappropriate with the money, unless he’s on the high level of Chanina ben Tradyon.) After Chanina recounted this zchus, Yossi ben Kisma responded, “Then you’ll get Olam Habah”.
The Gemorah says that shortly after this discussion, Yossi ben Kisma died.  The Romans went to the funeral, and on their way back, they saw Chanina ben Tradyon teaching in public holding a sefer Torah.  If he wasn’t holding the Torah, he could have claimed that he was talking about something else.  But he was holding the sefer Torah specifically to let them know he was violating their ban. They arrested him, and burnt him at the stake, while he was holding the Torah.
What does this discussion between Chanina ben Tradyon and Yossi ben Kisma mean, and what is their difference of opinion?  I think it has to do with the presence of the Schenah. 
The Gemorah in Yuma says that during the first Bais Hamikdosh there occurred ten miracles because the Schenah was present.  These miracles stopped happening in the second Bais Hamikdosh.  Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma is saying the Romans are now in control, they have destroyed the Bais Hamikdosh, and they are killing the Chochomim - and this shows that the Schenah and the miracles that accompany it are gone. During the Bais Hamikdosh if a Kohain Godol did one averah during year, he would die on Yom Kippur when he went into the Haichal.  This happening with such regularly, every year, that they started tying a golden rope to the Kohain Godol on Yom Kippur in order to pull him out from the Haichal when he died. In contrast, now we see the Romans do unmentionable evil with impunity. It’s apparent that the Schenah has left us, and we cannot rely on miracles, ayn somchin al ha nais.
Rabbi Chanina admitted that we can no longer rely on the Zchus and Kedushah of the Bais Hamikdosh.  But he held that in post Bais Hamikdosh times, we have a new source of Zchus and Kedushah, and that is the learning of Torah.  If we learn Torah, especially in groups and in public, we can generate the presence of the Schenah again, and that will protect us. 
To use a phrase from today, Yossi ben Kisma had a Golus mentality.  He held that since we are surrounded by a victorious enemy, we have to live accordingly, and certainly not learn Torah in public.  In contrast, Chanina ben Tradyon had a Geula mentality, and held that it is precisely the learning of Torah – and especially groups of people learning together - that will regenerate the Schenah, and that it will protect us.  When the Schenah is present, miracles occur – just like the miracles that occurred in the Bais Hamikdosh when the Schenah was present.
When Rabbi Yaacov Kaminetsky came to Monsey, he saw Jews walking to shul on Shabbos wrapped in a Talis.  He would go over to them and say, don’t do this, this is not a Shtetl in Europe.  He was implying that when in Golus, we shouldn’t flaunt our way of life in public. 
The Gemorah in Avodah Zara also says that Chanina ben Tradyon, when teaching the Torah would pronounce the name of Hashem.  There’s a difference of opinion whether this meant the name of Hashem the way it is written, or the full 42 letter name of Hashem.  At what other event was the name of Hashem pronounced?  It was pronounced by the Kohanim in the Bais Hamikdosh when they were duchaning.  Chanina ben Tradyan was saying, now that we no longer have the Schenah from the Bais Hamikdosh, we must generate the Schenah through learning Torah, especially in public.  And once we have the Schenah, that enables us to say the name of Hashem as if we were Kohanim in the Bais Hamidosh.
Not everyone agreed with Chanina ben Tradyon that Hashem’s name should be said out loud in public.  The Mishnah gives certain reasons that a person may not get Olam Habah.  Rabbi Akiva – who was Chaninah ben Tradyon’s teacher - gives certain reasons. But then Abba Shaul says that another reason for not getting Olam Habah is saying Hashem’s name in public.  Abba Shaul may have held that this is a matter of modesty and Tznius, and that the full name of Hashem is only for ‘private’ areas, such as when the Kohanim would say it in the confines of the Bais Hamikdosh.
When was another time when the Jews were in a similar position – with the Bais Hamikdosh destroyed, under the control of the enemy?  During Purim, in Persia, in present day Iran!  Did Mordechai adopt a Golus mentality, and try to be as inconspicuous as possible.  No!  He spread the learning of Torah, and was as visible as possible.  Rabbi Chanina took Mordechai as his role model.  I think that may explain why Chanina specifically mentions the Zchus of collecting money for the poor on Purim. When we give money to the poor on Purim, we make it a day of Geula for the poor. 
The Gemorah goes on to say that when the Romans were burning Chanina ben Tradyon, his daughter asked him, “What’s happening?” Chanina had two daughters, and this daughter was Bruriah who knew as much Torah as a Tanah.  Chanina’s talmidim also asked him what was happening.  Tosfos said that they heard a great noise, like a sonic boom, and they wanted to know what was happening to have caused this loud noise.  Chanina answered, “It’s alright, they may be burning me and the sefer Torah, but they are only destroying the physical.  My spirit remains intact.  And though they are burning the parchment of the Torah, the letters are ascending to Heaven.” 
We now can understand the Mishnah in Pirkei Avos.  Chanina ben Tradyan is saying, when people come together and don’t learn Torah, they don’t generate the Schenah.  The result is ‘moshav layztem’, the scornful ones – such as the Romans - rule.  But if we get together and learn Torah, we can bring about the presence of the Schenah, and this will bring about a level of miracles and protection that in prior times only happened in the Bais Hamikdosh. That’s why the Mishnah says, “If two sit together and words of Torah are between them, then the Divine Presence rests between them (Schenah shruyah bainayhem)”.  When one person learns by himself, it gives him Schar, he gets merit.  But only learning Torah together can bring the presence of the Schenah.  That is why Chanina ben Tradyan held that the best reaction to the presence of the Romans was to learn Torah together, in public, to bring about the presence of the Schenah.  This was the only way to bring about the level of miracles that we needed, now that the Bais Hamidosh was gone.
Yossi ben Kisma felt that the best course of action was to adopt a Golus mentality.  It says in the Megilla that many of Mordechai’s peers were very uncomfortable with his ‘in your face’ public display of his Jewishness.  They would have preferred him to have a Golus mentality, of playing the game of being in Golus, admitting that the enemy was in control.  Instead, Mordechai exhibited a Geula mentality – not hiding, but being as visible as possible, and spreading Torah.  Chanina ben Tradyon wanted to do the same.
This Geula mentality can also be called an Eretz Yisroel mentality.  Eretz Yisroel is a land of miracles.  This is mentioned by both the Vilna Gaon and the Baal Shem Tov when they sent their talmidim to Eretz Yisroel.  You can see this mentality growing today.  You can go to Shiurim in Israel where they are talking openly about the most esoteric aspects of Kaballah. 
Today we are confronted by the same choice faced by Chanina ben Tradyon and Yossi ben Kisma.  As we are challenged by Iran, the Arabs, Europe and America, do we respond with a Golus mentality, and maintain a low profile, advocated by Yossi ben Kisma.  Or do we adopt a Geula, Eretz Yisroel mentality, with confidence that our learning Torah can generate the Schenah and the level of miracles that existed in the Bais Hamikdosh?.  What is the best way to protect ourselves from our enemies? I am not aware of a Godol who has poskined which approach is the correct one.