Chaninah Ben Dosa
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says:
- Anyone whose fear of sin takes priority
(kodemet) over his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but anyone whose wisdom
takes priority over his fear of sin, his wisdom will not endure.
- He used to say:
Anyone whose good deeds exceed his wisdom, his wisdom will endure; but
anyone whose wisdom exceeds his good deeds, his wisdom will not endure.
- He used to say: If the spirit of one’s fellows
is pleased with him, the spirit of the Omnipresent is pleased with him; but if
the spirit of one’s fellows is not pleased with him, the spirit of the
Omnipresent is not pleased with him
This Mishnah comes right after the one dealing with Rabbi
Meir because it is meant to contrast Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa with Rabbi Meir.
Rabbi Meir was able to climb up to Shamayim, through the succession of
‘hamavdils’ with which Hashem created the world – the separation between light
and darkness, Shamayim and Haaretz, man and woman, and good and bad.
Rabbi Meir was able to Metahare a Sheretz,
because in that primordial state, there is no distinction between Tumah and
Tahara – it’s before they were separated, when Tumah and Tahara were one. He
was able to learn from Alisha ben Avuyah, because he was able to see the world
in a state before there was Tov and Ra.
This is why, even though Rabbi Meir was the Godol Hador, the halachah is
not like Rabbi Meir.
The Gemorah says
that though he inspired his generation, his generation could not fathom the
depths of his mind.
Rabbi Meir, so to speak,
saw the world from a very high, other-wordly Shamayim point of view.
This Mishnah of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa contrasts with the
previous one of Rabbi Meir, even though Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa lived many
Rabbi Chanina ben
Dosa was the teacher of Yochanon ben Zakai.
In each of the three subjects that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa
mentions, he says that a focus on this world takes precedence over an ethereal,
He says that we
should emphasize our actions - Maisim - in this world, in contrast to the
primordial, other-wordly perspective of Rabbi Meir.
First, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says that fear of sin should
take precedence over wisdom Being afraid of sin focuses us very much in the
here-and-now. This is often mistranslated as the fear of Heaven, which would
have just the opposite implication.
says that at every moment we should look at what we do to make sure that our
actions don’t fall into the category of sin.
Wisdom on the other hand, is ethereal, and involves our abstract ideas
He then reiterates this, saying that our good deeds – that
we do in this world – must exceed our wisdom.
This time he uses the word ‘exceed’ in terms of volume, in contrast to
the previous concept of ‘takes precedent’ which focuses on sequence.
In both cases, he says we should emphasize
our actions in this world, in contrast to having an abstract other-worldly
This theme is continued in the third section, where he says
that our emphasis should be on our dealings with other people in this world.
When other people are happy with us in this world, then Shamayim also likes us.
Our main focus should be to ensure that our actions with people in this world
are without sin and full of good deeds, and then the more ethereal world of
Shamayim goes along.
In is interesting that Rabbi Meir with his other-wordly
orientation, and Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa with is very wordly orientation, are
both know as Baal Mofsim – miracle workers – in the Gemora.
The Gemora has many stories that describe
miracles that both did.
some associated with Chanina ben Dosa.
34b it says that Rabbi Gamliel’s son was sick.
Rabbi Gamliel went to Chanina’s ben Dosa’s house to ask him to pray for
Chanina was in the attic, and
when he came down, he said to Rabbi Gamiliel “Your son is now better”.
Rabbi Gamliel recorded the time, and when he
got home, he found out that his son got better at exactly the time that Rabbi
Another time Yochonon ben Zakai’s son was sick, and Yochonon
ben Zakai went to Chanina ben Dosa’s house to ask him to pray for his son.
Chanina put his head between his legs and
When Yochonon ben Zakai returned
home, his wife said that their son had recovered.
Yochonon ben Zakai told his wife what had
happened, and then she asked him, “Why didn’t you pray for our son to get
He answered, “If I had prayed
all day long with my head between my legs, it wouldn’t have worked.
I am like a minister (sar) to the king, but
Chanina is like an eved of the king.”
To understand this difference, let’s say you wanted to get a
message to the President of the United States.
One route would be to contact your Senator, who would try to use his
influence to arrange a meeting, or at least a letter, phone call, or
That could take a year.
Another approach is to make contract with the
President’s cleaning lady.
She is always
in the White House, and could speak informally to the President the next day.
Another story describes how people were afraid of being
bitten by a certain scorpion. Mothers were afraid when they put their children
to bed. Chanina ben Dosa put his hand over the hole where the scorpion was, and
the scorpion bit his hand.
Chanina took the dead
scorpion to houses of learning – some say for weeks – and said, “It’s not the
bite of the scorpion that kills, but it’s the chait (sin) that kills”.
The implication is that Chanina ben Dosa had
Remember our Mishnah that says
that ‘fear of chait’ should be our priority.
The Gemora in Taanis 25a mentions that Chanina ben Dosa was
once visiting his daughter for Shabbos, and that they were both extremely
When it came to lighting the
Shabbos lights, she said that she had no oil.
He said that instead, she should light vinegar.
Sure enough, the vinegar burned. Since the
flame really wasn’t consuming anything, it burned all through Shabbos.
Chanina said, “He who has endowed oil with
the power of burning, may endow vinegar with the same power.”
When Shabbos was over, it came time for Havdallah, and
Chanina used the same light from the burning vinegar for Havdallah.
The Meforshim ask, one is supposed to get
Hanah (pleasure) from the Havdallah light, and there is a rule that you’re not
supposed to get Hanah from a nase.
Meforshim answer that for Chanina ben Dosa, the fact that vinegar could burn
wasn’t any more of a miracle than the fact that oil burns.
He saw everything in this world as a miracle.
Chanina ben Dosa was extremely poor, and the Gemorah says
that he lived from Shabbos to Shabbos on a basket of carob beans.
Then Rav says, the whole world gets its
sustenance ‘Beshvil’ - on the Zchus (merit) of
- Chanina ben Dosa.
point out that Rav lived several hundred years after Chanina ben Dosa – how was
his generation supported by the merit of Chanina ben Dosa.
They answer that in every generation there is
a Tzaddik that is so great, that the entire generation gets its livelihood from
the merit of that Tzaddik.
They say that
one of the keys is that the Tzaddik has Chane, he is loved by other people and
asks for nothing for himself.
of the name Chanina is Chane.
Rabbi Meir was also known as a Baal Mofase, a miracle
It’s brought down that when a person
is in trouble, he can ask to be helped by the Zchus of Rabbi Meir Baal Hanase –
the master of miracles.
The Vilna Gaon
says – and this is Halacha lemaisa – that one should do this only if one really
needs it because it takes away from one’s zchus in Shemayim.
Apparently, this is not true for the miracle
of Parnassa accomplished by the Zchus of Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa.
We can ask two questions.
First, why does the Parnassa generated by the merit of Chanina ben Dosa
seem to go along with his being poor?
And second, why does benefiting from the merit of Rabbi Meir go along
with a reduction of one’s Merit in Shamayim?
These questions are addressed by Rabbi Tzaddok.
He says that there are three ways that we can
benefit by the Brocha that comes from the Zchus of a Tzadik.
The first way is as Rav says, ‘Beshvil’ –
- the Merit of Chanina be
Dosa, a generation gets its Parnassa.
Shvil is a pipe.
The Zchus of the
Tzaddik creates a pipe – a Shvil – of Brocha that permeates the whole
An example of such a Brocha that
spread out to everyone is that when Sarah became pregnant, it’s said that all
the women who had been having trouble getting pregnant also became
Since Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa
is like a pipe, the Brocha flows through him – but not ‘to’ him.
He himself does not benefit from the
In fact, if the Brocha stopped
and benefited him, it would stop up the pipe and not flow as freely to everyone
This is the Zchus that comes from the Evid of the
The Evid does exactly as the
King wishes, and he has an immediate personal relationship with the
Chanina ben Dosa says in our
Mishnah that the way to accomplish this relationship with the Melech is to
concentrate on our actions with people in this world – be afraid of sin, do
good deeds, make sure that people like the way you treat them.
Rabbi Tzaddok then says that the second time type of Brocha
generated by the Zchus of a Tzaddik is what he calls Shefa, and the Tzaddik
that generates it is called Parnase.
This is like a minister (sar) of the King.
The Tzaddik himself can benefit by this Shefa
before it flows to others.
such Tzaddikim are Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai, who themselves
Moshe Rabenu himself was
this type of Tzaddik.
Das came from
Hashem to him, and then to the rest of the world.
The third type of Brocha that comes from the Zchus of a
Tzaddik is that of Rabbi Meir.
ability is to go into Shamayim to get the Brocha.
When we benefit from this Brocha, we benefit
form the fact that Rabbi Meir went into Shamayim to intervene for us, and
that’s why it is deducted from our own merit in Shamayim.
There is a kabalistic concept that will help us further
understand the type of Brocha generated by the Zchus of Rabbi Chanina ben
Light itself cannot be seen.
It’s only when light hits a physical object
that we then can see the effect of the light and benefit from it.
The Kaballah says that if we want to benefit
from light without the physical, it’s like going into a wine store and asking
for wine without having a vessel to hold the wine.
In our Mishnah, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa is saying that if we
can perfect ourselves in this world, so that our priority is fear of sin and
good deeds so that people appreciate the way we act – then we can serve as a
conduit to the spiritual light form Shamayim into this world. Then the world
benefits by the spiritual light that comes down into this world in the form of
This is in contrast to the Rabbi
Meir approach of going into Shamayim.
It says in Sotah 49a that when Chanina ben Dosa died, the
Anshei Maisa ceased – that people were no longer able to have their acts be on
as elevated level as Chanina ben Dosa.