Chaninah Ben Dosa
Rabbi Yaacov Haber
June 5, 2010
Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa says:
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 generations earlier.  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, Shamayim-like focus.  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.  He 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 and concepts. 
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 perspective
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.  I’ll mention some associated with Chanina ben Dosa.
In Brochas 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 his son.  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 Chanina said.
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 prayed.  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 better?”  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 email.  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.  Then the scorpion died.  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 no chait.  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 poor.  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.  The 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.  Commentators 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.  The root of the name Chanina is Chane.
Rabbi Meir was also known as a Baal Mofase, a miracle worker.  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’ – because of  - the Merit of Chanina be Dosa, a generation gets its Parnassa.  A Shvil is a pipe.  The Zchus of the Tzaddik creates a pipe – a Shvil – of Brocha that permeates the whole world.   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 pregnant.  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 Brocha.  In fact, if the Brocha stopped and benefited him, it would stop up the pipe and not flow as freely to everyone else. 
This is the Zchus that comes from the Evid of the Melech.  The Evid does exactly as the King wishes, and he has an immediate personal relationship with the Melech.  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.  Examples of such Tzaddikim are Rabbi Gamliel and Rabbi Yochonon ben Zakai, who themselves had wealth.  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.  His 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 Dosa.  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 Brocha.  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.