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One Who Increases Counsel, Increases Understanding

Pirkei Avot
Pirkei Avot

Since it is customary to study and publicly expound the teachings of our Sages in Pirkei Avot (Ethics of the Fathers) during this period of the counting of the Omer and was likewise the custom of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, we shall now dedicate some Halachot to discussing several ideas from Pirkei Avot. The Mishnah in Avot (Chapter 2, Mishnah 7) states: “One who increases counsel, increases understanding.” This means that one who constantly seeks counsel and guidance from others shall gain much understanding. The Gemara (Yevamot 121a) recounts an incident where Rabbi Shila permitted an Agunah to remarry after her husband drowned in “an endless body of water.”

(An “endless body of water” refers to a body of water that does not have a clear border and thus, if a man drowns in such water and witnesses see him drown, we can nevertheless not establish that the man has died and permit his wife to remarry based on the testimony of these witnesses, for there is a concern that the man exited the water from a different side and the witnesses did not see him exiting. However, if a man drowns in a “finite body of water”, such as a swimming pool and the like, and witnesses see the man drown and that he has not come out of the water for a long time, although they have not seen his lifeless body being pulled out of the water later, the man’s wife may nevertheless be permitted to remarry, for there is no doubt that the man has died since it had, in fact, exited the water, the witnesses would have certainly seen this.) As a result of Rabbi Shila permitting a woman to remarry on grounds of her husband drowning in an endless body of water contrary to Halacha, Rav wished to excommunicate Rabbi Shila; however, before doing so, he wished to seek advice from Mor Shmuel. Mor Shmuel told Rav that in his opinion, Rabbi Shila should first be consulted to see why he would do such a thing.

A message was sent to Rabbi Shila inquiring as to why he had permitted this woman to remarry. Rav Shila replied, “I also agree that the wife of a man who has drowned in an endless body of water is forbidden to remarry. However, I erred in thinking that one who drowns in a pond is tantamount to drowning in a finite body of water since if he would have come out of the water, the witnesses would have seen this. However, I now change my mind and realize that I have made a mistake, for one who drowns in a large pond is tantamount to have drowned in an endless body of water since, as a result of the movement of the waves, he may have been swept to a far off place and exited the water from there.” Rav was glad to hear Rabbi Shila’s response and he exclaimed the following verse regarding Mor Shmuel (who prevented him from excommunicating Rabbi Shila): “In a multitude of counselors, there is salvation.” (Mishlei 11:14) Maran zt”l (in his commentary on Pirkei Avot entitled Anaf Etz Avot, page 106) used this incident to illustrate the teaching of the Tanna “One who increases counsel, increases understanding,” for when one seeks the counsel of a wise man, one achieves understanding such as how Rav was saved from excommunicating Rabbi Shila who was not worthy of this punishment. Hagaon Rabbeinu Yosef Haim zt”l, the saintly “Ben Ish Hai,” explains this teaching of our Sages in his Sefer Chasdei Avot and writes that a rabbi should deliberate with his students about which Talmudic tractate they wish to study and do as they wish, for a person can only study Torah in a place that his heart desires (Avodah Zara 19a) and as a result, they shall gain more wisdom. This is what is meant by the teaching, “One who increases counsel,” by discussing this issue with one’s students, “Increases understanding” in that the students will gain wisdom and be able to understand one thing from another. Maran zt”l supports the explanation of Rabbeinu Yosef Haim with the words of the Tosafot in the beginning of Masechet Baba Metzia who write that Rabbi Yehuda Ha’Nassi would not teach the tractates of the Mishnah to his students in order; rather, they studied based on what subject matter the students wished to learn. Indeed, this was the practice of Maran Rabbeinu Ovadia Yosef zt”l, especially during his lectures on Pirkei Avot, and he would not bear down on his audience with complex explanations and deep concepts (more representative of his erudition and genius in Torah); rather, he would speak out simple Midrashim and other teachings of our Sages which would grab the attention of the listeners. He had actually told us explicitly several times, “Look how such simple stories that I tell over enthrall the audience!” This is also included in the teaching “One who increases counsel, increases understanding,” for as a result of speaking about things the audience wished to hear about, they would listen intently and gained a wealth of wisdom until they too became worthy of hearing and understanding deeper and more complex issues.


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