Wow—R. Elazar son of R. Shimon is really laying it on thick here. And you think your parents put a guilt trip on you!
The message here is both comforting and scary. It is comforting, for there is always the chance to repent. It is frightening, for one wrong deed can destroy one’s entire life. Unfortunately, I think I’ve seen too many cases that fall into the latter.
Resh Lakish mollifies a bit the harshness of R. Shimon b. Yohai’s statement. Simply performing one bad act does not destroy all the good things one has done. The baraita refers to one who regrets the good things he has done in the past. As such, he in a sense erases them, and is left only with his last, evil deed.
Today’s section concludes our long chapter—perhaps the longest in the Talmud. It opens with a new mishnah.
To be a part of civilized Jewish society one must be both learned and take part in worldly activities, namely work. Occupation with the study of both written and oral Torah, accompanied by a livelihood provides a person with a culture which will prevent him from sinning. One who is not engaged in all three is not considered to be civilized. In another words, in the eyes of the rabbis, such a person is a barbarian.
Suffering is brought upon the righteous in this world so that they will inherit their full portion in the world to come. Their trunk, which I would say is their essence, stands already in the world to come. Only their branches overhang into this world, the world of impurity.
The opposite is true of the wicked.
Study is greater than practice, but not inherently. It is only greater than practice because it leads to practice. It would seem that study that does not lead to practice is not greater.
The Torah was given when Israel left Sinai. Hallah, the mitzvah to give a part of the dough to the priest, only began when Israel entered the land, forty years later. The obligation to separate tithes and terumah began when Israel conquered and settled the land another 14 years later. The first sabbatical year came only seven years later, 61 years after the giving of the Torah And only then did they begin to count the Jubilee years, so according to R. Yose’s method, this mitzvah was observed only 103 years later. Thus Torah study preceded the full observance of many mitzvoth by many years.
When one is judged in the world to come, he is first judged on how much Torah study he engaged in. The verse from Proverbs refers to water, which is often a code word for Torah study.
One is also first rewarded for his Torah study. The verse from Psalms refers first to God’s statute, which was understood earlier as a reference to Torah study.
R. Yohanan gives some teeth to the Mishnah—to serve as a witness one must be fully cultivated through learning and deed.
The rabbis perceive one who eats in the shuk as acting in a barbaric, animalistic manner. While today it is common for Western people to eat in public, we should note that in some ancient cultures, eating was a more intimate private act. One who performs intimate acts in public is not fit to testify because he lacks culture.
Nothing beneficial comes from anger.