By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 81 – Three Types of Walnuts
The normal rules of bitul do not apply to something of particular significance. Rabi Meir holds that includes anything which is sold by specific numbers (according to Reish Lakish, even if only sometimes, and according to Rabi Yochanan only if exclusively), whereas the Chachamim hold that there are only six items which have this assigned-status of particular significance such that bitul does not take effect (m’drabbanan).
One of these six items is egozei parach. Rashi explains that Parach is the name of a certain place where particularly qualitative walnuts grow. Tosafos, though, argues and bases his words on a Medrash that says there are three types of walnuts, one of which the shell just crumbles right off as if on its own. So, explains Tosafos, the word parach in this context means that the shell crumbles.
Interestingly enough, the Medrash that Tosafos is quoting is discussing the fact that Klal Yisrael is allegorically likened to a walnut. In Shir Ha’Shirim, there is a pasuk that says, “I went down into the walnut garden.” On this the Medrash comments, “Said Rabi Levi, this walnut has three types: egozei parach, middle, and katronim. The parach type [is so called] because it crumbles on its own. The middle type, you give it a bang and it breaks [open]. And the katronim ones are very difficult to break [open]; you bang a stone on it to break it [open], and nevertheless there’s no benefit to it. So too is it with Klal Yisrael. There are those that will carry out a mitzvah of their own accord, there are those that you exhort them and they give immediately, and there are those that even after “knocking on them” numerous times it doesn’t help. Nevertheless, Rabi Levi said, the door that is not open for a mitzvah is open for a doctor.”
What does the Medrash mean in this last line that “the door which is not open for a mitzvah is open for a doctor”?
Before answering this question, we’ll quote the next part of this Medrash. It continues with an alternative explanation of Klal Yisrael being likened to an egoz. “The walnut tree is smooth, so someone who is not expert at climbing it will immediately fall. Likewise, anyone who serves Klal Yisrael must be careful that he not “get it”…like Moshe, Yeshayahu, and Eliyahu. Moshe said, ‘Listen rebellious ones,’ and it says ‘Therefore you shall not bring this congregation.’ Yeshayahu said, ‘And amongst a nation of impure lips,’ and immediately, ‘And in his hand was a coal.’ Eliyahu said, ‘For Bnei Yisrael have forsaken Your covenant,’ and it was said to him, ‘And Elisha the son of Shafat shall you anoint as Navi to replace you.’
The juxtaposition of this latter explanation to the former does not seem to be coincidental. The former explanation seemed to speak both positively and negatively about Klal Yisrael. There are those who are tzaddikim who do mitzvos such as giving tzedakah right away without having to be asked, the beinoniyim need to be asked but they respond positively with alacrity, and then there are those who are “not so ay-yay-yay” and they don’t give even after being asked multiple times. If it would have been left at that, one could come away feeling justified in condemning such people in one’s mind.
That is why the Medrash continues with the explanation that basically is saying, “Watch it!” Watch out how you talk about Klal Yisrael – even when you are discussing those who really are doing bad things – because even amazingly great people such as Moshe, Yeshayahu, and Eliyahu did not escape the strict attribute of din that comes to those who badmouth Hashem’s precious Yidden. The message, then, is clear: even though there definitely are those in Klal Yisrael who are not doing what one is supposed to be doing, be very careful not to denigrate or condemn them.
Which brings us to a possible explanation of what that last line of the first piece of Medrash we quoted means. “The door which is not open for a mitzvah is open for a doctor.” A doctor is not necessarily referring to a medical doctor. The Rambam writes (Hilchos Deios 2:1), “Those of bodily illness can taste bitter as sweet and sweet as bitter, and some ill people desire to eat things that are not at all edible like dirt and charcoal and they despise beneficial foods like bread and meat. It all depends on the extent of the illness. So too, people whose souls are ill desire and love bad middos and they despise the good path and are too lazy to traverse it, and it is very heavy to them – corresponding to how ill they are. And so too did Yeshayahu say about such people, “Woe to those who say good about bad and bad about good, they make darkness into light and light into darkness, they make bitter into sweet and sweet into bitter”…And what is the rectification of those of soul-illness, they must go to the Chachamim who are the doctors of the souls and they will heal their illness with the middos that they will teach them until they bring them back to the proper path.”
Based on this Rambam, it is completely plausible to posit that the doctor to whom the Medrash is referring is the doctor of the soul, meaning the Chachamim. The pshat, then, in that last line of the Medrash, is that the door which is closed to a mitzvah is nevertheless open to the doctor. Meaning, even though this person currently has bad middos and does not give even after being asked multiple times, he is nevertheless not a lost cause; not at all. On the contrary, all he needs is for the doctor to help him and he will be well on his way to a refuah shleimah.
It goes deeper. The clear implication of the Medrash is that it is not just describing different modes of behavior that people engage in; it is describing the different personalities that comprise the essential mosaic of Klal Yisrael. That means that just as much as the egozei parach and beinoni type of Jew are inseparably part and parcel of Klal Yisrael, so too is the katronim type of Jew inherently part and parcel of Klal Yisrael.
This can be understood in light of the Mishna in Maseches Megillah that saying “the good shall bless you” is heretical. Why? Rashi explains that he is implying that the reshaim are not included in the overall endeavor of praising Hashem. How does this work, though?
If no one would ever fall ill, the great skill of the doctor would never become known. Although a doctor who truly is a healer never wants people to fall ill, the fact is that sometimes people do get ill, and in a certain sense the doctor is happy to be able to express his skill. This is a very, very subtle concept. You need to let it sit in your mind for a long time before you really understand it.
In the nimshal, obviously we do not ever want people to do aveiros or have bad middos. But the reality is that “there is no tzaddik in the world who only does good and never sins.” Inevitably, some people will sin, and some people will have bad middos. As the Rambam says, each individual has the bechira to choose where it is that he will fall in the role-division of humanity. But, in a very real sense, the Ribbono shel Olam created a world in which it is inevitable that some people will sin and will have bad middos. These people are an inextricable part of the fabric of the nation.
Why? Why couldn’t it have been possible for everyone to always be perfectly righteous?
The answer is that there is a facet of goodness which is only manifest through the correction of evil. The baal teshuvah – through his process of betterment and rectification – brings to the fore a reflection of Hashem’s light that otherwise would not have been expressed in the world. As Chazal say and the Rambam paskens, “in the place where baalei teshuvah stand not even tzaddikim gemurim can stand.” Because the baalei teshuvah complete a part of the tapestry that the tzaddikim gemurim do not.
What the Medrash, then, is teaching us is a very deep, fascinating, and eye-opening concept. Those in Klal Yisrael who sin or have bad middos must not be looked at as some sort of waste by-product; v’chalila. Yes, sin must be despised. But the people themselves? They are to be viewed as that which provides the opportunity within Klal Yisrael to demonstrate the great skill and power of the doctor. For “even the door which is closed to a mitzvah is open to a doctor.” The doctors of the soul, the Chachamim, are the representatives of the Almighty Doctor who is the ultimate healer and benefactor; and when they gently and deftly go about their work of healing the ill souls here in this world, a great facet of Hashem’s light is brought into the world that otherwise would not have been there.
For, as the Medrash on Tehillim says, “Had I not sat in the darkness, there would not have been light for me.”
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.