Day 22 – Berachos 23
The Gemara is discussing the laws of entering the bathroom with one’s Tefillin. In the midst of this discussion, the Gemara relates a tragic story:
וּמַעֲשֶׂה בְּתַלְמִיד אֶחָד שֶׁהִנִּיחַ תְּפִילָּיו בַּחוֹרִין הַסְּמוּכִים לִרְשׁוּת הָרַבִּים, וּבָאת זוֹנָה אַחַת, וּנְטָלָתַן, וּבָאת לְבֵית הַמִּדְרָשׁ וְאָמְרָה: רָאוּ מַה נָּתַן לִי פְּלוֹנִי בִּשְׂכָרִי! כֵּיוָן שֶׁשָּׁמַע אוֹתוֹ תַּלְמִיד כָּךְ, עָלָה לְרֹאשׁ הַגָּג וְנָפַל וָמֵת. בְּאוֹתָהּ שָׁעָה הִתְקִינוּ שֶׁיְּהֵא אוֹחֲזָן בְּבִגְדוֹ וּבְיָדוֹ, וְנִכְנָס.
And an incident occurred involving a student who placed his phylacteries in the holes adjacent to the public domain, and a prostitute passed by and took the phylacteries. She came to the study hall and said: See what so-and-so gave me as my payment. When that student heard this, he ascended to the rooftop and fell and died. At that moment they instituted that one should hold them with his garment and in his hand and enter to avoid situations of that kind.
Rav Menachem Taksin in the Sefer Ateres Chachamim, brings down a similar story related in Shabbos (13)
תני דבי אליהו מעשה בתלמיד אחד ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה ומת בחצי ימיו והיתה אשתו נוטלת תפיליו ומחזרתם בבתי כנסיות ובבתי מדרשות ואמרה להם כתיב בתורה כי הוא חייך ואורך ימיך בעלי ששנה הרבה וקרא הרבה ושימש תלמידי חכמים הרבה מפני מה מת בחצי ימיו ולא היה אדם מחזירה דבר פעם אחת נתארחתי אצלה והיתה מסיחה כל אותו מאורע ואמרתי לה בתי בימי נדותך מה הוא אצלך אמרה לי חס ושלום אפילו באצבע קטנה לא נגע [בי] בימי לבוניך מהו אצלך אכל עמי ושתה עמי וישן עמי בקירוב בשר ולא עלתה דעתו על דבר אחר ואמרתי לה ברוך המקום שהרגו שלא נשא פנים לתורה שהרי אמרה תורה ואל אשה בנדת טומאתה לא תקרב
The Sage in the school of Eliyahu taught a baraita that deals with this halakha: There was an incident involving one student who studied much Mishna and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, studying Torah from them, and, nevertheless, died at half his days, half his life expectancy. His wife in her bitterness would take his phylacteries and go around with them to synagogues and study halls, and she said to the Sages: It is written in the Torah: “For it is your life and the length of your days” (Deuteronomy 30:20). If so, my husband who studied much Mishna, and read much Bible, and served Torah scholars extensively, why did he die at half his days? Where is the length of days promised him in the verse? No one would respond to her astonishment at all.
Eliyahu said: One time I was a guest in her house, and she was relating that entire event with regard to the death of her husband. And I said to her: My daughter, during the period of your menstruation, how did he act toward you? She said to me: Heaven forbid, he did not touch me even with his little finger. And I asked her: In the days of your white garments, after the menstrual flow ended, and you were just counting clean days, how did he act toward you then? She said to me: He ate with me, and drank with me, and slept with me with bodily contact and, however, it did not enter his mind about something else, i.e., conjugal relations. And I said to her: Blessed is the Omnipresent who killed him for this sin, as your husband did not show respect to the Torah. The Torah said: “And to a woman in the separation of her impurity you should not approach” (Leviticus 18:19), even mere affectionate contact is prohibited.
The Ateres Chachamim asks why did this woman go around with her husbands Tefillin? He then explains that in our Gemara, the student died while giving respect to the Tefillin, and it was a rather unusual form of death. Therefore, his wife walked around with those very same Tefillin to ask why her husband got punished for seemingly respecting his Tefillin.
Only Eliyahu HaNavi was able to answer her that it was not about the Tefillin, but about the prostitute. He explains that this is the same student as the story in our Gemara. Because he was not careful regarding Taharas HaMishpacha, he was punished with an unusual death by way of a prostitute.
We see from here how much one must be careful to maintain an equilibrium between how he practices and acts in public and how he does so in private.
I had a teacher who often used the term NFY – Do Not Fool Yourself. Hypocrisy is a serious issue and if we act one way in a public setting and not as pious when nobody’s looking, we are merely fooling ourselves. When an incident arises where the actions one does in private becomes known, the humiliation can lead to death. Better to avoid it by remembering that we are only fooling ourselves.