In the past I never enjoyed learning gemara; I couldn`t see the relevance it had to my life. As such, I was very nervous about the 3 hours of gemara I would have to learn every morning in yeshiva. However, since I have been at Orayta I have changed this view. This year we are learning Masechet Berachot, the first Masechet in Shas. At Orayta, the way we learn Berachot is very interesting and even fun. We go through sections with enlightening commentaries that explain the process of the gemara, not just the information.
In addition, last week my class began to do two dapim of Masechet Berachot every week in ‘bekiut.’ Bekiut means simply reading through the text of the gemara to cover ground, not necessarily to understand in depth through commentaries. So far my chavruta and I have covered about 4 and a half dapim, and already I have a new appreciation for gemara. I would like to share one aggadah from the gemara that I learned the other day and thought was particularly interesting.
In Berachot 5b a story is told about Rav Huna. He had 400 barrels of wine that turned to vinegar. Previous to this, the gemara related several stories and debates about the role of suffering in our lives. One of the conclusions is that we never suffer without reason. If we are suffering it is because there is something in our lives we need to fix. Using this principle a number of Rabbis go to Rav Huna and say, “Rav Huna, what have you done wrong in your life that your wine should turn to vinegar?!” Rav Huna responds by saying, “Do you suspect me of doing something wrong?” The Rabbis responded, “Do you suspect Hashem of making you suffer without reason?” Rav Huna then tells the Rabbis, “Well, if anyone has heard anything about me that I am doing wrong in my life, please tell me!”
The Rabbis offer several experiences in which they heard that Rav Huna had acted wrongly, but the end result was that Rav Huna refuted everything they said. The story has two possible endings: Some say that since Rav Huna was really righteous his vinegar turned back into wine; some suggest that vinegar suddenly became valuable, and that Rav Huna was able to sell it for the same amount of money he would have received for the wine.
When I first read this story I wasn’t sure what the message was. If indeed Rav Huna was righteous, would Hashem have turned his wine into vinegar? My chavruta had an interesting idea. He suggested that this story was about teshuva. There are two ways to look at the results of teshuva. You can say that when you do teshuva, then any punishment you might have received is cancelled, and you continue your life as it was before you sinned. However, there is also a possibility that when someone does teshuva his sins are turned into merits. His sins are not “removed”, rather they become like good deeds and he grows from them.
This fits well with the two possible outcomes of the story. Either the punishment (i.e. the wine turning into vinegar) is reversed and the vinegar turns back into wine – this would parallel the first option of teshuva. In the second option, the vinegar becomes valuable and Rav Huna actually benefits from his sins. I prefer the second idea. I think that when we do teshuva we gain something from the entire experience of sinning and repenting. We learn a lesson that could not have been learned had we not sinned. I’m not saying we should all sin so that we can repent and learn from it, but when one does teshuva he grows as a person and benefits from the process.