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Thought for the Day: Winning the Milchemta Shel Torah

You know the type.  We stay on opposite sides of the beis medrash.  By shita we don't talk to each other; barely a nod in the morning when we first get there, but we don't even look in each other's direction after that.  I have been davening in the morning at Brisk Yeshiva for nearly 18 years and we have pretty much always got along like that.  After davening, though, we fight; milchemta shel torah.  That is why we are such close friend; Baruch HaShem.

This morning I ran over after davening, gleefully proclaiming, "I win!"  I had just found a Mishna Brura that supported my position on a question we had a few weeks ago.  Of course, not being a mind reader and having a very full life, my friend had no clue what I was talking about.  I am working on my arrogance, but it still surprises me when people don't remember the details of all our conversations and open questions.  Oh well... good for my humility.  For the sake of clarity, I'll relay the context.

The issue concerns a Mishna Brura that says that a talmid chacham should not learn during chazaras hashatz (even though he is is careful to pay attention at the end of each bracha and respond "amein") because the "hamon am" will see that and conclude it is ok to talk about sports and politics then.  I said that clearly he means that people will see that said talmid chacham feels that chazaras hashatz is not important.  "He likes to learn during unimportant parts of davening, I like to shmooz.  Since I see he holds it is unimportant, I can shmooz."  My friend feels that is a bit of a stretch (more than a bit, but he is being kind), and so the Mishna Brura is talking about two people having a quiet discussion of divrei torah during chazaras hashatz.  "If they are talking, I can talk."

Thus it remained.  Till this morning.  I found a Mishna Brura that said precisely the reason I had said.  I waited a respectful time after davening, ran over a gleefully proclaimed, "I win!"  My friend noted that the Mishna Brura I was showing him concerned talking during certain piyutim (poems) that some places say during the brachos of k'ri'as sh'ma.  "Listen," I said, "first of all, taking things out of context is a tried and true method of winning arguments.  Besides, if you can't learn during piyutim, you certainly can't learn during chazaras hashatz."  My friend demurred, "I beg to differ.  Everyone knows that chazaras hashatz is important, so seeing a talmid chacham learning won't change that.  But lots of people think the piyutim are unimportant anyway, so seeing the talmid chacham learning will just confirm that.  So of course they'll talk till the piyutim are finished."  Good point.  No proof either way.

So I started with a clear proof that I was correctly interpreting the Mishna Brura, but came away realizing that was narrow minded; there were other ways to look at it.  Like I said, "I win."


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