“Live It” by Jesse Dunietz

(2006/5766) Although the Torah fixes the number of Malkot (lashes)
that a court can administer at forty (25:3), Chazal (Makkot 22)
derive from the word “BeMispar,” “by a number” (25:2), that
only the number closest to forty – thirty-nine – can actually be
administered.  The Gemara there adds in the name of Rava,
“How silly are most people, who stand for a Sefer Torah but
not before scholars, yet even though the Torah writes ‘forty,’
the Rabbis went and subtracted one, [which demonstrates
their greater stature].”  Rav Yehoshua of Kutna notes that
this seems to contradict another Gemara (Kiddushin 33),
which comments, “Before those who learn [Torah] we stand;
how much more so we should stand for [the Torah] itself.” 
Which is truly greater and more worthy of such respect – the
Torah, or its scholars?
Rav Yehoshua answers based on a grammatical
distinction, which he borrows from a Gemara in Berachot
(10a), between the two ways to formulate a word in Hebrew
for one who does a particular action.  The more common way
is to use the same form as the verb – “Chotei” can mean
either “he sins” or “a sinner,” “Lomeid” either “he learns” or
“one who learns.”  The other way is to switch the vowels
under the past-tense verb, putting the Patach under the first
letter and the Kamatz under the second.  This form is
generally used to indicate an occupation – a “Gamol” (to use
an Ashkenazic transliteration) is a camel-driver, a “Sapor” is
a barber, and so on.  The Gemara uses this distinction to
differentiate between a “Chotei” and a “Chato,” of which
David HaMelech prays for the destruction only of the latter
(Tehillim 104:35).  Rav Yehoshua explains that this is
because a “Chotei” is someone who simply does a sin, be it
by accident, by happenstance, or perhaps because of an
overpowering urge.  But a “Chato” is one whose very nature
is one of sin, whose occupation, as it were, is sinning.
This may also be the distinction between the
scholars who deserve greater respect than the Torah itself
and those who apparently do not.  While those who merely
learn Torah are certainly praiseworthy, and we do indeed
stand for them, their stature is dwarfed by that of the Torah
itself.  Those who make Torah their occupation, however,
and who are therefore of the stature that they can even
decrease the number of Malkot that a simple reading would
indicate, hold greater esteem even than a Sefer Torah.
Though we may not all be able to “make Torah our
profession,” and arguably should not all do so, Rav
Yehoshua’s message is fundamental to the way we conduct
our lives.  Judaism unquestionably believes strongly in the
overarching value of action – hence the 613 Mitzvot – but not
in action alone.  As the Sefer HaChinuch develops in his
beautiful essay on the Mitzvah of Shiluach HaKein (from
earlier in Ki Teitzei; see 22:6-7), the purpose of all the actions
Hashem prescribed is, ultimately, to effect changes in our
character.  If we truly wish to achieve the highest level of
following the Torah, we must not only perform the actions,
but make them an integral part of our behavior pattern and

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