Sunday, August 17, 2008

Shim'on HaAmsuni

Pesachim 22b (et. al.), in describing a tanna who recanted his method of expounding all instances of the preposition es in the Torah upon reaching the passuk describing fear of HaShem, "Es HaShem Elokecha tira", provides two versions of his name, Shim'on HaAmsuni and Nechemiah haAmsuni. Josh W. pointed out to me some months back that a similar sugya in the Yerushalmi (Y. Sotah. 25b) refers to him as only Nechemiah, while also arguing that the similar letters that appear in Shim'on and Amsun may suggest that the latter version may have arisen from a copying mistake.

Encyclopedia l'Chachmei HaTalmud v-ha-Geonim identifies Nechemiah haAmsuni with Nachum Ish Gamzu. This is supported by the close phonetic similarity between the two names, their both being well-known for darshening all the esin in the Torah, and the fact that NIG is known to be a rebbe of R' Akiva, who also plays a role in in the NhA story. This latter being the case, the parallel sugya in the Yerushalmi, which calls NhA a talmid of R' Akiva, is curious (and a little remniscent of a similar set of sugyos which conflict over whether R' Shimon ben Yochai was the father-in-law or the son-in-law of R' Pinchas ben Yair - I recall hearing a suggestion that there were two men of the same, latter, name).

On the other hand, R' Chaim Vital passes down separate mesoros from the Arizal regarding where each of NIG and NhA are buried. According to Sha'ar HaGilgulim, Hakdama 37 (cited in HaMekomos HaKedoshim, by R' Yechiel Mechal Stern), NIG is buried in Tzfas[1], while Nechemia haAmsuni is buried near Parod, approximately 10 miles south of Meron.

[1] At the entrance to Tzfas, continue on R. HaPalmach until the intersection, turn right on R. HaNasi, and then left on R. Gamzu. The marker is approximately 100 meters down.

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The drasha of Shim'on HaAmsuni

Pesachim 22b ( relates that Shim'on HaAmsuni used to expound upon every instance of the preposition "es" in the Torah as a means of including something beyond the simple reading of the verse. However, once he arrived at the passuk in this past week's parsha which begins "Es HaShem Elokecha tira", the commandment to fear HaShem, he recanted this entire method of learning, as how is it possible for anything else to be the object of a fear that is in any way analogous to that of God? Eventually, R' Akiva stood up to defend Shim'on HaAmsuni's original derech, arguing that fear of talmidei chachamim can be included by this inclusory exposition.

Why was this passuk is the first one that gave Shim'on HaAmsuni trouble? A few pesukim earlier, we are presented with the command to love HaShem, "V'ahavta es HaShem Elokecha". How is it possible to compare any other form of love to the love that we are required to have for HaShem?

The Torah Temimah argues that it is not possible that Shim'on HaAmsuni did not know the drasha suggested by R' Akiva, as there is a mishnah in Avos which clearly states that one's fear of his teacher should be akin to his fear of Heaven (uMora rabbach k'mora Shamayim). Rather, the objection of Shim'on HaAmsuni was to the continuation of the passuk, the commandment of prayer (v'Oso sa'avod), which would be anathema to Judaism were it to be applied to even talmidei chachamim, while R' Akiva held that the interceding direct object serves to split the two verbs, so that only yir'ah, not avodah, applies to talmidei chachamim.

I do not understand how this is implied by the wording of the sugya. The proof of the Torah Temimah is even more difficult for me to understand, as the mishnah that he cited was taught by R' Elazar ben Shamu'a, who was a talmid of R' Akiva.