Analyzing talmudic sages
Vancouver colleagues and friends, Rabbi Binyomin Bitton, left, and Rabbi Eliezer Lipman (Lipa) Dubrawsky, spent many hours discussing scholarly Torah subjects, and the 300-page Hebrew volume by Bitton titled Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol was released in time for the second anniversary of Dubrawsky’s passing. (photo by Noam Dehan)
Rabbi Binyomin Bitton shared a unique bond with the late Rabbi Eliezer Lipman (Lipa) Dubrawsky, who was educational director of Chabad-Lubavitch of British Columbia in Vancouver. In addition to being personal friends, they spent many long hours discussing scholarly Torah subjects across the board.
In time for the second anniversary of Dubrawsky’s untimely passing at the age of 56, Bitton, co-director of Chabad of Downtown, released a book of in-depth research and analysis on the opinions and mindsets of two talmudic sages, Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus and Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, based on the unique approach and teachings of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson.
“The idea first came to me shortly after Rabbi Dubrawsky’s passing,” explained Bitton. “His first name was Eliezer, and his father’s name was Yehoshua. I felt it would be a fitting memorial for two men who dedicated so much of their lives to Torah to explain the positions of two sages whose names they bear.”
While he was not initially sure if he would have enough material for a book, Bitton’s research yielded a robust, 300-page Hebrew volume titled Rabbi Eliezer Hagadol (The Great Rabbi Eliezer), an honorific often used for the talmudic sage, which Bitton said aptly described his great friend and mentor, as well.
Following a pattern championed by the Rebbe, the author identifies the prototypical approaches of the two first-century sages, and then goes on to apply those same underpinnings to seemingly unrelated arguments of theirs dotting the talmudic landscape.
“The Rebbe had a unique way of learning, of leshitasayhu” – the notion that the rulings of talmudic sages on disparate subjects are related to one another, explained Bitton, “and this forms the basis of the book. The widely accepted approach to leshitasayhu is that the ruling on one particular subject evolves from another one.
“By the Rebbe, it works on a different, deeper plane. In his view, many opinions evolve from a quintessential point in which the two sages essentially disagree and, from there, their opinion evolves in numerous subjects, which, at first glance, may not be related at all. Accordingly, the Rebbe further explains how the approach of each sage evolves and/or is connected to their Hebrew name, soul, place of residence, responsibilities, position and more. This, too, was incorporated in the book with regards to Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.”
In 45 chapters, Bitton masterfully weaves common threads through the full gamut of human experience, demonstrating how the sages approached dozens of subjects that can be traced to the same fundamental axioms.
The book was released just in time for 27 Nissan, the second anniversary of the rabbi’s sudden passing in 2013. Thus, the book’s second part deals with the two sacrifices that frame the time of year: the Omer barley offering that was brought to the Temple in Jerusalem on the second day of Passover, and the two loaves brought seven weeks later on Shavuot.
Expounding upon a discourse of the Rebbe, Bitton applies the Rebbe’s principles to a number of different aspects of the two offerings – even explaining how they reflect through the kabbalistic lens of Chabad Chassidic tradition.
“Rabbi Dubrawsky dedicated his life to learning Torah and teaching Torah every single day,” said Bitton, “and I truly feel that through sharing Torah with others, we can perpetuate his special life.”