Rav Pappa is perhaps one of the most interesting Amoraim (Gemara sages) that we find in the Talmud. It is said that his approach was not a very high scholar, and tried to accept both approaches when a discussion arises. Nevertheless, he fervently prayed to become a great scholar and prided in the fact that he never excommunicated anyone.
The Gemara records that, in all these merits, he was graced with 10 sons who were great scholars, and whose merit we invoke when finishing a Tractate of the Talmud. His pragmatic approach to life was also reflected in the fact that he loved folk saying (even using them in his arguments), and saying that “no work is too degrading for a man to make a proper living.
Let’s explore a little bit of Rav Pappa’s life to see what we can glean as lessons to living better.
Things that are above merit
To be precise, the sages (Moed Katan 28A)enumerate 3 things that are not dependent on merit at all, but rather on Mazal. As we saw before, Mazal is the flowing spiritual river that enables us to perform our mission, either in an easy or difficult way.
These three things are children, sustenance and health. That is to say, each and everyone of us come to the world with a certain measure of them, and it’s very difficult to change it over the course of life. This is because, in a Kabbalistic sense, they come from the highest Sephirah of Keter (crown).
We however find that there are more attributes a person can be born with, which are also difficult to change. Fascinatingly, we find in Tractate Niddah 16B that when a couple is intimate, there’s an angel called Layla who takes the drop of seed (at least its spiritual counterpart), brings to Hashem and asks “Master of the Universe, what will become of this drop? Will it be strong or weak, wise or stupid, rich or poor?” – but concerning its fear of Heaven, whether it will be a Tzadik or a wicked person, he does not ask.
We see then that there are a few more things that are not dependent on merit.
Hope and Teshuva never dies
While it might seem desponding that so many things are out of our control, the truth is Jewish literature is full of sources that attest otherwise. The Ba’al Shem Tov, Rebbe Nachman of Breslov, RebbeNatan his disciple, and many others all encourage us to keep praying no matter how difficult or impossible something seems, for all the things that are either big or small.
Praying is an essential component to life and enables us to reach Teshuva. Nothing is beyond Teshuva and we can find an example in the Zohar where it writes that for the sin of wasting seed one can never be forgiven. Rav Chaim Vital however teaches us that this doesn’t mean it in the literal sense, rather it means that Hashem does not extend his help to cleanse someone of this sin as much as he does for all other sins. We also see then that the Zohar can never be taken literally, but must be interpreted by the Kabbalists in order to be understand.
In many places in the writings of the Arizal, we find that Teshuva is in the world of Binah (understanding), which is the 8th Sephira from bottom up. As such, it is above nature and that’s one of the reasons why we make Brit Milah on the 8th day, why the week has only 7 days, and why the duration of the world as we know only has 7 millennia. The number 7 governs and includes nature, including its spiritual component such as the Shabbat, but 8 is above it.
With Teshuva therefore we can reach levels we never though were possible, and surprisingly, even change our Mazal! Though the Sephira of Keter is the 10th from bottom up, here are talking about an entiredifferent spiritual system way above the one we were. When we do proper Teshuva we rise ourselves to an entirely different mode of existence and earn an entirely higher Mazal!
Rav Pappa teaches us that no matter what decrees we are born with, we can surely change them with proper effort.
May the memory of the sage Rav Pappa be for a blessing and inspiration and may we merit to make proper Teshuva!