Pesachim 22b here
“ אֶת ־יְקוָ֧ק אֱלֹקיךָ תִּירָ֖א וְאֹת֣וֹ תַעֲבֹ֑ד וּבִשְׁמ֖וֹ תִּשָּׁבֵֽעַ”
— דברים ו:יג
The gemara in Pesachim 22b discusses the pasuk in Shemot 21:28. About a goring ox. The pasuk contains two clauses: first “ולא יאכל את בשרו — that we may not eat of it” and second, “ובעל השור נקי — that the ox’s owner is clean [of liability].” The gemara wonders why the Torah needed to communicate both phrases in the pasuk. After all, if an ox is being stoned, it will be a נבלה and can’t be consumed anyway.
Eventually, the gemara is מתרץ that the first phrase “ולא יאכל את בשרו” was a prohibition against both eating from this ox and deriving הנאה while the second clause “ובעל השור נקי” comes to teach us that deriving הנאה from the skin is also forbidden.
The gemara then wonders, for the תנאים who “ובעל השור נקי” to teach a different halacha — from where to they know that it is forbidden to derive הנאה from the skin? They derive it from the additional word “את” in “ולא יאכל את בשרו.”
But for the first Tana who learned the איסור הנאה from “ובעל השור נקי”, how does he explain that extraneous “את”? The gemara is משיב with a supporting ברייתא that one need not derive any דרשות from any extraneous “את” in a pasuk.
Specifically, Shimon HaAmsoni would interpret every ‘את’ in the Torah. But when he arrived at the pasuk in Devarim 6:13 “ אֶת ה׳ אֱלֹקיךָ תִּירָא,” he didn’t know what to derive from that “את” since there shouldn’t be anything additional beyond the fear of Hashem. Upon realizing this, Shimon HaAmsoni retracted all the לימודים he had previously made using the word “את.”
The ברייתא digresses into a brief, though touching moment. In realizing the loss of all the לימודים he had just rendered incorrect, his students inquire: “What will happen to all your other דרשות with the word ‘את’?” Shimon HaAmsoni answers,
“ כְּשֵׁם שֶׁקִּבַּלְתִּי שָׂכָר עַל הַדְּרִישָׁה כָּךְ אֲנִי מְקַבֵּל שָׂכָר עַל הַפְּרִישָׁה”
meaning, “just as I have received a reward for all the דרשות I have made, so too I will receive a reward for retracting these לימודים.”
To me, I hear confidence and tragedy — while the investment and toil of Torah learning was valuable, Shimon HaAmsoni was ready to retract his לימוד when he felt it could not be substantiated. And in the name of authenticity, there are times when a לימוד, no matter how beloved, must be retracted.
But then Rabi Akiva comes to be דורש the extraneous “את” in the pasuk in Devarim to teach — “לְרַבּוֹת תַּלְמִידֵי חֲכָמִים — to include fear of teachers,” meaning, that the fear of Hashem is equivalent to fear of torah scholars. Armed with this דרשה, Rabi Akiva gave a beautiful פירוש and, more broadly, saved the entire category of לימודים.
Relatedly, Rabi Akiva’s דרשה here nicely parallels Menachot 29b, a famous אגדתא where Rabi Akiva is דורש from the crowns adorning the letters of the Torah. In both cases, Rabi Akiva derives meaning from seemingly insignificant elements of the Torah.
More broadly, Rabi Akiva’s לימוד reminds me of Rav Aharon Lichtenstein’s gorgeous essay, “The Source of Faith is Faith Itself.” There, Rav Aharon, in his usual poetic, nuanced, and refreshingly sincere style wonders where his faith comes from. He realized that it is not predicated on complex philosophical arguments but “key persons” who modeled a life of Torah and Mitzvot. Rav Aharon speaks lovingly about his parents, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, Rav Aharon Soloveitchik, and Rav Hutner in how they “limned the contours of my religious and intellectual universe and filled it with content” and how their Torah made him feel that he was “becoming a link in the unbroken chain of the tradition from Sinai.” He acknowledged that this מהלך would be philosophically unsatisfying, though it felt true to his religious experience. In this way, Rav Aharon has shown us Rabi Akiva’s לימוד — that the fear of תלמידי חכמים directly leads to authentic עבודת ה.
I’ll close with two beautiful פשטים to this פסוק — from the Ramban and Netziv which teach us about how to live a life with אמונה.
What is the connection between the three clauses of this pasuk “את יקוק אלוקיך תירא — that you should fear HaShem” then “ואתו תעבד — and Him you should serve” then finally “ובשמו תשבע — and swear in His name”? Though each is important, why did Moshe choose to juxtapose them? The Ramban explains (רמב”ן על דברים ו:יג) that we don’t necessarily have to swear, but if we need to — it is only meaningful if we already have a strong belief in Hashem. Otherwise, it will be mere words. One might have thought that it would be better to swear in the name of other gods, so Moshe is saying that if you need to swear, best to do it in HaShem’s name. The Ramban closes by saying that someone who authentically believes in HaShem and could even swear in HaShem’s name is someone who lives their entire life for Hashem, like a slave whose entire self, even their sleep, is devoted to their master. In this way the Ramban sees Moshe Rabbenu encouraging us to aim high when creating a threshold for our עבודת ה.
How does this pasuk connect with the other surrounding pesukim? Contextually, Moshe tells Bnei Yisrael to declare HaShem as our God, to not be swayed by idolatry, and to perform the mitzvot. The shema is just 6 pesukim preceding. Moshe explains that it will be tempting to forget HaShem when we come into Israel and receive so much bounty in vineyards, groves, and cisterns that have been already planted. The Netziv has a beautiful pshat (העמק דבר על דברים ו:יא). He says that when Am Yisrael are going to war they’ll enjoy the produce that is already in Israel, even though they didn’t work for it. He says that the soldiers should enjoy all the food so they can fight more effectively. In this way, by caring for our bodies, we can eventually become stronger in doing the mitzvot for HaShem.
May we all be zocheh to fully serve HaShem in this way!