No Breach in Our Street

Psalm 144: No Breach in Our Street

In this chapter, King David acknowledges God's help and deliverance in his battles against treacherous nations. The chapter concludes with a prayer for robust sons and courtly daughters, plentiful crops and peaceful streets.

"Our leaders ('alufeinu') are burdened; there is no breach and no (rumors) going out, and no outcry in our streets." [Ps. 144:14]

Many of the commentaries translate the word alufeinu as 'our cattle' - a reference to the healthy state of the livestock. The Talmud, however, interpreted alufeinu as 'our leaders' or 'our teachers.' "Our leaders are burdened" - they are heavily laden with responsibilities in Torah and mitzvot [Brachot 17b]. What about the end of the verse - the wish for tranquil streets, without breaches and outcries? What do Torah scholars have to do with quiet streets?

Burning Dishes in Public

The Talmud explains that this is a prayer that our teachers not be plagued by errant students. The rabbis noted that even the greatest scholars and prophets suffered from deceitful disciples and associates. King David's chief counselor was the traitorous Ahitophel, who supported the revolt of Absalom. King Saul employed the talebearing Doeg the Edomite, who was responsible for the slaughter of the people of Nov. And the prophet Elisha had to endure his greedy servant Gehazi.

As the Talmud explains: "'In our streets' - that we will not have a son or a student who burns his dish in public." To 'burn one's dish' means to follow a ruinous and heretical path. Doing so 'in public' means that one has openly promulgated such a path, thus leading others astray.

Still, this curious idiom needs greater clarification. Ruining one's dish, Rav Kook explained, is an appropriate metaphor for one who perverts the words of Torah for erroneous and dangerous ideas. The food itself is wholesome, but the dish was burnt and ruined. So too, the words of Torah are certainly correct and noble; but the wicked misuse them for devious and deceptive purposes.

Where did the erring student go wrong? He saw his teachers expounding the words of Torah, using exegetical methods in a sincere and genuine manner. The student thought that he too could establish a new vision - but one contradictory to the fundamental beliefs of the Torah. For this reason, the reference to the errant disciple is inferred from the word birchovoteinu - literally, 'in our streets,' but also meaning, "in our expansion," i.e., our methods of expanding and elaborating the Torah's teachings.

This is certainly a matter requiring earnest prayer: that no insincere students misuse the tools for interpreting the Torah to distort the true meaning of the words of God.

[adapted from Ein Ayah vol. I, p. 87]

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