Another View On How Torah Protects
A few years ago, in a post entitled What Is The Mechanism Via Which Torah Protects?, I discussed the concept that Torah protects from harm. This is found in several passages in the Talmud, such as with statements about how Torah scholars protect the army, or in the account of how the sotah can be at least temporarily protected from her punishment by virtue of the Torah that she enables her husband and sons to study. According to the mystical view, Torah study creates spiritual energies and thereby metaphysically influences the universe. The notion of Torah providing protection is interpreted by mystically-inclined people in line with this; learning Torah creates a sort of metaphysical protective force-field, similar to that created by mezuzah around one’s home. As one Beit Shemesh rabbi said when the Grodno yeshivah relocated from Ashdod to Beit Shemesh during Operation Cast Lead, “the yeshivah is providing an ‘Iron Dome’ for Beit Shemesh.”
On the other hand, the pre-mystical classical understanding of this concept was that it related to the personal merit of the person studying (or enabling the study of) the Torah, rather than a metaphysical protection provided by the act of Torah study itself. (See that post for a discussion of the practical ramifications of this with regard to whether yeshivah students today can be said to be providing protection for the State of Israel.) The Talmud’s presentation of this concept is usually not phrased as “Torah study protects” but rather as “Torah scholars are protected.” It refers to the person who has performed the act rather than the act itself. Just as Sodom could have been saved in the merit of righteous people, so too righteous people can create a merit which leads to the machinations of enemy forces being divinely repressed. Likewise, in the discussion of the sotah, it speaks about the zechus, the merit, of Torah and of the sotah enabling her family’s Torah study. Torah study provides protection due to its creating a merit on behalf of the person studying it (assuming that the person is indeed supposed to be studying Torah), which changes the divine plans for that person.
But I recently found another rationalist explanation of the concept of the Torah's protection in the commentary of Meiri (to Sotah 21a). He explains: “Torah protects the world – i.e., that the Torah scholar influences others, and his wisdom enables society to endure.” Meiri is removing all supernatural components from this concept. In his view, the meaning of the statement that Torah protects the world is simply that Torah scholars, with their wisdom, influence society for the better, thereby enabling it to thrive. For many, this will be seen as distasteful and even heretical. Still, this is what Meiri says, and there can be little doubt that Rambam would have explained it the same way. Fascinating!