Keneged Kulam Redux
A few weeks ago, I wrote a post entitled K'neged Kulam!, about how the phrase Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam is an exaggeration and does not actually mean that learning Torah is as important as everything else together. While many people appreciated the post, one reader told me this week that his chavrusa became apoplectic with rage! Anyway, one reader submitted a superb insight, which I subsequently added to the original post, but which many readers may not have seen and which deserves attention.
The version that we say in Shacharis, which has a long list of mitzvos regarding which it is said that Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam, is not the original text. The original text is a Mishnah in Pe'ah, where it lists only three mitzvos, and then says Talmud Torah K'neged Kulam. This text also has a corresponding text regarding sins, which is found in the Tosefta in Pe'ah. It states as follows:
על אילו דברים נפרעין מן אדם בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לעולם הבא: על עבודה זרה ועל גלוי עריות ועל שפיכות דמים, ועל לשון הרע כנגד כולם.
For these things a person is punished in this world, but the principle remains for the World-To-Come: Idolatry, forbidden relationships and murder. And lashon hara k'neged kulam.
Lashon hara is bad, but is it really worse than idolatry, adultery and murder? Of course not. After all, you don't have to sacrifice your life rather than say lashon hara! (This reminds me of a kiddush I attended last Shabbos, where a speaker quoted something about talking during davenning being like murder. A friend seemingly found it necessary to explain to his son that it doesn't mean that it's actually as bad as murder!) Obviously, Chazal's point is to emphasize the severity of lashon hara, which can be far-reaching in its effects.
So, Talmud Torah is equal to all other mitzvos in the same way that lashon hara is equal to idolatry, adultery and murder. I.e., not really.