Pesachim 8 from Corona to Searching for chametz: Do Torah and Mitzvos protect us from danger?

Without prejudging this issue, I would like to daven that in the zechus of this and all the other learning we do, My dear father שליט”א , and teacher of so much Torah to so many, should have a refuah shleimah.

One of the most emotionally, politically, and religiously charged topics in Israel during the Corona outbreak has been the closure of shuls, Torah schools, and Yeshivos in order to prevent the spread of the disease.

On the one hand, preservation of life is one of the most sacred principles in Judaism, and one is not only permitted, but required, to transgress all commandments, except for murder, idolatry, and sexual immorality, in order to save lives (Yoma 85b,Sanhedrin 74a.)

On the other hand, not only is Torah study and prayer considered to be pillars of our and the entire world’s existence (Mishna Avos 1/2,) there is even some evidence that at least some Chazal considered both Torah and the commandments to have protective, or even healing power (see Sotah 21a.)

Despite this possibility, however, there is also a clear prohibition against intentionally using the words of Torah to heal  (see Shvuos 16b,Sanhedrin 90a/101a) opening the door to a third approach whereby learning Torah and performing mitzvot for their own sake might be permitted despite the existence of dangers in doing so, due to this protective power.

The subject is complex, and there are many sugyos that need to be studied to even get a superficial view of the issues involved.  In the context of a daf post like this, I wish to study the topic as it appears in this daf, what seems מוכרח (indisputable) from it, and what possibilities are left open.

Near the bottom of Pesachim 8a, the Gemara brings a Beraisa which states that we do not require a person to put his hand into holes and cracks in order to find chametz (rather a visual inspection with the candle is sufficient.)

The reason given for this is due to the danger involved.

The Gemara, in questioning what this danger is, rejects the possibility that it is the danger that a scorpion might be hiding in one of the holes and cracks, because it was normal to use these holes and cracks (in the walls) for storage (otherwise one would not be required to search there anyway, as only places where chametz is kept need to be searched.)

The rejection of this concern can be explained in two ways:

  1. One would not use holes and cracks for storage if scorpions were found in them due to the danger, so the danger almost certainly does not exist.
  2. There is indeed some danger of scorpions in the holes and cracks, but as it clearly did not stop one from using them for storage, it is clearly not enough of a concern to exempt one from the mitzva.

An important נפקא מינה (practical ramification) would be whether one is liable to take reasonable every-day risks for the sake of a mitzva.

If the reason that the danger factor is rejected is because we are referring even to places where scorpions are not find in holes in the wall used for storage, it could follow that in places where people used holes in the wall for storage despite the risk of scorpions (whether this is permitted or not,) there might still be no obligation to take this risk in order to perform the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ.

On the other hand, if the danger factor is rejected because we are dealing with places where despite the danger of scorpions, people still take the risk and use the holes, it would follow that in the case of a reasonable every day risk that people take, such a risk might indeed be obligatory for the sake of a mitzva like בדיקת חמץ .

It should be noted that given that, at least when בטול  is performed, בדיקת חמץ  is only דרבנן (a rabbinical requirement,) extending the exemption due to this level of danger to biblical obligations, though possible, should not be taken for granted based on this sugya alone.

After rejecting the possibility that the Beraisa is exempting one from searching holes or cracks in the walls for chametz, it concludes that we are dealing with searching in the holes formed in the heap of a collapsed wall.

Though it does not state precisely what the danger is, Rashi takes for granted that this concern is indeed due to scorpions, seeing as scorpions are far more common in garbage dumps and heaps.

Despite the more significant danger involved in this case, the Gemara is still troubled by the Beraisa’s exemption, due to the principle stated by Rabbi Elazer that     שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין  (those on a mission to perform a mitzva are not harmed.)

This principle seems to indicate that a person merits protection while performing a mitzva, and that even if there is a real danger of scorpions in the pile,  the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  will protect him.

It is important to stress that we see from here that this principle, whatever it means, applies even to a rabbinical mitzva!

After some give and take, the Gemara seems to accept the fact that although a real concern normally, the danger of scorpions is not sufficient to exempt one from the search, due to this rule.

It concludes that the danger mentioned is that once the mitzva is over and the protection it affords is no longer active, he might continue feeling for a lost item and get stung by a scorpion while doing so.

We see from here that whatever protective power a mitzva has, it ceases to function once the mitzva is complete, even if one does a voluntary action that one would not have done had he not performed the mitzva.

Alternatively, Rav Nachman bar Yitchak suggests that the danger referred to is not that of scorpions but of his non-Jewish neighbor, who might find his actions suspicious and suspect him of practicing witchcraft against him.

The Gemara once again attempts to refute this with Rabbi Elazer’s principle that שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין  and concludes that “היכא דשכיח הזיקא שאני” (where danger is “שכיח”  , it is different.)

The word שכיח  is the Aramaic equivalent of the Hebrew “מצוי”, literally translated as “found or present” but most often refers to “common.” (note that in a similar discussion in Yoma 11a, the phrase  (fixed)קביע הזיקא  is used, and as the same prooftext is brought, it seems that the two are equivalent at least to some degree.)

It follows that  where the danger is common (such as a non-Jewish neighboring accusing a Jew of witchcraft,) as opposed to danger that is real but less common (such as a scorpion being present in the hole at the time or stinging one when he puts his hands in) the principle  may not be relied upon.

We can now attempt to list a hierarchy of dangers, regarding the applicability of the principle of שלוחי מצוה אינם נזוקין .

  1. A situation with no significant danger (such as holes in the wall in a place where scorpions are hardly ever found.)- There is no need for this principle, and it is obvious that the mitzva must be fulfilled.
  2. A situation where there is some risk of danger, but it is a normal risk accepted in every day life  (Equivalent or similar to what Chazal call “דשו בו רבים”  in other contexts such as Shabbos 129b and Yevamos 12b- It is possible that  here too there is no need for this principle, and the mitzva must be fulfilled even without it, but it is also possible that in the absence of this principle, there would be no obligation to take the risk, even if its permitted to do so voluntarily.
  3. A situation where the danger is significant enough that one would normally avoid it in every-day life, but not in the category of “common.”

The principle would require one to take the risk for the sake of a mitzva.

  1. A situation where the danger is common ,the principle is not relevant, and one is exempt from the mitzva.

The above analysis, though already complex, deals solely with the question of whether one is obligated to take risks to perform mitzvot and not whether one is permitted to do so voluntarily, a topic for another discussion.

It also fails to tackle the actual meaning and mechanism behind the principle, and the fact that we see In front of us many cases where people have been harmed, even by freak occurrences, in  the performance of a mitzva  (see Kiddushin 39b for example re שלוח הקן)

We have to bare in mind the possibility that the principle is less a statement of fact, and more of a halachik principle (as well as a kind of hope, blessing or prayer), which defines certain types of risk that one would normally avoid as obligatory when it comes to performing mitzvot.

The sugya ends with Rav being asked whether his students who live far away in the valleys should risk harm in order to go early and come back late from the study-house.

His response was that he took the responsibility for any harm that comes to them on himself.

Once again, there are two possibilities for understanding what he meant:

  1. Rav admitted that some risk was involved, but was prepared to take responsibility for the risk, given the enormity of the mitzva of Torah study. Such a willingness to risk other people’s lives would certainly require further discussion.
  2. Rav believed that due to Rabbi Elazar’s principle, there was no risk at all, and they would not be harmed (see Rashi who seems to understand it this way!)

Whereas this explanation appears easier to understand ethically, it is harder to understand on a factual basis.

Although the Gemara does not elaborate on the level of danger that was involved in making this daily journey before dawn and after dark, it seems clear that it was great enough that people would normally be hesitant to risk it for non-mitzva related purposes, and despite that fact, Rav still encouraged them to come for the sake of Torah study and took the risk on himself.

It is also necessary to point out that the above analysis applies to an individual taking certain levels of danger on himself for the sake of a mitzva- none of these examples directly deal with endangering other people or the public in general for the sake of one’s own personal mitzva or Torah-study, or endangering the public for the sake of a public mitzva or public Torah study, though the above case of Rav and his students might come closest to this.

I do not intend to come to practical conclusions regarding the current situation from this analysis- there are far too many other sugyot to analyze  (see for example Yoma 11a which seems to include monetary risk in the exemption, Kiddushin 39b regarding שילוח הקן, Kesubos 77b regarding חולי ראתן, Sotah 21a regarding the מים המאררים ,as well as what might be a completely different approach to the entire idea of שלוחי מצוה אינם ניזוקין   in the Rambam and the Meiri)  and I leave this to senior Talmidei-Chachamim, but what seems certain from this sugya is that

  1. A certain level of significant risks that people normally try to avoid in their everyday lives wherever possible not only may, but MUST, be taken for the sake of mitzvot, even rabbinic mitzvot, and even more so for Torah study.
  2. There is a level of risk which may not be taken even for the sake of mitzvot.

Finding the balance between the above two levels of risk, is not simple, but is essential to make practical decisions in this and other situations.

Eruvin 63 and 64    Could today’s Gedolim have “Ruach haKodesh” Part 2

In the post on Eruvin 60/61, We discussed various interpretations in the Rishonim of the phrase “דברי נביאות”  attributed to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi by Rav Idi.

Whereas most Rishonim do not seem to see this as referring to actual prophecy or “ruach hakodesh,” and some even see it as לגנאי ( a critical statement,) we saw that the Rabbeinu Yitchak, quoted in Tosfos, takes this almost literally and understands it to be referring to actual “ruach hakodesh,” based on a Gemara in Bava Basra.

We mentioned the famous and oft-cited Beraisa that states that “ruach hakodesh” departed from Israel after the death of the last prophets, and suggested that it is due to this Beraisa that most Rishonim did not wish to understand that Rav Idi attributed real “ruach hakodesh” to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

We also discussed the ruling of the Divrei Chaim that a teacher who claimed that the Ohr haChaim did not have “ruach hakodesh” was a heretic and that removing him from his post was the correct thing to do (though he was not willing to rule regarding the monetary implications of this.)

We pointed out how this ruling seems to be contradicted by the above Beraisa, and that the implication of that Beraisa is that even Hillel did not have “ruach hakodesh,” so the teacher appears  at first glance to have said nothing inappropriate.

Although I left the post without coming to any conclusions and noted that the view of the Tosfos, Ramban and the sugya in Bava Basra would be discussed in a follow-up post when it is next relevant to the daf (my intentions were of course for today’s daf,) I  received an unusual amount of both positive feedback and pushback for it.

I even received a mild and friendly rebuke from my Rebbe, Moreinu haGaon haRav Mendel Blachman שליט”א  for seeming to make light of the words of the Divrei Chaim, whose status as one of the great Torah authorities is debated by none- although I thought it was completely clear that this was not my intention, I wish to clarify again that I was merely attempting to build the sugya in an orderly and exciting  manner and was always fully aware that the Divrei Chaim was fully aware of the Beraisa and had his own explanation thereof.

I was also pointed by more than one to the Gemara on our daf today, which I had already planned on discussing at the appropriate time, which seems to be a clear proof for the approach of Tosfos, at least in theory.

Given the danger of people jumping to premature conclusions and not understanding the purpose of these posts, something I clearly need to be clearer about, I have decided to leave my planned post on Eruvin 62 and 63 for another opportunity and try to address  these issues as soon as possible.

The Gemara brings a Beraisa which narrates  how Rabban Gamliel was riding his donkey and Rabbi Ilai was riding behind him (this is a shortened version-please see the daf for the full version.) They saw a loaf of bread on the road, and Rabban Gamliel picked it up and told Rabbi Ilai to take it. They carried on and saw a non-Jew whom Rabban Gamliel addressed by his name, מבגאי  and told to take the loaf from Rabbi Ilai.

Rabbi Ilai then asked the non-Jew where he was from and what his name was. The non-Jew told him where he was from and that his name was מבגאי. Clearly surprised that Rabban Gamliel had “guessed” his name correctly, he asked the non-Jew whether Rabban Gamliel knew him, and he answered in the negative.

The Beraisa says that we learn from this that Rabban Gamliel כון (directed his thoughts) with “ruach hakodesh.” It also brings 3 other rules that we learn from this story, something we need to come back to a little later.

It seems clear as daylight that the author of this “Beraisa, and the Amoraim who brought it, attributed “ruach hakodesh” to Rabban Gamliel, even though he lived long after the last of the prophets!

There are also various other primary sources that attribute “ruach hakodesh” to other great Tannaim, among them  Rabbi Akiva (see Ran/Nedarim 50b) and Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai (פסיקתא דרב כהנא יא) .

How do we reconcile this with the Beraisa that holds that “ruach hakodesh” departed with the last of the prophets, and that even Hillel never had “ruach hakodesh?”

Several possibilities can be entertained, among them:

i.                    These are contradictory Beraisa’s, reflecting two different views amongst Chazal, and there is no need to reconcile them. Although legal, this approach needs to be reconciled with the Amoraim  who brought each Beraisa, and given that it is not just an aggadic discussion but one that could have major practical ramifications (such as the case in the Divrei Chaim,) one would expect the Gemara to acknowledge such a debate if it indeed existed. It is also an answer of last resort, as the way of Chazal was always to try and avoid machlokes wherever possible and rather reconcile apparently differing views as much as possible.

ii.                  We could be dealing with different types of “ruach hakodesh,” in which case we would need to clearly define each type and prove that such a distinction in fact exists. We shall focus on this approach in more detail below.

iii.                It is possible that נסתלקה רוח הקודש  was not a total end to this experience but rather a general removal whereby it would not be a regular “as needed” experience for all people who merit it, but only an occasional experience by the greatest of people. This could fit well in the context of the Mishnayos and sugya at the end of Sotah, where other things such as chasidim and the wealth of Torah scholars which are said to have ceased after certain key figures died clearly did not disappear completely  (see Beis Shlomo O.C. 112 who makes this point.)

It is thus very plausible that the Beraisa did not mean to say that Hillel and Shmuel haKatan NEVER experienced “ruach hakodesh” but rather that it was not a common experience for them like it was for the Neviim, and/or of a lesser quality.

Evidence for this can be found at the end of this very Beraisa, where we are told that Shmuel haKatan predicted the fates of many of the Tannaim on his death bed, something we also see with Rabbi Eliezer when visited by Rabbi Akiva (Sanhedrin  68a.)- Of course it is also possible that the death-bed of the greatest of people provides a flicker of “ruach hakodesh” not provided during life.

The fact that Rabbi Ilai was so surprised by Rabban Gamliel’s ability to identify the man’s name also attests to how unusual this was, even for Rabban Gamliel, as does that fact that Rabban Gamliel does not seem to have known the halachic status of the loaf via “ruach hakodesh.” (the later point could also indicate that when it comes to halachik rulings, “ruach hakodesh” is not a factor due to the rule of “לא בשמיים היא ” ,or that even unique individuals like Rabban Gamliel did not get assistance via “ruach hakodesh” when it comes to halachik matters. “

Of course, the fact that there were still people great enough during the Tannaic period to merit the occasional “ruach hakodesh,” does not mean that this extended into the period of the Amoraim or later.

Even according to Tosfos who understood that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi had “ruach hakodesh,” it should be pointed out that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi formed part of the transition period between the Tannaim and Amoraim, and also had his own very unique qualities  ( see Shabbos   156a regarding פנקסו של ריב”ל  or Kesubos 77b regarding חולי רעתן for examples of this.)

Yet the sugya in Bava Basra that Tosfos brings as support, as understood by the Ramban, paves the way for distinguishing between different types of “ruach hakodesh” and attributing one type thereof to a far wider circle of Torah scholars as well as on a far more regular basis.

The context for the discussion there regards the law of dividing up shared property.

Such property may only be divided up at the insistence of one of the partners if it is large enough to be divisible into two viable portions for each partner, otherwise mutual agreement is necessary.

Shmuel’s father and the Tana Sumchus are of the view that when it comes to a vineyard, the minimum size  that is called a “vineyard” is one that can produce 3 kav .  Rabbi Yossi comments that these words of Sumchus  are דברי נביאות , the same expression we saw back on Eruvin 60b.

This leads into the words of רב אבדימי דמן חיפה  who states that from the time of the destruction, prophesy was taken away and given to the חכמים, implying that Rabbi Yossi’s statement is a positive statement attributing prophecy to Sumchus  (though see רי מגש who does not understand it this way at all.)

The flow of the sugya and the various interpretations thereof in the Rishonim are too long to analyze in this post, but the view of the Ramban is so critical to our topic that we have to at least give it a rudimentary treatment.

אלא הכי קאמר אף על פי שנטלה נבואת הנביאים שהוא המראה והחזון, נבואת החכמים שהיא בדרך החכמה לא נטלה, אלא יודעים האמת ברוח הקדש שבקרבם

“rather, this is what he is saying- Even though the prophecy of the prophets, which is the sight and the vision, was taken, the prophecy of the wise-men which comes through the way of wisdom, was not taken- rather they know the truth through the “ruach hakodesh” inside them.”

The Ramban seems to be describing a type of prophecy that comes through the “ruach hakodesh” inside the sages which is a product of their wisdom, and that this type of prophecy was not taken away and remained with the sages.

What the Ramban does not do is explain our Beraisa in Sanhedrin that says that ruach hakodesh departed when the last prophets died.

It is clear historically that the last prophets lived well into the period of the Babylonian exile, after the destruction of the first Temple.

In the absence of the continuation of the sugya in Bava Basra, the story on our daf and other similar cases, it could be possible to suggest that there were two stages:

1.       The era of prophecy proper ended with the destruction but remained with the wiser prophets through “ruach hakodesh” for some time and this is the type of prophecy that the last of the prophets experienced in the exile.

2.       When these last sage-prophets died, this “ruach hakodesh” via wisdom type of prophecy also departed.

Yet from the continuation of the sugya in Bava Basra where various Amoraim bring examples of this wisdom-derived prophecy in every-day life, this does not appear to be the case, and cases like those of Rabban Gamliel on our daf also make this suggestion implausible.

It thus seems most likely that just like there are two types of prophecy, there are also two types of “ruach hakodesh” and that the “ruach hakodesh/prophecy” inspired by wisdom outlived the time of the prophets well into the period of the Tannaim, some of the greatest of whom were endowed with it.

It is also possible that this wisdom related “ruach hakodesh” of the Ramban never completely ceased and that at least some of the greatest sages of each generation too have some degree of it, according to their merit, though whether this “ruach hakodesh” simply assists one’s natural intellect to come to correct halachik conclusions or goes so far as to allow one to discern secrets and predict the future is also not clear- whereas the case of Rabban Gamliel certainly seems to involve the later, the examples brought by later Amoraim in Bava Basra seem more focussed on the former.

What seems clear from the case with Rabban Gamliel, however, is that at least the type of “ruach hakodesh” which gives “supernatural” knowledge of facts or possibly even the future, is NOT  a regular event, and was not even experienced by most Tanaim, let alone later authorities- otherwise it would not have been recorded as a novelty.

This is further substantiated by the case in Eruvin 63a of the student of Eliezer who transgressed the serious prohibition of ruling in halacha in front of his Rabbi.

Rabbi Eliezer told his wife that that student would not live through the year, and it was.

When asked whether he was a prophet, he replied that he was not, but that he simply had a tradition that someone who makes a halachik ruling in front of his Rebbe deserves to die.

We see that Rabbi Eliezer’s wife was very surprised that he seemed able to see the future to the point that she asked him incredulously whether he was a prophet- This in itself shows that it was certainly not the norm for great Tannaim to be able to see the future.

Unless it was said merely out of humility, Rabbi Eliezer’s answer also makes it clear that he did not consider himself to have this ability either, and given the context of the sugya which discusses this prohibition and its punishment, this is likely to be what it he meant (though it is still difficult how he knew that the punishment would occur within the year and that it would definitely take place, given that he could always repent and be exempted from this punishment- perhaps he did experience some form of “ruach hakodesh” and his answer was indeed out of humility? Either way, we certainly see that this was certainly not the norm by the Tannaim.)

Back to the wisdom-derived form of “ruach hakodesh” discussed by the Ramban, The Divrei Chaim in the earlier quoted teshuva makes it clear that it is this type of “ruach hakodesh” that he is referring to, and it appears that he had reason to believe that the teacher had denied that the Ohr haChaim had even this kind of “ruach hakodesh,” something he saw as an extreme sign of disrespect for someone he held up as one of the greatest sages of his time.

Whether this is the final word on the subject, whether the teacher indeed had that kind of “ruach hakodesh” in mind, and whether the view of the Ramban is indeed compatible with the view of many of the other Rishonim is beyond the scope of this  post  – much has been written on the subject and I hope we shall get a chance to revisit this again- the reader is encouraged to pursue this topic further outside the scope of this post, obviously based on authoritative sources only.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Eruvin 60 and 61 Do Gedolim have “Ruach haKodesh”

In a rather unusual responsa, Rav Chaim of Sanz (the Divrei Chaim,) founder of the Sanz dynasty of Chasidim (Y.D. 1/105,) dealt with the issue of a school teacher who had told his students that Rabbi Chaim Attar, author of the famed “Ohr haChaim” super-commentary on the Chumash, did not write his work with “ruach haKodesh” (“holy spirit-“ loosely translated as “divine inspiration” and possibly described as a form or means of prophecy.)

The teacher was fired from his position, and the Divrei Chaim was asked whether this was the correct decision, to which he responded in the affirmative, going so far as to say that the author of any great Torah work who is fit for it, can be said to have ruach-hakodesh.

This position seems rather problematic at first glance, given that the Gemara (Sanhedrin 11a and various other places) brings a Beraisa which states that ” משמתו נביאים האחרונים חגי זכריה ומלאכי – נסתלקה רוח הקודש מישראל, ואף על פי כן היו משתמשין בבת קול (Once the last prophets, Chagai, Zecharia, and Malachi died, “ruach haKodesh” departed from Israel, and nevertheless,they would make use of a “bas kol.”

It continues to tell how a voice from heaven once proclaimed that there was someone worthy of having the שכינה rest on him like Moshe Rabbeinu, but the generation was not worthy, and the sages assumed it was referring to Hillel!

This Beraisa seems to imply a number of things, among them:

  1. Ruach hakodesh is tied to prophecy, and when prophecy ceased, so did it.
  2. Even arguably the greatest sage of the early Tannaic period, Hillel himself, did not have “ruach hakodesh.”

The Divrei Chaim’s claim is also particularly ironic, given that the Ohr haChaim himself (Bereishis 6/3 ( states emphatically that there is not even a ריח (smell) of “Kodesh” left in our time, never mind “ruach hakodesh.” (thanks to )

Yet at the bottom of Eruvin 60b, Rav Idi quotes an important rule regarding Eruvin in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi.

Although there is a rule that an entire city (at least a walled one) is considered like 4 amos, and thus counts very little towards the 2000 amos a person is allowed to walk on shabbos, this rule is not absolute, and only applies in certain circumstances.

For example, if a person’s shabbos base is outside the city, and the city fits in its entirety into the 2000 amos of his techum, it only counts as 4 amos and he earns the rest of the length of the city in the same direction on the opposite side of the city. (כלתה מדתו בסוף העיר)

However, if the 2000 amos of his techum ends somewhere in the middle of the city (כלתה מדתו בתוך העיר) , then the city counts as part of the 2000 amos, and he may not move past the point where it ends, even within the city itself.

After reporting this view in the name of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, Rav Idi comments that “אין אלו אלא דברי נביאות” (lit- these are only matters of prophecy), as on a logical level, there should be no difference in the law between the two cases.- either the city should count as part of the 2000 amos either way, or be considered as 4 amos in both cases!

Rava then takes issue with Rav Idi’s comment by bringing evidence from the next Mishna that this distinction indeed exists, after which Rav Idi holds his ground and explains the Mishna in a way that it does not serve as precedent for our case, in a discussion that carries over onto Eruvin 61a.

There are various ways to interpret the comment of Rav Idi regarding Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling being “דברי נביאות”

  1. This could be understood literally as coming to praise and agree with Rabbi Yehoshua’s ben Levi’s words by saying that they were derived prophetically by him , without any earlier source or logical principle to back them up. This is the approach that Tosfos takes, bringing another sugya (Bava Basra 12a) to back up his view. In Tosfos haRosh, the Rosh seems to take a similar approach.
  2. Rashi, possibly unwilling to entertain the notion that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi experienced prophecy or even “ruach hakodesh,” takes a more nuanced view of this approach. He too, understands that Rav Idi views the ruling of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi positively and as being, at least to some extent, prophetic, but does not attribute this prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself. Instead, he explains that in the absence of any logical or textual evidence for his rule, he must have received it as a tradition from his Rebbe going back to something heard מפי הגבורה (by Moshe from Hashem) at Sinai! This explanation is also brought by the Ritva.
  3. Rabbeinu Chananel, seemingly unwilling to treat this ruling as any form of prophecy, seems to understand that Rav Idi simply meant that it was a גזירה of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi himself, without textual support or obvious logical basis. He also seems to understand that Rav Idi meant to weaken Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s statement, not strengthen it.
  4. As mentioned above, it is also possible that Rav Idi is not coming to strengthen the status of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling, but rather to weaken it, and possibly even rule against it. His labelling of his words as דברי נביאות could be somewhat sarcastic, as if to say that the only way he could have come up with something like that was through prophecy, which he clearly did not have.
  5. Without going so far as in the above point, it could be that Rav Idi is attributing a certain degree of prophecy to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, but views such a source for halacha as inferior to one grounded in textual and/or logical support, and perhaps unauthoritative, given the principle of לא בשמים היא.

The Rif and the Rosh both state that we rule like Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi because Rava brings a Mishna to support them, even though Rav Idi was able to explain the Mishna differently. Though they point out that Rav Idi’s main intention was not to rule differently, it seems that they acknowledge that he indeed did hold differently, or at least made his comment to weaken the authority of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi’s ruling rather than strengthen it. A similar approach can also be seen in the Meiri.

It seems clear from the above that most Rishonim do not take the comment of Rav Idi to mean that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi actually had prophecy and/or “ruach hakodesh, even if this is the most simple reading of the text.

It seems compelling that the reason they did not do so might well be because this would contradict the often quoted earlier source that “ruach hakodesh” and “prophecy” are either equivalent or at least go together, and that both ended with חגי זכריה and מלאכי .

The Tosfos, on the other hand, who do understand Rav Idi’s comment literally, need to deal with this issue, and this takes us into a study of the sugya he quotes in Bava Basra, as well as a fascinating Ramban, which I hope to go into in a couple of days when we revisit this discussion, Hashem willing.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Eruvin 54 Beruria, Learning out loud, and Torah as a cure

In loving memory of our dear Rosh-Yeshiva of Yeshiva-college, South Africa, Moreinu haRav Avraham Tanzer of blessed memory, and as we daven for a Refuah Shleima for ALL those ill with COVID-19 and other diseases שיבדלו לחיים , among them Maran haGadol R’ Chaim Kanievsky שליט”א , and the Karliner Rebbe שליט”א. We also have in mind that great friend of Israel (אולי ככורש בדורו) , President Donald Trump- it goes without saying that we leave politics out of all the above.

As we continue to be cut-off from the batei-midrash and shuls that we hold so dear, one of the things that we all miss while learning at home is the constant buzz of Torah-learning that emanates from these sacred places.

Our halls of study are a stark contrast to the (at least officially) silent libraries and study-halls of the great universities, and are brought to life by the sounds of students and their chavrusos (study-partners) learning out loud, or even screaming in learning at one another.

This distinction is so sharp, that while I was investigating the possibility of zoom providing a feature to simulate this buzz online while still allowing people to focus at a higher volume on their chavrusos, I was told that there is simply no request for such a thing and the technology does not exist!

Our daf begins with the continuation of a story where the famous wife of Rabbi Meir, Berurya rebuked a certain student for learning silently.

We would be remiss in pointing out how despite her tremendous status in learning herself, she seems not to have allowed her own status as an אשה חשובה (“important” or noble woman) to diminish her respect for the teachings of Chazal, including even the seemingly “chauvinist” early ruling of Rabbi Yosi ben Yochanan of Yerushalayim: אל תרבה שיחה עם האשה (do not chat too much with women), something she admonished none other than Rabbi Yosi haGalili for at the bottom of the previous daf!

(This makes a cryptic Rashi who explains the מעשה דברוריה referred to by Chazal (A.Z. 18b ) as a case where she made light of Chazal’s statement that נשים דעתם קלות even harder to explain, but that’s for another discussion, Hashem willing!)

Back to her rebuke of this student, she based this on the passuk “ערוכה בכל ושמורה” (set out in everything and looked after)- “If one’s Torah is set out in all 248 of one’s limbs ( learnt with one’s entire body,) it is looked after (and endures), otherwise it is not.”

The Gemara continues bringing various other statements about the importance of learning out loud, among them the case of a certain student of Rabbi Eliezer who learnt silently and forgot his learning after 3 years.

This leads into another discussion regarding the healing powers of Torah:

One of the pessukim brought to highlight the importance of learning out loud is “כי חיים הם למצאיהם ולכל בשרו מרפא “- the word מצאיהם is read for the purposes of this derasha as מוציאיהם and the passuk is thus rendered as “They (the words of Torah) are life for all those who bring them out (of their lips) and a cure for all his flesh.”

After the Gemara brings various other pessukim to show that the recommended action for one who has a headache, stomachache ,sore-throat, or pain in the bones is to יעסוק בתורה , busy oneself’ with Torah, it uses the second part of the above-quoted passuk (a cure for all flesh) to show that the remedy for pain in the entire body is also to busy oneself with Torah!

However, we also know from earlier discussions (see my posts on Shabbos 61 and 67) that using the Torah as a source of healing can be problematic, to the point that it is a severe prohibition to whisper a verse in order to heal a wound (see Mishna Sanhedrin 11/1) and Shvuos 15b)- this prohibition is taken so seriously by the Rambam, that he writes (A.Z. 11/12) that one who does this has not only transgressed a serious prohibition, but has made light of the Torah which is meant as a cure for the soul, by turning it into a bodily cure like mere medicine.

Whereas the above Rambam rules that it is permitted to say Tehillim for someone who is healthy so that the merit of learning Torah will protect him, he seems to view even the common practise of saying Tehillim for someone who is ill as incorrect, based on this prohibition. Yet it seems pretty clear in the verse we have quoted and the Gemara’s derivation from it that the Torah is indeed a cure for the entire body and that learning Torah as a remedy for physical pain is indeed recommended!

I am not sure how to reconcile this piece of Gemara with the Rambam, and I am not even sure if the Rambam viewed this possibly aggadic material to be authoritative enough to affect his ruling, which is based on how he learnt other more clearly halachik sugyas, but one must certainly acknowledge that a simple reading of this Gemara seems to indicate that Torah is certainly a valid therapy for physical pain, whether this effect is psychological or metaphysical.

One of the things that is most characteristic of great Torah personalities is the constant sound of Torah that comes from their lips- Everyone who knew the late Rosh Yeshiva, Rabbi Tanzer זצ”ל, remembers the almost constant sound of Torah and prayer emanating from his lips, whether he was at home, in his office, or the Beis-Midrash and shul, as well as when he was not feeling so good.

His learning was a constant song of praise to Hashem, and his signature hum displayed the sheer pleasure he got from his Torah and davening- Who can forget the melody of his signature “הבוחר בעמו ישראל באהבה…שמע ישראל ” or “אני מאמין” and the traditional Yeshivish chant to which he sang the words of Chazal that he learnt and taught?

May our own learning reveal the joy of Torah that he taught us, and may the merit of his Torah and all the Torah we learn because of him truly protect all of us from this terrible plague and all the other challenges life brings us, ודיה לצרה בעתה.

And may Hashem soon spread out upon us the ultimate place of Torah and protection , the fallen Sukkah of David, from where the sounds of the greatest Simchas haTorah imaginable will once again emanate, as we celebrate Simchas beis hashoeiva and hafakos in the newly-built Beis haMikdash, במהרה וימינו אמן.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 152-153 Are the dead aware of what we do?

At the bottom of daf 152, Rav Yehuda tells us that if a dead person has no comforters, we need to get together 10 people during the mourning period and sit at his grave.

Rashi explains that this is referring to someone who has no relatives mourning him, and thus no people coming to comfort them.

The implication of Rav Yehuda’s ruling is that the comforting mourners that we perform is not only done to make the mourners feel better, but also to “comfort” the dead person during his transition to the afterlife.

The Gemara brings a case where someone died in Rav Yehuda’s neighborhood.

They brought 10 people to his grave for 7 days- at the end of the 7 day mourning period, the dead person appeared to Rav Yehuda in a dream and told him that his mind could now be at rest, seeing as he had put his mind at rest.

Rabbi Abahu then makes the incredible statement that whatever is said in front of a dead person can be heard by him, until the grave is sealed.

Another view is brought that he can hear everything said in front of him until the flesh of the body has disintegrated inside the grave.

Towards the end of the daf, the Gemara relates how a heretic once confronted Rabbi Abahu and asked him about our belief that the souls of the righteous are buried under Hashem’s throne of glory.

If this is indeed true, said the heretic, how could the sorcerer have brought back the prophet Shmuel from the dead, as accounted in Shmuel I 28- how could his calls be heard from so far away?

Rabbi Abahu answered that this was done during the 12 months after death, when the body has not yet disintegrated, and the soul still moves up and down between the gravesite and the throne of glory.

The idea that the soul somehow remains tied to the body as long as it has not disintegrated and keeps getting pulled back to the grave sounds bizarre enough and rather chilling indeed, but Tosfos is not content even with this.

Based on other sugyos, Tosfos claims that even after 12 months, when the soul has found its rest, it can still come back to the gravesite and hear what is going one there when it so desires.

The Gemara then makes another statement which seems to imply that a person can tell by listening to his own eulogies whether he is going to the world to come or not.

This is dependant on how much people cry for him, once aroused to do so by the person delivering the eulogy.

Abaya then asks a rather shocking question of his Rebbe, Rabbah, the leading sage of the time.

He asked how Rabbah would be able to tell at his funeral if he was going to the world to come, seeing as everyone in his hometown of Pumbedita hated him!

The idea that the Torah leader of the generation could be hated by the people might sound crazy to the modern mind, but Tanach and the rest of Jewish history are unfortunately full of such cases where the people resent their leaders for rebuking them and speaking truth to power.

Rashi explains that the people of Pumbedita were particularly dishonest and got into a lot of trouble in court with Rabbah.

It is even more bizarre to imagine that the leading Torah center of Babylon was filled with dishonest people who hated their Torah leader, but once again, unfortunately this is not such a novel phenomenon in our history.

We often have the worse situation where Torah leaders are exploited by the corrupt masses and unable to stand up to their pressure, but here, we how the leading Amora of the period stood up to them, like the prophets Yeshayahu, Yirmiyahu, Amos, and other like them had done, and paid the price in terms of popularity.

Seemingly unphased by the question, Rabbah replied that Abaya himself and another sage called Rabbah bar Rav Chanan would deliver such effective eulogies that even those people would be stirred to tears, and that would be the sign he needs that he is going to the afterlife.

The idea that the dead are conscious of what is happening in this world, particularly at the site of the grave during the 12 months after death, is far from taken for granted in Torah sources.

The passuk (Koheles 9/5) says: והמתים אינם יודעין מאומה – “the dead do not know anything.”

In discussing the prohibition against saying words of Torah not related to the dead person at a grave, in order not to mock the dead, the Gemara (Brachos 18a ) questions this entire prohibition based on the above possuk- after all, if they do are not conscious of what is going on even at the grave-site, why should it matter to them if one learns Torah there?

After a long discussion, the Gemara fails to come to a conclusion in this matter, but does seem to hold that at least in matters that affect them, the dead are aware of what is happening, which would solve the issues raised in our sugya.

The Gemara (Taanis 16a) asks why we visit graves on fast days, and two answers are given.

The one answer given is that it is a way of declaring to Hashem that we are like the dead in front of him (totally lifeless and unable to help ourselves.)

The other answer given is that it in order that they will ask for mercy on our behalf.

Although even the first answer does not suggest that we direct our prayers at the dead themselves (something highly problematic), it does suggest that our presence at their graves somehow gets them to intercede on our behalf, something which seemingly would require them to be aware of what is happening at their gravesite, even after the initial 12 month period.

The author of the second answer, in contrast, might not be comfortable with the idea of the dead being aware of our visit, or alternatively, believe that even if they are aware, they are unable to pray on our behalf- “לא המתים יהללו קה”- the dead do not praise Hashem (Tefillin 115/17), nor do they perform other commandments such as praying.

For him, the visit might be less about invoking the assistance of the dead and more about humbling ourselves before Hashem.

Shabbos 115-116 Saving Holy scrolls, amulets, and the Torah of a heretic

On Daf 115b, we are told that even though it is permitted to save holy scrolls from a fire on Shabbos (understood by the Gemara as moving them to somewhere which only involves a rabbinic transgression), blessings and amulets, even if they contain scriptural verses with Hashem’s name, are not included in this leniency, and must be left to burn.
One possible reason for this is that they simply do not have the necessary level of holiness warranted to transgress shabbos for, albeit on a rabbinical level.
This could be backed up by the parallel sugya (Shabbos 61a) which proves that even they are not holy enough to warrant shabbos transgression, they certainly do require burial if damaged, and leaves open the possibility that one might even be forbidden to take them into the toilet.
Another possible, though, is that there is actually something wrong with these things and/or the person who wrote them, and although the earlier sugya would require a rather creative reading in order to justify such an interpretation, there is certainly much evidence pointing in this direction as well.
Rashi, as an example of a verse written in such amulets, gives the example of כל המחלה אשר שמתי במצריים לא אשים עליך (all the illnesses that I placed on Egypt, I shall not place on you- Shmos 15/26 ), an apparent סגולה (charm) against illness.
Yet we cannot ignore the fact that this is the very example used by the Mishna (Sanhedrin 90a) which, if chanted to cure a wound, renders the chanter part of the unenviable group of people who have no share in the world to come!
Although the Gemara there, and elsewhere (see earlier post on the subject) limits the scope of these harsh words to one who spits in the process, it is clear from the parallel sugya (Shvuos 15b) that using words of Torah to cure people is still completely forbidden, even if it doesn’t always warrant such a harsh punishment.
Furthermore, the Rambam (Avodah Zara 11/12) appears to ignore the opinion in the Gemara that limits its scope to one who spits, and rules that chanting pessukim for healing purposes is not only completely forbidden under the prohibition of superstitious practices, but also a form of כפירה (denial of the Torah…) in that he turns words of the Torah, which are supposed to be medicine for the soul, into medicine for the body… (See Kesef Mishna who deals with this at length.)
Perhaps it is this kind of amulet or “blessing scroll) which is being referred to here, and that should be allowed to be burned, given that the writer showed almost heretical beliefs, as did the wearer?
In truth, on daf 116a, we are told similar things about a Sefer Torah written by a מין (heretic)
In a truly shocking statement, the Gemara tells us that a Sefer Torah written by a heretic is not be saved on Shabbos, and should be allowed to burn, together with its pessukim and divine names.
In fact, Rabbi Tarfon goes a step further and declares that should such a Torah come into his hands, he would physically burn it himself!
In discussing how it is possible to allow the name of Hashem to be destroyed, against the biblical prohibition of לא תעשון כן לשם אלוקיכם (do not do so [what you do to idolatry] to Hashem your G-d [Devarim 32/33 ], the Gemara replies that we learn this using a קל וחומר (fortiori) from the case of the סוטה (woman suspected of being unfaithful.
Just like the parchment with Hashem’s name on it is erased in order to make peace between man and wife (i.e. prove her innocence), so it can surely be erased due to the impact that the writers heresy has on the relationship between the Jewish people and our father in Heaven (by showing that we are faithful to him and reject a Torah written by one who is not,)
There is SO much to analysis here, so many nuances in the text, but one issue that needs to be stressed immediately is the need to define what a “heretic” is- it is clear from this sugya (and Rashi’s explanation of it) that this does not refer to anyone who practices idolatry, but only to someone who has experienced the truth of belief in Hashem and his Torah and intentionally rejected it- a very rare, if not non-existent phenomena in our times.
Yet even still, It is hard to imagine that a scroll that is physically identical to the Torah we all live by, and contains the same names of Hashem, can be allowed to burn, or even intentionally burnt, simply because of the heretical beliefs of the person who wrote them.
It seems, at least from here, that the notion of “accept the truth wherever it comes from,” which seems to be the simple meaning of the Mishnaic dictum איזהו חכם הלומד מכל אדם (Who is wise, one who learns from every man,” ]Avos 4/1] is rejected by Chazal, at least in this case.
Whatever happened to the idea that דברי תורה אינם מקבלים טומאה (words of Torah do not become impure?), the basis for the accepted view of Rabbi Yehuda ben Beseira that a baal keri does not have to go to mikva before learning Torah or davening (Brachos 22a and Chullin 136b), but also used by the Rambam to permit even a Nidah to touch a Torah? (Tefillin ,Mezuzah,veSefer Torah 10/8)
This rules implies that a Torah cannot be impurified by virtue of an impure person touching it, so why should a person of impure views (heresy) invalidate a Torah simply by being the one to write it?
In addition, how do we explain the words and actions of Rabbi Meir, who continued to learn from his Rebbe, Elisha ben Abuya, now known as אחר ( someone else) , after he became a heretic, On the basis that he removes the dirty peel and eats the clean fruit on the inside. (Chagiga 15b)
How do we explain the way the Rambam so often quoted Aristotle in matters that he agreed with him on, using similar arguments, if the words of a heretic are to be burnt?
The late Chief Rabbi Dr Hertz of the British empire, in his famous Chumash which was arguably the most used English translation in the pre-Artscroll days, makes use of this dictum and even quotes friendly Christian bible scholars in his commentary when he feels what they say is appropriate, something he admittedly received much criticism for, particularly with the rise of the Artscroll generation, but also by senior Talmidei Chachamim.
In fact I recall this very debate as a teen growing up in Johannesburg, where the Hertz Chumash was the gold standard for English translations in the traditional Orthodox Shul’s of Johannesburg, and was used all the time by my father שליט”א at home and many other leading Rabbis in the community.
My high School Rebbe, Rav Eliezer Chrysler, שליט”א, is one of those Talmidei Chachamim who truly made a long-lasting impression on me in many great ways, even if we have not always agreed on ideological matters.
He is a man who displays one of the greatest examples of Ahavas Torah (love of Torah) I have ever seen, to the point that he used to give his daily Yomi class to a tiny group of dedicated people at a time when daf Yomi was not exactly well known in South Africa ( I was not one of those committed people, unfortunately.)
There were times when no-one showed up for the shiur, but he nevertheless continued as usual, literally giving the shiur into the tape recorder!
Rabbi Chrysler comes from the English Chareidi Gateshead school, as unsurprisingly, used to often discourage us from using the Hertz Chumash, due to his quoting the explanations of “heretics,” a view that I myself took on for at least a large part of my youth, and still certainly take into account, but which is arguable, given the very limited definition of a “heretic” referred to earlier on. (it could be that it was bothered more by the idea that the commentaries were of non-Jewish origin than necessarily written by heretics, based on the dictumחכמה בגויים תאמין תורה גויים אל תאמין [Eicha Rabbah 2/13])
Yet in another twist and turn in this fascinating discussion, when it comes to learning Torah from someone who is not a good role-model, Chazal take an even stronger stand and rule that “If your Rabbi appears to you to be similar to an angel, then learn from him, otherwise do not learn from him.” (Chagiga 15b)- This is indeed the difficulty the Gemara there raises with Rabbi Meir’s actions!

It is unlikely that this requirement for a Torah teacher to be a perfect role model in all ways can be taken literally, at least on a pragmatic level, and in case, people are not supposed to be angels as evidence by the famous rule of לא ניתנה תורה למלאכי השרת (the Torah was not given to angels.)
In fact, in a seemingly contradictory statement, Chazal tell us that if you have seen a Talmid Chacham who has sinned at night ]Brachos 19a] (probably a reference to sins in the sexual realm, such as forbidden sexual acts, or wasting of seed ) , do not think badly about during the day, as he has probably done Teshuva.
This shows clearly that we do not expect Talmidei Chachamim to be sin free like angels, but rather to not only accept their teshuva, but to give them the benefit of the doubt and assume they have done Teshuva, rather than make them prove their angelic qualities. (It seems obvious that this does not apply to one who is a danger to others, or one who refuses to acknowledge his errors and has clearly NOT done teshuva.)
Yet at a bare minimum, the statement quoted earlier can be seen to giving a very message as to how students can and should demand the highest standards of example-setting from their teachers.
Perhaps, the answer lies in the type of flawed individual we are dealing with.
To sin is human, and even great people sin. They are to be held to account and liable to repent, but not rejected once they have done so.
However, when a person shows intrinsic negative character traits, it is a completely different matter.
One’s teacher might indeed be forgiven for sins, particular those that do not harm other people, but he certainly must be expected to show almost angelic character traits- after all, דרך ארץ קדמה לתורה (polite behavior comes before Torah.)
The classic heretic of our Gemara is completely rejected not because of his sins, or even his worship of idols, but because he shown the worst possible character traits possible- a lack of הכרת הטוב and rejection of what he knows to be true.
His sin is so severe because, to paraphrase the pessukim quoted by the Gemara, he has seen the truth of Hashem and his Torah, but deliberately thrown it behind the door, out of the way.
Such a person cannot be a Rebbe, nor can his Torah be saved, and his Torah is in fact so tainted that Rabbi Tarfon would have physically burnt it himself.
As the Neviim ,various statements of Chazal, and of course the Rambam among others have stressed so many times (think for example of the Midrash which describe the blood pouring out of the curtain when the enemy entered the Temple), holy items and practices are not magical charms- they only holy because they serve as a way of improving our relationship with Hashem- when they fail to do this, they are as good as burnt already.
In contrast, it can be argued that someone who has sinned by using words of Torah to heal, but who has good intent and certainly has not rejected Hashem and his Torah, should not be in the category of a heretic to the point that we would physically burn his amulets, and Rabbi Tarfon certainly did not make any suggestion that amulets should be burnt- their products do not have the necessary level of holiness to override the shabbos, but they if damaged, they certainly should still be treated with respect and buried.
One must of course, still take into account Rambam’s harsh words which indeed do seem to equate using Torah to heal with heresy- perhaps he would hold that abusing the truth of Torah which a person has experience for physical gain (particularly when money is made from them ) is also a sign of bad character traits which deserve the most severe of sanction.
Yet the truth is that as pointed out in earlier posts, the Rambam himself follows the Gemara in allowing amulets from proven experts to be worn on shabbos for at least for protection, probably for psychological reasons, and it is doubtful that he would condemn one who writes them to help someone, even on a psychological level, as a heretic.
As such, I tend towards preferring our earlier suggestion, that the reasons for allowing amulets to burn are completely different from the reasons for allowing the Torah of a bona fide heretic to burn, or even physically burning it.

I also suggest that we should differentiate between a person who sins like all people do, even perhaps with a degree of heresy, but afterwards repents or at least comes from a sincere place, and someone whose flawed character traits lead him to deny the Torah he believes in, for the sake of his own convenience.
Let us recall that according to Chazal, the Jewish people never worshipped idolatry because they believed in it, but rather in order to permit forbidden sexual relationships to themselves )Sanhedrin 63b)- although this is sometimes quoted as a relative positive, according to what we have said, it might actually be a negative- they experienced the truth of Torah , had absolutely no intellectually honest way of rejecting it, and knew that idolatry was meaningless, yet threw their beliefs behind the door in order to be able to live a lifestyle antithetical to Torah values.
Perhaps, this is why Rabbi Meir was able to still see the good in his Rebbe and learn the good things from him- Elisha ben Abuya was probably not the classic heretic of flawed character described here who knew the truth but conveniently and/or intentionally buried it.
He was more likely a very sensitive and great individual who lost his faith due to very traumatic experiences he encountered. His peels had become dirty, but he was clean and sweet on the inside!
This can be backed up by the case which is blamed for his heresy- the boy who climbed up to the roof on his father’s intructions to perform the Mitzva of שלוח הקן (sending away the mother-bird), which together with honoring parents is a specific mitzva for which long life is promised, and fell off the tree and died.
This might be somewhat comparable to the holocaust survivor who was simply unable to come to terms with the horrors he saw and how they could reflect the promises made by the Torah, particularly given the facts that the pious and religious Jews of Eastern Europe were amongst those most affected.
This heresy is incorrect and not to be encouraged, but it is also not to be condemned in the same way- it is a heresy that stems from a beautiful and sensitive character, and such people are still redeemable, still role models in other areas and worthy of learning from, and ultimately to be drawn close, not pushed away.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

Shabbos 98 Miracles and technical matters

את חטאי אני מזכיר היום
I have admitted before that technical matters are not my strong point, and like many others, I usually tend to glide over the more technical sections of the Tanach and Talmud, without really understanding what is going on.

Hence, when it comes to Parshas Teruma, and other similarly styled parshiyos , I have a particularly hard time getting though the required weekly שניים במקרא ואחד תרגום (reading the weekly portion twice in Hebrew and once in the Aramaic translation/commentary of Onkelus.)

The depth of the technical descriptions of the makeup and precise dimensions of the Mishkan and its vessels simply are not recognized easily by me, and even when they are , the required level of focus and mental visualization usually proves too much for me- I thus usually land up making do with a quick leining- style reading and move on to the more conceptual or contemporary topics that seem to match my talent set better.

However, one takes oneself with wherever one goes, and such human weaknesses always come back to haunt us, not only each year, but also whenever we get to parts of the Talmud that analyze these matters, which given the nature of the Shas, can pop up in the most unexpected places.

Seeing as so much of the laws of Shabbos are derived from the work of the Mishkan, it is inevitable that at some point, they will lead back to the technical descriptions in the relevant verses of the same.

Our daf is one of those moments, and a discussion of whether a public domain covered by a roof is similar enough to the public domains in the biblical camp of Israel to be considered as such regarding the law of passing and carrying, takes us to a discussion of the wagons that were used to transport the components of the Mishkan, in particular its beams, and status of the enclosed space between them.

This in turn takes us to a discussion of the properties of the beams themselves and the bars that reinforce them, which brings us to a rather cryptic passuk that describes the central bar.

Each beam was 10 Amos (handbreadths) tall, 1.5 Amos wide, and 1 Amah thick (at least at the base.)

20 beams thus made up the 30 Amos length of the Mishkan on both the North and South side.

Another 6 beams made up the 10 Amos width, with 2 other beams on either side to fill the gaps.

Various bars were placed along the length of the planks, with one central bar in the middle.

The passuk tells us (Shmos 26/28) “והבריח התכון בתוך הקרשים מבריח מן הקצה אל הקצה” (and the main bar in the midst of the beams should run from one end to another.)

The simple meaning of this verse seems to imply that the wooden bar ran all the way from the south-eastern corner of the Mishkan, to the north-eastern corner, making a perfect right-angled turn twice along the way, a somewhat challenging if not impossible task for any carpenter, as Rashi on our daf points out.

So much so, that a Beraisa teaches that the middle bar of the Mishkan was put and held in place miraculously!

Tosfos, however, quotes the ר”י (Rabbeinu Yitchak, one of the leading Tosafists, who brings another Midrash that holds there was no miracle here at all.

It explains simply that the 2 lower and 2 upper rows of beams each contained 5 separate beams- One went from the south-east corner half -way down the southern wall of the Mishkan, another from there till the south-west corner. Another then covered the western wall, and the other two similarly covered the northern wall.

The main “beam”, in contrast, consisting of only 3 separate beams, one for each of the 3 walls, and when the passuk says that it went from one end to the other, it means from one end of each wall to the other end of the same wall, not along the entirety of the 3 walls!

Whereas this is far from the simple meaning of the verse, and requires one to interpret “the main beam” as the 3 “main beams of each wall”, as well as the “5 beams” of each side as the “5 sets of beams of the southern and northern side and one set of beams of the western side”, it allows us to explain this completely naturally without resorting to a miracle.

This seems to illustrate that the debate over how common miracles are and whether to try and interpret seemingly miraculous descriptions in the sacred texts in a natural way where possible, commonly largely ascribed to the Rambam and the Ramban (for another post) , is in fact a much older debate, amongst the sages themselves!

Another example of this can be found in the story of Rav Huna and his wine cellar (Brachos 5b)

The Gemara tells how a financial tragedy befell Rav Huna (who seems to have been either a wine merchant or a very serious collector), where 400 barrels of wine went rancid (turned to vinegar.)

On visiting him to, two other Amoraim respectfully advised him to investigate his financial affairs to see if he had done something to deserve this huge loss.

After some debate, he admits to something seemingly rather minor (and perhaps not even strictly forbidden-another post some time bli neder) and commits to making it right.

One opinion then tells us that that a miracle took place and the vinegar turned back into wine!

Another narrative is then suggested that it did not really turn back into wine, the price of vinegar simply went up and matched the price of wine!

While the later case shows a debate as to whether the reward he received was through a supernatural miracle, or an unlikely natural event that took place at the precise time it was needed, also a form of miracle, albeit a natural one, we again see two different views regarding whether to interpret events as supernatural miracles, or to explain them in a natural way where possible!

When one studies the original Talmudic sources in depth and breadth, rather than just reading summaries of far-reaching debates and controversies amongst the Rishonim and even contemporary authorities , one often sees how the debate can be traced back much further than one originally thought.

The later Amoraim after do that with a dispute amongst earlier Amoraim, with the claim of כתנאי (claiming that this argument is actually based on an earlier debate amongst the Mishnaic sages)

Is there any reason why we should not attempt to do the same with the disputes amongst the Rishonim?!