Pesachim 53-54 Yom-Kippur candles and positivity

In loving memory of my dear father, Moreinu haRav Avraham Benzion ben Azriel Hertz Isaacson zt’l, whose love of Torah, passion for justice, and acts of kindness inspire everything I do.

The Mishna on daf 53a had discussed a difference in customs regarding whether to light candles for Yom-Kippur or not.

Unlike shabbos eve, where lighting candles was a universally accepted obligation, Yom Kippur eve had no such consensus in this regard, and whereas in some locations there was a practise to do so, in others, the practise was to refrain from this.

Keeping with the general requirement to follow local custom, the Mishna ruled that everyone must follow the custom of his place.

The Gemara pointed out that this was not an issue of being stringent or lenient ,as is the case in many of the customs we have discussed- rather, there was strong reasoning on both sides, both related to the same concern.

Rashi explains that on the one hand, if there is a candle lit on Yom-Kippur, people will be more likely to refrain from sexual relations due to the added prohibition of having such relations by the light of a candle.

On the other hand, if one can see one’s wife on the night of Yom-Kippur, one is more likely to be attracted to her and tempted to transgress the more severe prohibition of actual sexual relations.

Whereas some explanation is needed for both above claims, the Gemara sees this as an example of how two communities can have opposite customs both with righteous intentions, applying the  passuk “ועמך כולם צדיקים לעולם ירשו ארץ. (“and your nation are all righteous people, they will forever inherit the land!)

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Towards the bottom of daf 53, the Gemara presents a debate that took place while Ullah was travelling on his donkey, accompanied by Rabbi Aba and רבה בר בר חנה.

This centred around whether one makes the bracha בורא מאורי האש  on a candle during havdala after Yom-Kippur, or whether this bracha is reserved for motzai-shabbos exclusively.

רבה בר בר חנה had been  quoted as claiming that Rabbi Yochanan ruled like the later view, and Rabbi Aba queries Ullah about this.

He asked Ullah whether it was true that Rabbi Yochanan had agreed that one only makes the bracha  בורא מאורי האש  on motzai shabbos, and not motzai Yom-Kippur, and Ullah responded initially by giving Rabbah bar Chana a “bad look.”

He then explained that when he quoted Rabbi Yochanan, it was not regarding this law, but rather regarding a different debate regarding Yom Kippur that fell on shabbos.

רבה בר בר חנה then relented and accepted that Ullah was correct.

We should note that receiving a “bad look” from someone, particular a Torah leader, is not a simple thing, recalling how Rabbi Yochanan when angered by  a student’s heresy, stared at him, and turned him into a pile of bones. (see Bava Basra 75a )

Yet in this case, Rav Yosef seems to see this “bad look” in a positive light, praising Ullah for the ability to communicate his disapproval with a look rather than by verbally attacking רבה בר בר חנה, and praising רבה בר בר חנה for his ability to note such disapproval and accept it, applying  a relevant passuk in משלי  to both of them.

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We have learnt two amazing lessons in positivity, the one regarding how we view opposing halachik views as both coming from a place of righteousness, and the other regarding the benefits of using non- verbal communication to resolve disputes without the confrontation that usually comes with a war of words.