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 http://parsha.blogspot.com/2011/07/or-hachaim-that-we-no-longer-have-ruach.html?m=1 )

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 55 The extended techum and Table Mountain continued, and self-sacrifice for Torah

Today’s daf has a solid mix of aggadic material and a return to the technical rules regarding how to work out the extended shabbos domain of a city.

I wish to start with the halachik side of the daf, כדרכינו בקודש, even though some of  the aggadic material precedes it, and hope to return to the Agadot thereafter.

For the sake of clarity, the אגדה includes all content in the Talmud that does not involve the halachik (legal) process, including מדרשי אגדה  that comment on the narrative portions of the Tanach or complement them and ethical and other advice- see מבוא התלמוד attributed by many to Rabbeinu Shmuel haNagid, one of the first of the Rishonim  and published at the back of מסכת ברכות  for his exact definition, though note that his view on the source and authority of agada is subject to much debate amongst the Geonim, Rishonim and later authorities (my in-depth Hebrew article on this subject is currently work in progress.)

We have already learnt that the general rule is that the techum (shabbos domain) of a city in which one is permitted to walk on Shabbos  stretches to a maximum of 2000 amos (between about 800-1000 m) from the last house in the city’s halachik borders (recall that 2 houses separated by 141 amos or more of empty space might be considered halachically to be in 2 different “cities.”

We have also seen recently that this applies in theory, but that in practise, the distance one may walk from the last house of the city might be significantly more, for 2 reasons:

  1. The limits of the city proper might stretch significantly beyond the last house, such as when the shape of the city is irregular (non-rectangular or grid-like) in which case some open space might be included in these limits themselves.
  • The techum of the city, while theoretically stretching 2000 amos from the end of the city-proper, is effectively measured by placing a rectangular block at the corners of the city and not a circle, meaning that while the shortest this techum will extend is 2000 amos, at the diagonals, it will extend significantly more (by pythagorus.)

The first rule is not applied universally, and one needs to be familiar with all the different shapes discussed in the sugya and which other shapes would be treated like these shapes, before jumping into using this potentially very useful tool.

For example, while a circular city has a square circumscribed around it, including the empty-space outside the circle but inside the square in the city proper itself, and a trapezium seems to be  viewed as if it is was the smallest rectangle that it could fit inside, a rectangular city is left as is, and  a parallelogram could be more complex.

There is also some discussion as to whether the square needs to be on the North-East-South-West axis of the world or can face any direction.

One of the more fascinating shapes describes is the עיר העשויה כקשת – a city in the form of a bow (or rainbow.)

The Beraisa  initially taught us that we draw a fictitious line from the one extreme of the bow to the other (this line is known as the יתר and represents the string which would be pulled back by the arrow before the arrow is released ) and view all the empty space between this line and the houses of the city as part of the city-proper, measuring the techum from this line.

However, Rav Huna rules that this only applies if the length of this line is no more than 4000 amos, allowing someone whose shabbos base or house is in the middle of this line (the spot where the arrow would be placed)  to walk to the city within his own 2000 amos (see Rabbeinu Chananel for his full explanation.)

However, if the length of this line is more than 4000 amos, the empty space is not included in the city limits, and the techum is measured from each individual house.

According to Rabbah bar Rav Huna, the space between the bow and the middle of the line also needs to be less than 2000 amos in order to include the empty space in the city proper, but according to his son, Rava, this is not necessary, and Abaya supports  his lenient view, seeing as anyone in the city could reach the middle of the  line by walking first to the end of the city.

Tosfos suggests that  according to Rava son of Rabbah bar Rav Huna, if the distance between the bow and the line itself is less than 2000 amos, the 4000 amos  restriction on the length of the line might not apply due to the same reasoning of Abaya- the midpoint of the line could be accessed through the 2000 amos or less route to the bow itself- this too is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Tosfos further assumes that the 4000 amos limitation on  a bow-shaped city does not apply to the case discussed earlier where a house or row of houses  protrudes outside the grid of the city. In such a case, even if it is more than 4000 amos to the fictitious parallel row of houses we draw on the opposite end, the empty space is included in the city proper. 

Although he attempts to explain the reasons for this distinction, he admits that the Ri (one of the two most senior Baalei haTosfos) holds that this limitation applies to that case as well. Once again, this topic has generated much discussion and debate amongst the Rishonim and can also affect L shaped cities.

Though there is so much more to learn and understand regarding the above and other related issues (those whose appetite has been whet might enjoy the extensive treatment of this issue in the Rashba, Ritva, Meiri and other Rishonim) ,it is now clear that including the empty natural space between the extremes of an irregularly shaped city is far more complex than it might have originally seemed.

We are not even close to theoretically allowing climbing table mountain on shabbos or Yom-Tov  even without the other multiple halachik challenges one would face (though as per accompanying images from google Earth, it seems that the “Lions Head” Mountain might fall completely within the techum of Cape Town City, and at least on Yom-Tov where carrying is less of an issue, with the guidance of the local Rabbis and eruv experts, the gorgeous trail up and down MIGHT indeed be permissible.

In the beginning of the daf, various explanations are given of the passuk “לא בשמיים היא ולא מעבר לים היא  ” – (it is not in heaven nor is it on the other side of the sea.)

I would like to focus for a minute on the explanation of רב אבדמי בר חמא בר דוסא  who derives by implication that although the Torah is indeed reachable for us, even if it were not, we would be liable to reach to the sky and cross the sea in order to get it.

There are times indeed when Torah goals seem unobtainable to us, and although we should be encouraged by the fact that in essence, they are vey much obtainable, we need to push ourselves and be prepared for self-sacrifice in order to achieve these goals despite how unobtainable they seem.

The Rosh Yeshiva זצ”ל , Rabbi Tanzer, was a prime example of someone for whom no goal was too far away when it came to his life’s mission of spreading Torah.

Starting with the literally huge distance diagonally over the Atlantic that he set out on together with his young wife, leaving behind their friends and extended families in an era of very limited communication for what was at first envisioned as a 2 year stint in Africa, he moved onto the virtually impossible goal of turning what was then a virtual spiritual wasteland into a vibrant Torah center.

This was not a job he fulfilled from the ivory tower of an office, or even a classroom, but one that took him literally from door to door begging parents to enroll their children in his fledgling Torah day-school.

Almost 6 decades later, the Yeshiva College campus has served  as the largest center of the Johannesburg Jewish Community and educated generations of students who span the Jewish world, from Rabbis and Torah teachers to businessmen and professionals, as well as some combinations of both.

Returning briefly to the more technical parts of daf, the rather superficial summary we have done above and the fastest reading of the daf reveals how an understanding of mathematics is essential to being able to make the complex calculations needed for taking full advantage of the shabbos techum- One also clearly needs some conception of how much a factor raw mathematics was in Chazal’s reasoning, something that only a good knowledge of both Chazal’s methodology and mathematics would allow.

Though those who knew him know that Rabbi Tanzer was first and fore-most a Rosh-Yeshiva who was most at home in the Beis-Midrash and who got the most joy out of those students who went on to become serious Torah Scholars, he always pushed his students to excel in their general education as well, creating a generation of students with the knowledge required not only for their chosen careers, but also for understanding many areas of Torah that are beyond the reach of those who lack this knowledge.

The Gaon of Vilna, broadly considered the greatest Torah figure in many centuries, was famous for stating that it is impossible to fully understand the Torah without understand all the forms of general (I prefer not to use the term secular) wisdom (see “haGaon” by D.E. Eliach for citation) , something he himself accomplished, and though neither he nor our Rosh Yeshiva would encourage one to give more priority to general studies than to Torah, chalila, I personally have found great benefit from the general education I received under Moreinu haRav Tanzer and his team, not just in my business, but most importantly in so many areas of my Torah Study.

Although reaching the wisdom of the Vilna Gaon is certainly like reaching for the sky, and building en empire of Torah like the Rosh Yeshiva did is certainly also above most of us, we can learn from him to be prepared to try our absolute best, and if we do so, the results will speak for themselves, with Hashem’s help!

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.

Petira of the גרז”ן

Baruch Dayan haEmes
תורה תורה חגרי שק
מורינו הרב הגרז”ן זצק”ל

This has been a year of aweful losses around the word, and in the world of Torah leadership, it has been just devastating.

Rav Zalman Nechemya was a legend throughout the Torah world, one of a few giants in all areas of Torah who was able to find himself equally revered in both the Chareidi and religious Zionist worlds.

For those of us who received our semicha from him, enabling us to achieve so much in our lives of spreading Torah, the sense of grief and loss is immeasurable.

May his family and thousands of talmidim and musmachim be comforted in his tremendous legacy and continue to spread Torah in his merit.

יהי זכרו הקדוש ברוך.

https://mobile.kikar.co.il/article/372305

Eruvin 7 A philosophy of stringencies or leniencies


There is a tendency in parts of the Torah world to err on the side of caution in all halachik matters and take on the more stringent opinions in all areas of halacha.
On the other hand, there is a tendency amongst other sectors to constantly search for  leniencies, picking and choosing the easier opinion in each area of halacha.
Are either of the above policies legitimate, or is one perhaps required to choose one or more recognized halachik authorities and follow their views in every area of halacha, irrespective of whether they are lenient or stringent?
On the previous daf, we recorded a dispute between Rav and Shmuel regarding how to close off a מבוי מפולש (alley open to the public domain at both ends.)
Rav ruled leniently like the Tana Kama in the beraisa and held that a צורת הפתח (form of an entrance) on one end and a pole or beam on the other end was sufficient.
On the other hand, Shmuel ruled stringently like Beis Hillel according to Chananya, and held that a צורת הפתח was not sufficient on the one side, but doors were required.
We also saw a different dispute, also between Rav and Shmuel, regarding a    מבוי עקום (bent alley.)
Until then, we had been dealing solely with a straight, rectangular מבוי, closed along its lengths and open either on one or two ends.
This dispute, however, centered around an “L” shaped מבוי that makes a right-angled turn in the middle, but is still open at both ends.
As such, the one end is not aligned with the other, and it is unclear whether such a מבוי  is to be treated at each end as if it is only open on that end, making a pole or beam sufficient, or whether it is to be treated like a מבוי open on both ends to a public domain, and thus require one of the more stringent solutions discussed in the Beraisa .
In this case, Rav is stringent, and holds that it is to be regarded as open on both sides (מפולש), whereas Shmuel is lenient and treats it as if it is only open on one side (סתום).
When we combine both disputes, it comes out that such a מבוי does not require doors according to either Rav or Shmuel.
This is because:
1.       Although Rav rules that it is to be treated like a מבוי מפולש (open alley), he also rules like the Tana Kama that a מבוי מפולש (open alley) does not require doors on either side.
2.       Although Shmuel rules that a מבוי מפולש requires doors on one side, he rules that such a מבוי עכום is to be treated like a מבוי סתום (closed alley.)
 
Despite the fact that we have thus not found ANY authority who holds that a מבוי עכום  requires doors, the Gemara tells us that there was such a מבוי  in the city of Neharda, Shmuel’s home town, and the authorities treated it with the stringencies of both Rav and Shmuel, requiring doors on one side!
This means essentially that they “collected” the stringencies of both, treating it like an open מבוי in accordance with Rav, and requiring an open מבוי to have doors in accordance with Shmuel.
The Gemara is extremely bothered with this approach of collecting חומרות (stringencies,) due to a Beraisa that focusses on general principles applying to disputes between בית הלל and בית שמאי.
The Beraisa rules that the law is in accordance with Beis Hillel in all cases. Yet, one is permitted to choose which of them to follow (the Gemara later explains that this was only before the בת קול  (voice from heaven) that proclaimed that the law is always like Beis Hillel, or according to the view of Rabbi Yehoshua who did not accept the authority of voices from heaven, or that this statement refers to similar disputes amongst later sages that have not yet been resolved.)
The Beraisa, however, condemns those who rely on the leniencies of both of them, calling them “wicked,” and mocks those who follow the stringencies of both of them, applying to them the verse הכסיל בחושך הולך (“the fool walks in darkness”- Koheles 2.)
On today’s daf, 2 approaches are given to explain how the authorities in Neharda had not behaved like “fools” by being stringent like both opinions:
1.       Rav Nachman bar Yitchak is of the view that in practise, even Rav would not be lenient and accept only a צורת הפתח, a claim made already by Rav Huna.
2.       Rav Shizvi seeks to explain this even according to the view of Rav Ada bar Ahava that Rav was indeed lenient in practise. He interprets the Beraisa’s application of the term “fools” to those who practise the stringencies of both houses in a far more limited fashion.
He claims that this only applies when the two disputes are inter-connected, with the lenient view in the one case logically requiring a stringent view in the other, and vice versa.
Where the two debates are completely independent of one another, there is no issue with practicing the stringencies of both.
 
To support the second approach, Rav Shizvi brings the case of the “spine and the skull,” discussed in a Mishna (Ohalos 2/3)
This Mishna deals with the bones of a corpse that are considered like the whole corpse itself and cause everything in the same אהל (covered area) to become impure.
In contrast, most bones on their own do not cause such impurity, and only cause impurity to things that touch them.
It is universally accepted that the whole spine and whole skull, being the most essentially bones of the body, are treated with the stringencies of the body itself, and make everything under the same roof of them impure.
If the spine or skull is no longer whole, however, they are treated more leniently like any other bone.
There is a dispute between בית הלל and בית שמאי regarding how much of the spine or skull needs to be missing for it to no longer be considered whole.
Regarding the spine, בית שמאי holds that unless at least 2 vertebrae are missing, it is still considered whole and the more stringent rules of impurity apply. בית הלל, on the other hand, hold that as soon as one vertebrae is missing, the spine is no longer considered whole and the more lenient rules of impurity apply.
Regarding the skull, בית שמאי are once again stringent and hold that it still considered whole unless enough is missing to cause death in a living person.
בית הלל once again are more lenient, and say if the amount normally removed by a doctor’s drill (possibly in therapeutic  surgery) from a live person is missing from the dead man’s skull, it is already considered incomplete.
Rav Shizvi then refers to the ruling of Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel that the same criteria apply to the laws of טריפות (terminally injured animals.)
Missing pieces in the spine and skull before slaughter are counted amongst the terminal injuries that render an animal non-kosher even after proper slaughter.
In order for it to be considered “incomplete” and thus non-kosher, בית שמאי use the more stringent criteria they applied to a corpse, essentially making it harder for it to be considered non-kosher. This turns out effectively to be a leniency in the rules of kashrus.
בית הלל in contrast, use the more lenient criteria they use to release the spine and skull from the more stringent laws of impurity, in effect making it easier for the animal to be considered non-kosher, and thus creating a stringency in the laws of kashrus!
This means that in this case, a leniency in one area of halacha, namely impurity, logically requires a corresponding stringency in a different area, namely the laws of kashrus, and vice versa.
Thus being stringent in both areas, and applying the stringent laws of impurity to a spine missing only one bone, but also considering an animal with such a spine to be non-kosher, is logically inconsistent, as is applying the lenient laws of impurity but also considering it to be kosher.
In such cases, says Rav Shizvi, being stringent like both opinions is logically inconsistent and thus foolish.
A generally cautious and stringent approach to halacha in which the stringencies of different authorities are adopted is thus not considered like a “fool walking in the darkness”  according to his interpretation of the Beraisa, unless it leads to logically inconsistency in one’s behaviour.
It is not stringency per se that is the issue, but logically inconsistent behaviour.

A spine missing one vertebra is either considered whole or not, but cannot be both whole and incomplete.

In order to develop a broader approach to this issue, a number of questions need to be raised, among them:
1.       IS Rav Shizvi’s interpretation of the Beraisa only brought in order to reconcile Rav Ada bar Ahava’s view that Rav was lenient in practise regarding a צורת הפתח in a מבוי מפולש, but Rav Nachman bar Yitchak would still prefer the original and  simpler interpretation of the Beraisa that considers collecting stringencies in general to  be a foolish and dark approach?
2.        If this is not so, we would need to explain why Rav Nachman bar Yitchak doesn’t make the obvious distinction that Rav Shizvi makes and instead chooses a view of Rav that is subject to debate.
3.       If Rav Nachman bar Yitchak indeed favors the original and simple approach, do we accept his broader view of the “fool in the dark” or the more limited interpretation of Rav Shizvi?
4.       If Rav Shizvi’s distinction is to be accepted, does this apply only to the Beraisa’s mockery of the chronic מחמיר  (one who is stringent) or does it also apply to the Beraisa’s condemnation of the chronic מקיל   (one who is lenient.) On the one hand, he only makes the distinction regarding stringency, but the need for consistency within the wording of the Beraisa seems to indicate that it applies equally to leniencies. If this is so, he would see no “wickedness” in “collecting” leniencies from different authorities, so long as they are not logically inconsistent with each other.
 
 
Answering these questions requires a thorough study of all parallel and related sugyos  and the Rishonim who comment on them. As this is way out of the scope of this post, we shall have to wait for future opportunities to revisit this topic!


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 2 Introduction, Technical measurements and clean language.

I was discussing my daf posts with my friend and colleague, Rabbi Matthew Liebenberg of Claremont Shul, Cape-Town, and he tried to warn me that keeping up the pace and variety of posts will be much more challenging when we get to Eruvin, which is known as a particularly complicated and technical masechta.

Though I could not deny that I share a degree of concern, I replied that Eruvin is actually one of my “favorite” tractates, assuming it is possible or appropriate to say such a thing. In addition to being filled with fascinating and extremely practical rules essential to understanding the practicalities of Eruv building, something almost all of us need to know, it also contains many general ideas and topics that apply to all of Torah holistically.

This combination of material typical of the Gemara can be found right here on the first daf as well.

The thrust of the first daf deals with the technical requirements for a quiet side-street or alley to be considered a private domain on Shabbos.

The typical neighborhood in the times of Chazal (as can still be seen in some older neighborhoods of Yerushalayim) consisted of a מבוי – a short and narrow side-street or alley which opened to the main public thoroughfare on 1 or 2 sides.

Various חצרות (courtyards) opened to this central מבוי and each courtyard had houses that opened to it.

מדאורייתא ( at a biblical level,) any area enclosed on 3 sides (the exact number of sides/partitions is subject to debate later) was considered a private domain, and carrying within it was permitted.

As such, as far as biblical law is concerned, it is permitted to carry from one house to another within the courtyard, from one courtyard to another within the common מבוי , or within the courtyards or מבוי , so long as the מבאי is only open on one side to the public domain.

If the מבוי is open on two sides to the public domain, it is more complex, as the מבוי itself could be considered part of it.

Our Mishna and sugya deals with a מבוי that is closed on 3 sides and only open on one side to the public domain.

We see later that there is a rabbinical requirement to symbolically mark or enclose such a מבוי with either a pole on one side, or a beam going from one side to the other (there is some debate about these precise requirements as well.)

Our Mishna focusses on the maximum height that this pole or beam may be, as well as the maximum width of the open side, and rules that if they are higher than 20 amos (arm-lengths/cubits) or wider than 10 amos respectively, they need to be lowered or narrowed.

Rabbi Yehuda disagrees and says there is no such requirement.

It is unclear from the Mishna whether Rabbi Yehuda holds that the fourth side can be of infinite height or width, or whether he too places a limit on this, but simply a higher or wider one, but it would seem that if the later is correct, one could have expected him to say what this limit is.

The Gemara notes that a similar maximum height is discussed regarding a Sukkah (Sukkah 2a,) but the language used there is different.

Whereas in our case, we are told that a מבוי that is too high needs to be lowered, regarding Sukkah, we are simply told that it is פסול (invalid.)

As in both cases, lowering it is both compulsory and effective, the difference in language needs to be explained, and the parallel sugya in sukkah asks the very same question and gives the very same answers.

Two answers are given :

  1. Seeing as the Sukkah is דאורייתא (biblical,) the Mishna uses the word “invalid.” As the pole or beam of aמבוי are only rabbinical requirements, the mishna simply tells us the תקנתיה (solution.)
  2. The later language is also appropriate in theory for the biblical requirement of Sukkah, but seeing as a Sukkah has multiple constraints, each requiring a different solution, the Mishna chooses one word that applies to all of them, for the sake of brevity. Rashi explains that this is based on the principle (Pesachim 3b) that one should always teach one’s students using concise language.

There are various approaches in the Rishonim as to how to understand the first answer.

Rashi seems to understand that when the Gemara contrasts the biblical Sukkah with the rabbinical מבוי , it is not referring to the actual requirement of dwelling in a Sukkah or putting a pole or beam on a מבוי, even though the distinction certainly applies to that as well, but to the maximum height of the Sukkah and the מבוי.

We derive the maximum height of a sukkah from a verse in the Torah: למען ידעו דורותיכם כי בסוכות הושבתי את בני ישראל (“So that your generations will know that I placed the Jewish people in sukkot” -Vayikra 23/43.)- the Sukkah has to be low enough for the roof to be noticed.

As such, this requirement predates the writing down of the mishna by far, and it is appropriate to say that it is already invalid.

In contrast, the requirement to mark a מבוי with a pole or a beam itself is only rabbinical and its maximum dimensions are also. Seeing as the Mishna is the first to teach us these maximum dimensions, it is not appropriate to label the מבוי as already invalid but only to tell us how to solve the issue from the beginning.

This explanation has various difficulties, but I shall not dwell on them in this post.

Tosfos understands the answer a little differently- Due to the strict biblical requirements of sukkah, we are concerned that using a softer language would make us think that the requirement to fix it up is only לכתחילה (in the first place,) but if one sat in the sukkah without making these corrections, one would fulfill the mitzva still בדיעבד (post-facto.)

As such, the harsher language is preferred.

In the case of Eruvin, seeing as the requirement is only rabbinical, we are less concerned that a person might make this error, and we choose to use the softer language, in keeping with the principle (Pesachim 3a) that it is always best to use לישנא מעליה (positive language ) where possible.

We see that there are 3 principles at work here, which sometimes need to be traded off against each other, and it is fascinating to note that both Rashi and Tosfos refer to the same sugya in Pesachim which discusses 2 of these principles and the trade-off between them, but for completely opposite purposes.

  1. Language needs to be נקיה (clean), and that doesn’t just mean avoiding foul language but specifically choosing לשון מעליא (positive language.)
  2. Language needs to be concise (probably to make it easier to comprehend and remember.)
  3. Language needs to be clear or strong enough to convey the historical timeline of the law (Rashi) or the stringency of the law (Tosfos)

According to the first answer in the Gemara, the third factor over-rides the first factor, and strength of message over-rides the need for positive language.

According to the second answer in the Gemara, either positive language still takes priority over strength of message, or the positive language given is still considered appropriate or strong enough to give over the importance of the message.

However, the second factor certainly takes priority over the first, and concise direct language is preferred over positive language, as is indeed the conclusion of the above-quoted sugya in Pesachim.

There is lots more to say about the requirements for language to be clean, concise, and strong enough and how they trade-off with each other, but we have certainly seen on this first daf how the Gemara is able to focus on the one hand on specific and technical rules relating to the subject at hand, and at the same time teach us multiple principles that could apply to every aspect of our lives!

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.

PINCHAS, YEHOSHUA, AND YIRMIYAHU- DON’T TAKE ERETZ-YISRAEL FOR GRANTED.

 
the Haftara for Parshas Pinchas is normally about Eliyahu, for well-known reasons.
 
Yet, when it falls after 17 Tammuz, we read from the first chapter of Yirmiyahu instead, to fit the sad theme of this time of year.
 
Yet there is also a very strong connection between the Parsha itself and the Haftara from Yirmiyahu.
 
The first chapter of Yirmiyahu deals with his sanctification as a Navi. In Parshas Pinchas, Yehoshua is sanctified as a Navi in place of Moshe Rabbenu.
 
It cannot be coincidental that Yehoshua is the one who took us into Eretz-Yisrael , and Yirmiyahu is the one who, in his prophecies of punishment, took us out into exile.
 
During this period of time, the message is stark: We cannot take Eretz-Yisrael for granted- our rights to it are completely determined on whether we keep our part of the deal.
 
At the same time as we meet Yehoshua, we also meet Yirmiyahu, and its is up to us to decide, whose message will be fulfilled in our day.

Parshas Shlach- Attitude is everything.

What was wrong with sending spies to check out the land?

 

Rashi explains, quoting Chazal, that Hashem told Moshe to “send for himself” spies to check out the land, because Hashem himself was not altogether happy with the idea.

And indeed, we know that this action ended in disaster.

Yet, we find that when finally entering the land 40 years later, Yehoshua also went to spy out the land, seemingly forgetting this important lesson.

Furthermore, Moshe gives the spies precise instructions regarding what to look out for, including the nature of the inhabitants and their cities, and they seem to come back with  a report that follows those questions.

What exactly did they do wrong?

 

It seems to me, that as with many things in life, sending spies was not in itself a bad thing, but completely dependent on the attitude and intentions of the spies.

It is completely acceptable and even advisable not to rely unnecessarily on miracles and to take whatever steps one can take to prepare for whatever situation one might encounter.

 

Entering the land was not supposed to be subject to debate, but it was still up to the people to plan their strategy as to the best way to conquer it, and that depended very much on the nature of the inhabitants and their cities.

Had the spies had the correct attitude, realized that Hashem’s promise to take us into the land was not subject to question, kept their ultimate faith in Hashem’s ability to so, and merely used the mission as a strategy planning session, hence doing their part and then “letting” Hashem do his, the idea would have been very positive, and Moshe indeed saw It this way.

Yet Hashem, of course, knew their most intimate thoughts and understood that their intentions were not so correct, and thus disassociated “himself” from it.

The Ramban indeed  follows this approach- from the words of Rashi, I think that one can take it a step further as well, focussing not only on strategy, but also on  the importance of positive thinking.

 

In explaining the instruction to check out the land, Rashi comments :

את הארץ מה היא – יש ארץח מגדלת גבורים ויש ארץ מגדלת חלשיםט יש מגדלת אוכלוסין ויש ממעטתי אוכלוסין:

“There are some lands that breed strong people and some lands that breed weak people. Some lands breed large populations and others limit them.”

 

It is clear that the spies were instructed to see a large and powerful population as a positive sign, as proof that the land was good to its inhabitants, and would be equally or even better to us.

 

The spies were expected to go in with positive thinking, and interpret whatever they saw in a positive light, and come back and use the information to encourage and motivate the people – even a large and powerful population was supposed to be seen as a  positive sign.

 

Yet the spies did exactly the opposite , and used their findings of a strong and powerful population to frighten the people out of entering the land- their words ” we won’t be able to go up  to the nation because they are too strong for us”, gives them away.

Not satisfied with interpreting the people’s strength as a negative, they then proceed to talk bad about the land itself.

Instead of using this holy mission to plan their strategy for the promised entry into the land, and to find information that would help inspire and motivate the people to do so, they use the information they saw to frighten and scare the people and convince them that going to the land was a suicide mission, despite Hashem’s promise.

 

Our mission is to follow the guidelines Hashem has given us to the best of our ability, and to take whatever practical steps are necessary to help us fulfil that mission.

In addition, whatever challenges we face along the way should be interpreted positively, and used to further motivate ourselves to follow this mission.

Using the challenges  we encounter as excuses to absolve ourselves of this mission is simply not an acceptable option- we need to see the cup as at the least “half full”, not “half empty” appreciate the good in whatever challenges we face, and use it to inspire us to do more good.

 

This is no small challenge, and indeed, most of the greatest men of the generation failed this test, but it is no excuse not to at least try.

Collective punishment and mutual responsibilty-Parshas Nitzavim/Vayeilech

“הנסתרות לה’ אלקינו והנגלות לנו ולבנינו עד עולם ”

“Hidden things are for Hashem, our G-d; and the revealed things, are for us and our children forever”

The Torah has already told us that we are all responsible for one another, and that when one see’s someone doing something wrong, he is obligated to rebuke him, gently, in a way that he will want to listen.

If one fails to do so, or does so in a way that makes him more rebellious or shames him unnecessarily, one shares some responsibility for his wrong-doing. (Vayikra/Leviticus 19/17 and commentaries there-on )

In the parsha we just read, Hashem warns us once again that people who forsake the ways of Hashem can bring collective destruction upon all of us. (Devarim/Deuteronomy 29/17-27)

After the Torah tells us that the result of people who betray Hashem’s covenant can be catastrophic for all of us, people might feel that if we all responsible for each-other’s numerous  failings most of which we are  unaware of, then there is no hope for any of us , G-d forbid.

To this- the answer is clear:

We are NOT responsible for things that we have no way of knowing about, or things that we have tried to correct and failed- “Hidden things are for Hashem, our God.”

However, failure to protest constructively against wrongs and  injustice , once one is aware of it, is the moral  equivalence of participation in it – “The revealed things are for us and our children forever…”