Please Learn in the Merit of:

Please learn for the merit of a complete recovery for the following individuals:

Ya'akov Don ben Esther Ahuvah Sharona
Avraham Yishayahu ben Aviva
Perel Leah bas Sima

Please learn in the merit/memory of Eyal ben Uriel, Gil-Ad Michael ben Ophir, Ya'akov Naftali ben Avraham, and Alter Aryeh Leib Reuven ben Sima

Thursday, January 17, 2008

Shmiras HaLashon כ"ד שבט - Shevat 24 - One-Hundred-and-Forty-Third Day

© 2008 by Robert Lepor. All rights reserved.

[The aforementioned] matter [of being punished for acting against one’s fellow concerning a sin which he is similarly involved in], is [brought forth] in [maseches] “Yivamos” (105b), [as follows][1]: “[This incident begins with] Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi], who were sitting… Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, came over to them… After a while, Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi] came to the study-hall [to teach and each person [consequently] needed to sit in their designated place]. Those who were quick, came up and sat in their places [right away, however], due to his weight, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, was still stepping and going [toward his designated place, while those by him were already seated], (he was walking slowly as he was fat). [Thereupon], Avdan[2] said to him [as follows]: “Who is this one who steps upon the heads of The Holy Nation[3]?” [Rabbi Yishmael responded]: “I am Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, who has come to learn Torah from Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi. Avdan] said to him: “And are you fitting to learn Torah from Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi]?” [Rabbi Yishmael responded]: “Wasn’t Moshe fitting to learn Torah from [HaShem]?” [Avdan responded]: “And are you really Moshe?” [Rabbi Yishmael retorted]: “And is your Rabbi, G-d?!?”[4]… After a while, a yivamah[5] came before Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] to perform chalitzah. [Whereupon], Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] said to Avdan: “Go outside and examine her.” (Meaning: “He commanded [Avdan] to [have a woman] examine [the girl to determine] whether she had sprouted two hairs [by per private parts[6], and thereby] be permitted to perform chalitzah[7]). After [Avdan] walked out, Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, said to [Rabbi Yehudah HaNasi, as follows]: “My father said that in [The Torah] portion [that discusses yibum and chalitzah], “אישׁ” – “man” is written[8], however, a woman [may perform chalitzah] whether she is an adult or a child[9]. [Thereupon], Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] said to Avdan, [as follows]: “Sit in your place, you do not need [to examine this woman], the elder has already taught [the law]. Avdan was stepping and coming [to return to his place. At that point], Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, said to [Avdan, as follows]: “One who The Holy Nation is in need of, will step upon the heads of The Holy Nation, how can one whom The Holy Nation is not in need of, step upon the heads of The Holy Nation?”[10] [Thereupon], Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi] said to Avdan: “Stand in your place.” It was taught, that at that moment, Avdan [was afflicted with] tzara’as, (since the punishment for Lashon HaRa is [tzara’as] afflictions), two [of] his sons drowned[11], and his two daughters-in-laws [who were married to his deceased sons, annulled their marriages][12].”

Behold, what was the apparent reason that HaShem caused [the situation to unfold in such a manner so] that [shortly] after [Avdan publicly derided Rabbi Yishmael], a yivamah arrived [at the study hall]…? Rather, this is one of the matters concerning which we have already discussed, [that being] that Avdan at first mocked Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, for stepping [by] the heads of The Holy Nation. Take note that though [Avdan] definitely acted improperly by saying “And are you really fitting”…., for this is precisely ona’as divarim[13], nevertheless, [for that sin alone] there wasn’t [sufficient reason] to seize Avdan to the point that he would punished with the [affliction] of tzara’as for [his having publicly criticized Rabbi Yishmael. This is the case, for] if [Avdan’s] main intention [in his criticism of Rabbi Yishmael] was to acquire the truth, [he would not have been punished with tzara’as] even though he had been mistaken concerning this teaching [of not walking over the heads of those who were seated, as it applied to Rabbi Yishmael]. Therefore, [in order to demonstrate that Avdan’s true intentions behind his criticism of Rabbi Yishmael were not pure, he] was immediately tested, [as we see from that which is quoted] above, [when the gemara states], “After a while, that yivamah came…”, and, [at the request of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi], Avdan was required to exit [the Torah study-hall]. While [Avdan was walking out of the study-hall], Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, taught [the halacha concerning whether a minor can perform chalitzah]… [Recognizing that the law accorded with the teaching quoted by Rabbi Yishmael, in the name of his father, Rabbi Yosi, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said that] “The elder has already taught [the halacha]… Avdan was stepping and coming [to his place, walking by the heads of “The Holy Nation”]…. It was taught [that] at that moment [Avdan was afflicted with tzara’as]…” [The] explanation [of the above scenario is as follows]: Since [Avdan demonstated that he] was also not careful about [stepping over the heads of The Holy Nation], therefore, he was retroactively punished for that which he mocked Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabi Yosi. [It was also demonstrated [to Avdan], that [his] having said [to Rabbi Yishmael], “Are you truly fitting to learn Torah from Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi]”, was improper, for [it was Avdan who made apparent through his exit of the study-hall that] he agreed with the Rabbi [Yehudah HaNasi’s] initial opinion, [that being] that chalitzah requires an adult woman. Therefore, [another reason for Avdan having being] punished with tzara’as [was for his having spoken derogatorily against Rabbi Yishmael concerning his fortitude in Torah learning and his worthiness of learning Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi]. In addition to his punishment of tzara’as, Avdan was also punished in that] two [of] his sons drowned. [The punishment of the drowning of two [of] Avdan’s sons was connected with his having imporperly derided Rabbi Yishmael], it being known that the punishment of drowning and the punishment of ascara are one [and the same] punishment (as [the Rabbis] have said in [maseches] “Kisuvos” (30b), [as follows]: “Or [he] drowns in the river, or he dies [from] Sirchoni), and it is [also] known that as a result of [committing the sin of] Lashon HaRa is the death of ascara, as [our Rabbis] have said in [maseches] “Shabbos” (33a), see over there.

[1] The incident involving Rabbi Yishmael and Avdan is preceded by the following account:

“Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Shimon were sitting, [whereupon] one of them began and said: ‘The person who prays must focus his eyes downward [toward Eretz YisraelRaSh”I], as it is says [in “Milachim I”], “…and My eyes and My Heart shall be there [in the Beis HaMikdash] all of the days.” (Milachim I: 9; 3), and [the other] one said: ‘One’s eyes shall be focused upward, as it says, “Lift up our hearts to [our] palms [to G-d in Heaven].” (Eichah: 3; 41) After a while Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, came by them [and] said to them: ‘What are you involved with?’ They said to him: ‘In [a discussion relating to] prayer’. [Whereupon] he said to them [as follows]: ‘My father said [that] the person who prays must focus his eyes downward [to Eretz Yisrael] and his heart upward [to Heaven], in order that he will be able to fulfill these two [aforementioned] p’sukim.’”

The MaHaRSh”A notes that the disagreement between Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yosi relates to a disagreement involving Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas where one opinion states that one should focus to Heaven when he prays, now that The Beis HaMikdash is destroyed, as HaShem’s Shechinah departed once The Beis HaMikdash was destroyed. Rabbi Elazar ben Pedas argues that we should focus on the place of The Beis HaMikdash when we pray, as HaShem has not left that area. Rabbi Yishmael came to reconcile the differences of opinion between Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Yosi by stating that one should focus his eyes toward the place of the Beis HaMikdash, while his heart should be directed to Heaven.

[2] RaSh”I points out that Avdan was a student of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. A person’s name in Judaism carries great significance. Therefore, it is interesting to note that Avdan’s name means “destruction” or “loss”, as due to his having come to shame Rabbi Yishmael publicly, he suffered tzara’as, the deaths of two of his sons and the loss of two of his daughters-in-law to be wed to two other sons. From here we see how someone such as Avdan was able to lose such a great deal due to his shaming a Torah scholar publicly, albeit seemingly acting in what initially appeared to be in accordance with what was fitting according to halacha.

According to Tosafos, Avdan’s real name was Abba Yudan, “Avdan” being a derogatory name used for Abba Yudan.

[3] Rabbi Yishmael was walking by the heads of those who were already seated to hear Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s lecture. Avdan publicly rebuked Rabbi Yishmael, as his action appeared to demonstrate a lack of respect to the other holy individuals that were present. The reason that it was considered disrespectful for the other students present was that they were seated on the floor. Though it turns out that Rabbi Yishmael wasn't doing the wrong thing by walking by the heads of those present, often it is inappropriate for one to walk by those who are seated on the floor. Either, in the case of Rabbi Yishmael and Avdan, they had to walk in between the rows of the students to arrive at their places, and it therefore appeared that they were walking over the heads of those who were seated, or they actually had to skip over the rows of the seated students, actually walking right by or above their heads.

The Tosafos quotes masechesSanhedrin” (7b) that the warning to a judge to not step by the heads of those who are seated only applies when they are not walking to their seats for the benefit of those present. However, when they are walking to their seats for the benefit of those present and they happen to walk near the heads of those who are seated, they are acting appropriately, though they should nevertheless be careful, if at all possible, to take a shortcut so that they do not walk right near those who are seated, based on masechesKiddushin”, 32b.

The MaHaRSh”A, quoting Rabbi Eliezer’s teaching in masechesSanhedrin” (7b), notes that the basis for not being permitted to walk by the heads of those who are seated is based on the pasuk, “And do not ascend on steps to My altar…” (Shmos: 20; 22) This teaches that the person should not think that he is superior in stature to those who are seated and therefore he can walk by their heads. The MaHaRSh”A explains that Avdan was saying to Rabbi Yishmael that he wasn’t worthy of learning Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, as he seemed to exhibit a sense of haughtiness by walking by those who were already seated, thus seemingly showing disrespect to those individuals. Since Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was known for his exceptional humility, as is taught in masechesSotah” (49b) and in the mishnayos of masechesSotah” (9; 15), Avdan was arguing that Rabbi Yishmael was unworthy of learning Torah from him due to his perhaps having appeared to be haughty, which, in fact, was not the case, as he was unable to arrive at his seat before the others who were present were seated.

According to the Aruch LaNer, once Rabbi Yishmael quoted the halacha that a woman may perform chalitzah whether she is a minor or an adult, he demonstrated that he serves a benefit to those present. However, Avdan thought that the law accorded with Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi initial understanding of the law, that the woman had to be an adult in order to to perform chalitzah. Once this situation unfolded, Rabbi Yishmael said that “One who The Holy Nation is in need of, will step upon the heads of The Holy Nation, how can one whom The Holy Nation is not in need of, step upon the heads of The Holy Nation?” Therefore, it is fitting for Rabbi Yishmael to walk by those seated. However, it is not fitting for Avdan to walk by those seated. Rabbi Yishmael, in order to make it clear that he didn’t make the aforementioned statement out of haughtiness, said that the main reason that he came to the Beis Midrash (Torah Study-Hall) was to learn Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. The Aruch LaNer points out that the gemara prefaces the incident involving Rabbi Yishmael and Avdan with a teaching that Rabbi Yishmael quoted in the name of his father, to Rabbi Chiya and Rabbi Shimon, the son of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, two outstanding students of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, concerning tefillah, to demonstrate that these scholars were even in need of Rabbi Yishmael. As recorded in the gemara, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi entered the Beis Midrash right after Rabbi Yishmael had quoted the teaching to them and it was then that Rabbi Yishmael had to walk to his seat, and he thereby was still on the way to his seat when the others were seated when Avdan publicly rebuked him.

Perhaps since Rabbi Yishmael was unable to make it to his seat before the others were seated, due to his weight, it was inappropriate for Avdan to rebuke him for this reason as well as the other reasons previously cited. It appears that Avdan was punished midah-k’neged-midah (measure-for-measure) by being requested by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi to leave the Beis Midrash in order to examine whether the person who wished to perform chalitzah was an adult. Similar to Rabbi Yishmael, Avdan seemingly had no choice but to walk by those who were seated, as he needed to return to his seat. In this situation, where Avdan needed to walk by those who were seated, he was punished.

Perhaps this is because, as demonstrated by Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi’s request of Avdan to examine the girl, that Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi was under the impression that Avdan was of benefit to those present and therefore he could be sent to determine whether the girl was an adult, as this would have determined whether she could perform chalitzah. Once it became evident from the teaching that Rabbi Yishmael quoted in the name of his father, that a female may perform chalitzah even if she is a minor, Avdan was no longer able to offer benefit in this matter. Therefore, immediately it became clear that for Avdan, even based on his rebuke of Rabbi Yishmael, that it was inappropriate for him, someone was unable to benefit “The Holy Nation” in this situation, to walk by those who were seated. Instead, if Avdan really believed that what he related to Rabbi Yishmael reflected the truth, he would have immediately stopped in his tracks so as not to walk by those who were seated. Instead of acting in accordance with his aforesaid words, Avdan kept on walking by those who were seated, until, subsequent to Rabbi Yishmael’s statement in reference to Avdan, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ordered Avdan to stand still. It was at that moment, the gemara records, that Avdan was inflicted with tzara’as, two of his sons drowned, and the two wives of these deceased sons annulled their marriages.

[4] The text of the gemara that is left out at this point is quoted in the name of Rav Yosef and states that “Rabbi [Yehuda HaNasi] received his punishment [for his having heard Avdan's criticism of Rabbi Yishmael and did not protest, therefore, Rabbi Yishmael referred to him as] “your Rebbe” and [did] not [refer to him as]
“My Rebbe”.” The text of this segment of the gemara as written here, is based on RaSh"I's commentary.

[5] A “yivamah” is a woman who’s husband died and is left childless. The halacha is that one of the unmarried brothers of the deceased husband should marry this widow. If the brother refuses to perform yibum with this woman, he must take part in “chalitzah”. Today, the halacha is that yibum is not performed and therefore in such an instance, chalitzah would be required to be performed. The mitzvos of yibum and chalitzah are found in parshasKi Seitzei” (Devarim: 25; 5 – 10)

[6] We see from the gemara that Avdan never got an opportunity to have the girl examined to see if she had at least two hairs to determine whether she was an adult. However, if he would have had the opportunity to have the girl examined, he would have gotten a woman who is an expert in such matters to examine the girl, as stipulated by halacha (see masechesNiddah” (48b) and “Shulchan Aruch” in “Even HaEzer”, siman 155; 15). The halacha stipulates that the woman who checks for the two hairs must be trustworthy and who is careful to abide by the mitzvos. According to the “Shulchan Aruch”, it is permissible to have a woman who is a relative check the girl.

[7] If the woman in question would have sprouted two hairs, then, according to Jewish law, she would be considered an adult. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi at first thought that the woman needed to be an adult to perform chalitzah, however, when he heard the halacha quoted by Rabbi Yishmael, the son of Rabbi Yosi, he recognized that a woman may perform chalitzah whether she is a minor or an adult.

[8] “איש” – “man” is written twice in this section of The Torah – “And if the man will not desire to take his yivahmah…” (Devarim: 25; 7), and “…and she shall respond and say, ‘Such shall be done to the man who will not build the house of his brother.” (Devarim: 25; 9)

[9] Though the halacha is that only an adult woman (at least twelve-years-and-one-day old) may perform chalitzah, clearly Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi ruled at that time that even a minor girl may involve herself in chalitzah. The gemara, right after the incident involving Rabbi Yishmael and Avdan, writes that the halacha is that only an adult may perform chalitzah. This halacha is similarly recorded in the Shulchan Aruch (Even HaEzer) and in the “Mishneh Torah” of the RaMBa”M.

[10] It is evident from Avdan’s rebuke of Rabbi Yishmael, his claim that Rabbi Yishmael was unfitting to learn Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, and his subsequent hypocritical behavior by walking by “the heads of The Holy Nation”, that the famous dictum, “כל הפוסל – פסול” – “all of those who disqualify [another] are disqualified”. Shmuel adds to this by stating that he “disqualifies [another] with his [own] blemish”. In this case, based on Avdan’s criticism of Rabbi Yishmael as not being fitting to learn from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi due to his having walked by those who were seated, seemingly he was pointing out his own lacking, as he came to walk by those who were seated when it was Rabbi Yishmael, not him, who should be permitted to walk by those who were seated due to Rabbi Yishmael’s having benefited those who were seated with the relevant teaching quoted from his father.

[11] According to the understanding of the MaHaRSh”A, the two deceased sons of Avdan must have been adults, as it is only an adult male who could marry a minor girl with kiddushin (betrothal) that involves me’oon. Based on this understanding the deaths of two of Avdan’s adult sons related to his having publicly shamed Rabbi Yishmael might seem at first glance to be problematic, in light of the gemara in masechesShabbos” (32b), where we learn from a Baraisa that Rav Nachman teaches that a person’s minor children can die due to his sin of sinas chinam (baseless hatred). Though there is a source for someone’s minor children dying as a consequence of their sinning, we do not find a source that one’s adult children can die due to any sins committed by their parents.

A possible answer to the above is that Avdan’s two sons died drowning as they were only decreed to live short lives. If not for their father having shamed Rabbi Yishmael, perhaps they would have lived longer in the merit of their father, Abba Yudan (Avdan). Once their father sinned, the length of their lives was not increased in their father’s merit, and Avdan thus suffered as a consequence of his action. Alternatively, if Avdan’s two sons committed a sin for which they were liable for being punished with the capital punishment of chenek (strangulation), then they were punished by drowning in the river.

The above possibility follows that which Rav Nachman taught, quoted in masechesKisuvos” (30a – b), that though the Beis HaMikdash has been destroyed and we no longer have an operational Sanhedrin (Jewish religious Supreme Court) which can carry out capital punishment, the four types of capital punishment are still in effect, for the person who is liable to be stoned would either fall off of the roof or be trampled to death by an animal, if the person is liable for death by burning (the punishment being molten lead being poured down the throat), will either die in a fire or will die from being bitten by a venomous snake, if he is liable to be killed by sword, he is either handed over to the government for punishment or is killed by robbers, if he is liable to the punishment of choking, he either dies by drowning in a river or of ascara. (According to RaSh”I, ascara is a sickness in the throat which feels like thorns that are stuck in wool, which, when being ripped free of the wool, cause some of the wool to be ripped off along with it.)

[12] Though Avdan’s punishment can be easily understood from the text of the gemara, the punishment he received by having two of his sons drown and his two daughters-in-law annul their marriages, can be explained as follows:

The MaHaRSh”A notes that since the two daughters-in-law were minors at the time of their marriage, they were consequently permitted to perform me’oon, or a halachic annulment (lit. “refusal”) of marriage once they reached the status of adulthood, beginning at the age of twelve years and one day. The aforementioned punishment befell Avdan measure-for-measure for his having publicly derided Rabbi Yishmael of being unworthy of learning Torah from Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. As a consequence of his having publicly derided Rabbi Yishmael, the MaHaRSh”A points out that two of Avdan’s other sons were unable to perform yibum with these two women and thereby help build a family on behalf of their two deceased brothers. The reason for the annulment of their marriages, according to the MaHaRSh”A, was either because they refused to perform yibum with the other two sons, due to their personal desire to make such a decision, or, alternatively, since their husbands had drowned at sea which has no end, they would have remained agunos for the rest of their lives, due to the unverified status of the deaths of their husbands. An agunah refers to a woman who is “chained” to a status of being prohibited from remarrying either due to the unknown whereabouts of her husband – it’s being unknown whether he is alive – or that he simply refuses to grant her a get (Jewish legal document of divorce).

[13] “Ona’as Devarim” refers to words that inflict pain on another individual.

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