The Coming Week's Daf Yomi by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz
This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim (original ideas) of Talmudic scholar Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud.
Shabbat 30a-b - Desecrating Shabbat on behalf of the sick
On yesterday's daf (=page) the Mishnah taught that someone who extinguishes a fire so that someone who is ill will be able to sleep will not be held liable for desecrating Shabbat. This ruling is discussed in detail on today's daf.
This question was asked before Rabbi Tanĥum from the village of Nevi: What is the ruling with regard to extinguishing a burning lamp before a sick person on Shabbat?
The Gemara relates that Rabbi Tanĥum delivered a lengthy homily touching upon both aggadic and halakhic materials surrounding this question. Ultimately the Gemara concludes with Rabbi Tanĥum's ruling:
A lamp is called ner and a person’s soul is also called ner,as it is written: “The spirit of man is the lamp [ner] of the Lord” (Mishlei 20:27). It is preferable that the lamp of a being of flesh and blood, an actual lamp, will be extinguished in favor of the lamp of the Holy One, Blessed be He, a person’s soul. Therefore, one is permitted to extinguish a flame for the sake of a sick person.
According to the Gemara in tractate Yoma(85b), the halakhah that requires one to perform prohibited labors on Shabbat in order to save human life is not based on this homily. The actual source is the verse that states that the mitzvot of the Torah were given so that one should “live by them” (Vayikra 18:4–5), from which it is inferred that, as a rule, one is not commanded to give his life in order to fulfill a positive mitzvah or to avoid violating a prohibition. Since this teaching was presented before an unlearned crowd, it was expounded in a manner that would appeal to a wide audience.
This style of teaching, which opens with a halakhic question and proceeds to deal extensively with aggada and ethical teachings, only to conclude with a halakhah, is typical of the teachings of the Sages beginning with the generation of Rabbi Tanĥum. Here, the Gemara presents a complete homiletic interpretation of a Sage with all the external trappings. This style was especially common in Eretz Yisrael and in the aggadic midrash Yelamdenu, as well as Midrash Tanĥuma, which is attributed to Rabbi Tanĥum. In those two anthologies of midrash, the halakhic question opens with the words: Teach us, our Rabbi [yelamdenu rabbeinu], switches to an aggadic discussion, and ultimately returns to a halakhic conclusion. The She’iltotof Rav Aĥai Gaon was also influenced by this style of presentation. This tradition was also preserved in the teachings of the Sages in many Jewish communities.
Shabbat 31a-b - Hillel and Shammai
On today's daf (=page) the Gemara relates a series of famous stories of non-Jews who come before the Sages Shammai and Hillel asking to convert, only to find that Shammai is unwelcoming, and Hillel encouraging. As an example, one of the stories teaches:
There was another incident involving one gentile who came before Shammai and said to Shammai: Convert me on condition that you teach me the entire Torah while I am standing on one foot.Shammai pushed him away with the builder’s cubit in his hand. This was a common measuring stick and Shammai was a builder by trade. The same gentile came before Hillel. He converted him and said to him: That which is hateful to you do not do to another;that is the entire Torah, and the rest is its interpretation. Go study.
The Maharsha explains that apparently, the intention of the gentile was to ask the Sage for a single fundamental principle, "one foot," upon which all of Judaism is based. Indeed, just as Hillel based the Torah upon this single principle, so too Rabbi Akiva and ben Azzai later attempted to formulate the same concept in different, broader terms.
The phrase "That which is hateful to you do not do to another" appears in the Aramaic translation, Targum Yonatan, of the Torah verse: “And you shall love your neighbor as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18). It is not a precise translation; rather, it is a limited interpretation. It does not express the positive mitzvah to love another, but the prohibition, proscribing actions harmful to others. Apparently, Hillel sought to express through this principle that at the basis of the Torah are those mitzvot, which are fundamental principles that may be universally applied.
It should be noted that in practice, people like the ones Hillel converted are not accepted as converts because the halakhahinsists that a convert accept upon himself the entire Torah without intention to accrue personal benefit. However, Hillel apparently relied on the fact that these converts could eventually accept Judaism in its entirety at a later time.
Shabbat 32a-b - Timing Heavenly punishments
The Mishnah at the end of yesterday's daf (=page) concludes the aggadic treatment of the topic of kindling the Shabbat lights with the teaching:
For three transgressions women are punished and die during childbirth: For the fact that they are not careful in observing the laws of a menstruating woman, and in separating ĥalla from the dough, and in lighting the Shabbat lamp.
This teaching is examined in some detail on today's daf where we find the Gemara first enquiring about the unique situation of childbirth and then asking about how men's transgressions are punished. The Gemara teaches:
And, if so, what is different during childbirth?Why does the divine attribute of judgment punish them for dereliction in fulfillment of these mitzvot specifically then? The Gemara cites several folk sayings expressing the concept that when a person is in danger, he is punished for his sins. Rava said: If the ox fell, sharpen the knife to slaughter it. Abayye said: If the maidservant’s insolence abounds, she will be struck by a single blow as punishment for all her sins. So too, when a woman is giving birth and her suffering is great due to Eve’s sin of eating from the Tree of Knowledge, all the punishments for her own sins are added to that suffering.
And where are men examined? When are men vulnerable to judgment and held accountable for their actions? Reish Lakish said: When they are crossing a bridge. The Gemara wonders: Only when they are crossing a bridge and at no other time? Rather, say: Anything like a bridge, any place where danger is commonplace.
The fundamental concept underlying all of these statements is that only rarely do divine punishments come with no material foreshadowing. Nevertheless, the time for retribution is when one is in a dangerous situation engendered by external factors. The folk expressions cited here seek, in different ways and to varying degrees, to express the same concept: In times of distress, all of one’s outstanding debts with God are settled.
Shabbat 33a-b - Rabbi Yehudah - "head of the speakers in every place"
In a baraitaon today's daf (=page) Rabbi Yehudah is described as "head of the speakers in every place." This title leads to a discussion in the Gemara.
The Gemara asks: And why did they call him head of the speakers in every place? The Gemara relates that this resulted due to an incident that took place when Rabbi Yehudah and Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Shimon were sitting, and Yehudah, son of converts,sat beside them. Rabbi Yehudah opened and said: How pleasant are the actions of this nation, the Romans,as they established marketplaces, established bridges, and established bathhouses. Rabbi Yosei was silent. Rabbi Shimon ben Yoĥai responded and said: Everything that they established, they established only for their own purposes. They established marketplaces, to place prostitutes in them; bathhouses, to pamper themselves; and bridges, to collect taxes from all who pass over them. Yehudah, son of converts, went and related their statementsto his household, and those statements continued to spread until they were heard by the monarchy. They ruled and said: Yehudah, who elevated the Roman regime, shall be elevated and appointed as head of the Sages, the head of the speakers in every place. Yosei, who remained silent, shall be exiled from his home in Judea as punishment, and sent to the city of Tzipporiin the Galilee. And Shimon, who denounced the government, shall be killed.
As opposed to the Greeks, the Romans did not directly impose cultural or spiritual changes on the peoples they conquered. Instead, the Romans excelled in effective organization and comprehensive building projects. In all of the lands they conquered, they expertly paved roads, many of which are intact to this day in Eretz Yisrael and in other countries. They erected bridges over rivers and streams and constructed well-planned cities and public establishments, such as bathhouses and theaters. All of these developments resulted in the improvement of the quality of life in the countries they conquered within a short period of time. Rabbi Yehudah’s praise for them is understandable. Rabbi Shimon saw all of the Roman accomplishments merely as measures to facilitate domination and exploitation of the people they ruled.
Shabbat 34a-b - Responding to a miracle
On yesterday's daf (=page) we learned of the incident where Rabbi Shimon criticized the Roman government and was condemned to death. The Gemara relates that Rabbi Shimon and his son hid in a cave for twelve years and survived miraculously on carob and water. The Gemara on today's daf relates that when Rabbi Shimon finally was able to leave the cave he decided to perform an act of kindness for the community as a celebration of the miracle that saved him. The Gemara relates:
He (Rabbi Shimon) said: Is there something that needs repair?
They said to him: There is a place where there is uncertainty with regard to ritual impurity and the priests are troubled by being forced to circumvent it, as it is prohibited for them to become ritually impure from contact with a corpse. There was suspicion, but no certainty, that a corpse was buried there. Therefore, they were unable to definitively determine its status.
Rabbi Shimon said: Is there a person who knows that there was a presumption of ritual purity here? Is there anyone who remembers a time when this place was not considered ritually impure, or that at least part of it was considered to be ritually pure?
An Elder said to him: Here ben Zakkaiplanted and cut the teruma of lupines. In this marketplace
Rabbi Yoĥanan ben Zakkai, who himself was a priest, once planted lupines that were given to him as teruma. On that basis, the conclusion can be drawn that it was definitely ritually pure.
Rabbi Shimon, did so and took steps to improve the city and examined the ground. Everywhere that the ground was hard, he pronounced it ritually pure as there was certainly no corpse there, and every place that the ground was soft, he marked it indicating that perhaps a corpse was buried there. In that way, he purified the marketplace so that even priests could walk through it.
In the Jerusalem Talmud (Shevi’it 9:1) it is explained that Rabbi Shimon bar Yoĥai accomplished this miraculously. Everywhere that a corpse was buried, it would rise up from the earth. Although the Samaritans attempted to sabotage his effort, they were unsuccessful. Here, it is explained that Rabbi Shimon bar Yoĥai purified the ground by examining the texture of the soil to see whether or not the soil had been overturned at some point in the past.
Shabbat 35a-b - Public proclamation of Shabbat
How did people know when Shabbat was going to begin? The Gemara relates:
The school of Rabbi Yishmael taught: Six blasts are sounded on Shabbat eve. When one begins sounding the first tekiah, the people standing and working in the fields refrained from hoeing, and from plowing and from performing all labor in the fields. And those workers who work close to the city are not permitted to enter the city until those who work farther away come, so that they will all enter together. Otherwise, people would suspect that the workers who came later continued to work after the blast. And still, at this time, the stores in the city are open and the shutters of the stores, upon which the storekeepers would arrange their merchandise in front of the stores, remain in place. When he began sounding the second blast, the shutters were removed from where they were placed and the stores were locked and in the homes, however, hot water was still cooking on the stove and pots remained in place on the stove. When he began sounding the third blast, the one charged with removing food from the stove removed it, and the one charged with insulating hot water for Shabbat so that it would not cool off insulated it, and the one charged with kindling the Shabbat lights lit. And the one sounding the shofar pauses for the amount of time it takes to fry a small fish or to stick bread to the sides of the oven, and he sounds a tekia, and sounds a terua, and sounds a tekia, and accepts Shabbat.
The shofar blasts advising the people of the imminent onset of Shabbat had to be heard throughout the city of Jerusalem and beyond, especially by those working in the fields. The Gemara, though, does not identify the location from where the shofar blasts were sounded. Josephus refers to the spot as being on one of the towers of the Temple (Wars of the Jews4:9:12). During the archaeological excavations conducted adjacent to the Western Wall in the wake of the Six-Day War, a large stone was discovered at the southwest corner of the walls surrounding the Temple Mount, with the inscription: "To the trumpeting place to…" Apparently, it fell from a tower atop the wall and shattered during the destruction of the Temple by the Romans in 70 CE.
Shabbat 36a-b - Turning our attention to the laws of cooking
The third perek (=chapter) of Massekhet Shabbat begins on today's daf (=page), and the Gemara turns its attention to the laws of cooking. Cooking on Shabbat is explicitly prohibited in the Torah, and this prohibited labor is listed among the thirty-nine primary categories of labor prohibited on Shabbat. Since cooking is generally completed as Shabbat begins, the discussion of the labor of cooking precedes the discussion of the other prohibited labors in the sequence of this tractate.
This chapter occupies itself primarily with the clarification and precise definition of the prohibited labor of cooking. That undertaking carries with it numerous problems.
Unlike other categories of labor, there is an interval between the action and the desired result. It is a process, and therefore the question arises: At what stage in the process can it be said that an act of cooking has been performed? Shall we say that one who undertakes any action in the course of the entire process is considered to have engaged in that prohibited labor? Or perhaps, that is the case only with regard to one who initiates the process? Moreover, since the cooking process, once initiated, continues without the need for any additional action by the one cooking, the question can be raised: Is the mere act of placing an item on the fire defined as labor, or is it considered an incomplete segment of that labor?
There is a question as to whether the essence of the labor of cooking is transforming inedible into edible, unusable into usable, or whether it is the act of cooking that is prohibited, independent of the result. In practical terms, is it prohibited to further cook a cooked item?
The fundamental definition of cooking requires clarification and precision. In a very general sense, one could posit that cooking or baking are activities that render substances fit for use by means of heat. However, that leaves open the question of whether any activity that renders a substance usable is considered cooking, or perhaps, the essence of cooking is merely the softening or hardening of that substance? It is also important to clarify whether the prohibited labor of cooking applies to all substances, or perhaps only to food, or perhaps only to specific types of food.
Additionally, it must be ascertained whether the definition of cooking is restricted to the use of fire or whether it extends to other sources of heat. Similarly, is there a distinction between natural sources of heat and artificial ones in this context?
Most of these problems are resolved in various manners in this chapter. Some are discussed in Chapter Four and some in Chapter Seven, which discusses the primary categories of prohibited labor.
In addition to his monumental translation and commentary on the Talmud, Rabbi Steinsaltz has authored dozens of books and hundreds of articles on a variety of topics, both Jewish and secular. For more information about Rabbi Steinsaltz's groundbreaking work in Jewish education, visit www.steinsaltz.org or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.