Masechet Bava Batra 119a-125b

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Dividing Land
17 Dec 2009

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.

Bava Batra 119a-b

One concern in contemporary society – that women are marrying later, and that at a later age fertility rates are lower and it is more difficult to conceive – was a matter of concern for the daughters of Tzelafchad, as well.

As we have learned, the daughters of Tzelafchad appealed to Moshe that they deserved their father’s share in the land of Israel, given that he died with no sons. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that credits these women with being intelligent, well-spoken and righteous. According to the Rashbam, their righteousness was clear from the fact that they listened to Moshe’s advice and married within their tribe so that their father’s inheritance would not be transferred to another tribe. Furthermore, it appears that they were very selective, waiting to marry an appropriate husband.

The Gemara notes, however, that this led all five daughters to marry at a late age – Rabbi Elazar ben Yaakov taught that the youngest was 40 when she got married. Tosafot suggest that this is obvious from dating the story in the desert. If Tzelafchad died immediately after the sin of the spies, and his daughters only married in the 40th year when the land was being divided up, clearly they were at least 40 years old.

This leads the Gemara to ask how they could have had children at that advanced age, given Chisda’s teaching that a woman who marries before the age of 20 can conceive until she is 60. If she marries after 20, she can conceive until she is 40. If she marries after she is 40, she can no longer have children. The Gemara responds that they were deserving of a miracle due to their righteousness, and they succeeded in conceiving.

One possible explanation for Rav Chisda’s teaching is based on women’s physiology. Every woman is born with a limited number of ova. When a woman has her period, at least one ovum is released. During pregnancy, the hormones in a woman’s body do not allow for menstruation, a condition that often continues while a woman nurses. Thus, a woman who marries young, gives birth and nurses her children, has a much larger number of ova remaining in her later years, while a woman who marries late and has been menstruating throughout her childbearing years, has fewer possibilities for conceiving when she marries.

Bava Batra 120a-b

As we learned on yesterday’s daf the daughters of Tzelafchad married late in life and under ordinary circumstances would not have been able to conceive. Nevertheless, their status as righteous women made them deserving of a miracle, and they did have children. The Gemara says that they were deserving of a miracle similar to that enjoyed by Yocheved.

According to the Rabbi Hama bar Chanina, Yocheved, who was Moshe’s mother, became pregnant with him when she was 130 years old. This teaching is based on the assumption that Yocheved was born in Egypt after being conceived by Levi’s wife prior to arriving in Egypt.

The Gemara in Sotah (12a) talks about this story. The Gemara there introduces Moshe‘s father, Amram, as the gadol ha-dor – the leader of his generation. Upon hearing of Pharaoh‘s decree to kill every male child, Amram chose to divorce his wife, an act that led many others to follow his example.

The baraita teaches that Moshe’s sister, Miriam, argued with her father, pointing out that his decision to refrain from having children was even worse than Pharaoh’s. By divorcing his wife, Amram had effectively destroyed the future — not only of Jewish sons, but of Jewish daughters, as well. While Pharaoh’s decrees were only effective in this world, Amram’s decision would have an effect in the next world as well. Furthermore, while the evil Pharaoh’s decree might or might not have been successful, Amram’s actions would certainly be successful. Under the force of her arguments, Amram remarried, encouraging others to do so as well.

Our Gemara questions whether the text supports this approach, arguing that the passage vayikach et bat Levi (Shemot 2:1) sounds like a description of a first marriage. To this Rav Yehuda bar Zevina responds that in his desire to get others to remarry their wives, Amram made their wedding a public act, as though it were a first marriage. He arranged for them to be carried by two people in an apiryon — a palanquin — with Aharon and Miriam dancing before them.

Bava Batra 121a-b

The Gemara on today’s daf brings the last Mishnah in Masechet Ta’anit, which closes with a discussion of two of the happiest days on the Jewish calendar – Yom Kippur and Tu B’Av, the 15th of Av, when the daughters of Jerusalem would go out to the dance in the vineyards in borrowed white clothing (so that girls who were poor would not be embarrassed), calling out to the young men suggesting that they choose wives from among them.

The Gemara is clear on the reasons for rejoicing on Yom Kippur. It is, after all, a day of divine forgiveness, the day on which the second Tablets of the Law were given. What is the reason for the celebrations on the 15th of Av?

Several reasons are suggested by the Gemara.

Bava Batra 122a-b

How was the land of Israel divided up between the tribes when they entered the land?

The pasuk (=verse) in Sefer Bamidbar teaches (26:55-56) that all of the tribes received a fair and equivalent portion, whether the tribe was large or small. This was done by means of a system that included both a lottery as well as consultation with the Urim V’Tumim. The Gemara describes the process as follows:

Elazar ha-Kohen stood in the garments of the High Priest, including the Urim V’Tumim, with Yehoshua and the entire Jewish people standing before him. Also in front of him were two boxes, one with the name of each of the tribes and the other with the proposed divisions of the land. According to the Gemara, Elazar would first announce a tribe and its allotted inheritance and then he would reach into the two boxes, from which he would remove those same pieces of information, thereby assuring the people that his prophetic statement was correct. This method assured that even those tribes that received less preferable pieces of land could not complain that his division was unfair.

The Gemara is forced to describe this complicated lottery method because of a discrepancy between two pesukim. On the one hand, the Torah teaches that the land would be divided akh be-goral – by means of a lottery. On the other hand, it says that the land would be divided al pi ha-goral – by the voice of the lottery. Although there are midrashim that interpret this to mean that the lottery itself miraculously cried out (see Bamidbar Rabbah 21:9), our Gemara offers a more rational interpretation – that Elazar ha-kohen announced the results of the lottery based on his prophecy by means of the Urim V’Tumim. The Ramah offers a further support for this interpretation by pointing out the parallel language – al piv yetzu – describing how Elazar ha-kohen assisted Yehoshua in leading the people after Moshe’s death (see Bamidbar 27:21).

Bava Batra 123a-b

Although the laws of inheritance require that the eldest son receive a double share, we know that the stories of the patriarchs in Sefer Bereshit do not follow this rule.

Rabbi Chelbo asks Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani why Yaakov chose to take the double portion of the firstborn from Reuven and give it to Yosef. In response Rabbi Yonatan is quoted as teaching that the right of the firstborn was really supposed to come from one of Rachel’s children – after all, she is the one who Yaakov really wanted to marry, and the Torah identifies Yaakov’s toldot – his descendants – as Yosef (see Bereshit 37:2). God, in His mercy, gave the firstborn to Leah, but He returned it to Rachel due to her modesty.

Both of these assertions deserve explanation.

  1. Leah was deserving of God’s mercy, according to Rav, because she spent much of her time crying and lamenting her destiny. For she heard the talk in the public thoroughfare, where people were saying “Rivka has two sons, and her brother Lavan has two daughters. The eldest will marry the eldest and the youngest will marry the youngest.” Fearful that she would end up marrying Esav, the pasuk teaches that she “cried her eyes out” (see Bereshit 29:17). The Maharsha explains that it was common knowledge that in Avraham’s family marriages were arranged within the family, so the expectation was a natural one.
  2. Rachel’s modesty that returned the rights of the firstborn to her is explained based on the Gemara’s interpretation of the passage in Bereshit (29:25) that the morning after Yaakov discovered the she was Leah. The Gemara explains that he did not realize this the night before because Rachel had shared their secret code with her sister so that she should not be embarrassed publicly when Yaakov realized that he had been deceived.

Bava Batra 124a-b

As we have learned, the Torah commands (see Devarim 21:15-17) that the firstborn son will receive a double portion of the estate left by his father at the time of his death. What if the estate grows after the father’s death, but before the children have had time to divide it up into the shares that they will receive? Will the firstborn get a double portion in those additional profits?

Our Gemara quotes a baraita that indicates a difference of opinion on this matter.

According to the Tanna Kamma, the firstborn has no unique right to anything beyond what was actually in the estate at the time of the father’s death. The Gemara explains that this is derived from the passage that says that the father will “give him a double portion” (Devarim 21:17) – “giving” is understood to mean that this is a type of present, and a person cannot give a present until he actually has possession of it. Based on this understanding, the firstborn cannot expect a double portion from anything that his father did not actually have in his possession at the time of his death.

Rabbi disagrees, arguing that the firstborn has rights to profits that the estate earned even after the father’s death. The source for this ruling, according to the Gemara is from the same passage, but Rabbi emphasizes the expression pi shnayim – double -which is understood to mean “two times of a single share,” so that whatever a single share would be is simply doubled for the firstborn.

The R”i mi-Gash points put that even according to Rabbi’s opinion there is no suggestion that the firstborn would have special rights to money that comes into the estate after the father’s death – no one accepts that possibility. Rather this opinion is limited to that property that the father already had in his possession during his lifetime that increases in value after his death.

Bava Batra 125a-b

What rights does a person have to determine the ownership of an object after he has given it away?

Our Gemara tells the story of “grandma.” That is, someone announced that he was giving all of his money to his mother, stating that he did so with the proviso that after she died the money would go to his descendants rather than to the people who would inherit her. That man had a married daughter who died before the grandmother died, and her husband came and demanded the inheritance after the grandmother died.

Rav Huna ruled that he should get the money, since his wife was supposed to get the inheritance so the father’s original condition remains in effect and he inherits his wife’s rights to the estate.
Rav Anan ruled that he does not get the money, since the father’s intention was only that the money should go to his own descendants. Since his daughter died before the grandmother, the father did not mean for his son-in-law to get his estate.

This is the reading that appears in the standard Gemarot, following the interpretation of the Rashbam. Sefardic manuscripts, as well as the ga’onic tradition, have a slightly different reading of this story. According to their reading, the man gave his money as a present to his mother, with the proviso that afterwards it would go to the people who inherit her.

The objection to this reading is simple and straightforward. If his intention was to give the money to his mother as a clear present, then it would obviously go to those people who inherit her! They explain that he conditioned his gift on the agreement that after the mother’s death the money would go to her descendants as a present from him, and not through the channels of inheritance.

This type of present offers a number of differences from standard inheritance.  For example, if the mother died leaving outstanding loans, they will not be paid off from this money, since it is not part of her estate – it was promised to her descendants by someone else.

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 or contact the Aleph Society at 212-840-1166.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.