Masechet Bava Batra 14a-20b

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03 Sep 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 14a-b

Who wrote the books of the Jewish Bible? The Gemara on today’s daf deals with this question.

According to the baraita:

This list presents a number of challenges.

One question that is raised by the commentaries is what the Gemara means when it presents Moshe as writing the Torah and the chapter of Balaam’s prophecy. Isn’t it clear that Balaam’s chapter is part of the Torah?

The Ritva suggests that there is a separate book written by Moshe that described in great detail the story of Balaam and his prophecy, but that the book was lost and we do not possess it any longer. The Maharal explains that the emphasis is on the fact that Balaam’s prophecy is an intrinsic part of the Torah and that no one should think that it is unimportant since it is a “foreign” prophecy.

Bava Batra 15a-b

On yesterday’s daf we learned that Yehoshua wrote his book (Sefer Yehoshua) and the last eight pesukim of the Torah. On today’s daf the Gemara points out that there is a difference of opinion regarding the last eight pesukim.

Rabbi Yehuda says that Moshe could not possibly have written the last eight pesukim of the Torah, which open with the words “So Moshe the servant of the Lord died there in the land of Moab” (Devarim 34:5). How could Moshe be alive and writing that he had died!? Therefore he concludes that Yehoshua completed the last few verses of the Torah.

Rabbi Shimon rejects the possibility that the Torah was not completed by Moshe in its entirety, since the Torah describes Moshe handing the complete book to the children of Levi (see Devarim 31:26). The picture that he paints of the writing of the Torah, is Moshe writing according to the instructions of God, and beginning with the last eight pesukim, God told Moshe what to write, and Moshe wrote according to those instructions be-dema.

This term, be-dema – apparently a reference to tears – is the subject of discussion among the rishonim and acharonim.

The Ritva suggests that due to his sadness, Moshe was unable to repeat these passages as he wrote them, and he wrote them while crying. According to this approach, God who is omniscient instructed Moshe to write about a future event, and there is no issue with Moshe’s inability to write that he died while he was still alive.

The Ramah‘s reading of the baraita was that the rest of the Torah was written by Moshe in ink, and the last pesukim were written with his tears, i.e. pseudo-writing that was preparation for Yehoshua to fill in with ink.

The Maharal writes that Moshe’s crying is indicative of the beginning of his death, as decreed by the word of God. Thus once the statement was made by God, Moshe could reasonably write that he was, in fact, dead.

A final interpretation, which is brought in the name of both the Gra and the Ba’al Shem Tov, rests on the understanding of dema as “a mixture.” This approach suggests that the entire Torah was a collection of letters that ordered themselves meaningfully as events took place. Moshe wrote these last pesukim as a collection of jumbled letters, which ordered themselves and became meaningful after his passing.

Bava Batra 16a-b

As we learned above (daf, or page, 14) according to the baraita, Moshe wrote the book of Iyov (Job). Our daf – almost in its entirety – is devoted to a Rabbinic reading of the book of Iyov.

Our Gemara quotes the introductory story in Iyov, where the Satan approaches God, telling him that no one alive in the world reaches the level of devotion and belief in God possessed by Avraham Avinu. In response God points to Iyov, against whom, God laments, the Satan instigated God to destroy him without cause (see Iyov 2:3).

In response to this passage, Rabbi Yochanan says ilmale mikra katuv, ee efshar le-omro – were it not for the written text, we would not be allowed to say it – i.e. we would not be allowed to suggest that God has human traits like being instigated into doing something that He did not intend to do. The implication is that Iyov’s test was not part of a contest between God and the Satan, rather it was part of God’s test of Iyov whose purpose was to strengthen Iyov by challenging his beliefs. The Maharal explains that the Satan in this story is a representation of evil in the world. God created a world that includes evil and just as God allows the will of all of His creations, He allowed the will of evil, as well.

Quoting a series of passages, Reish Lakish says: hu Satan, hu yetzer hara, hu malach ha-mavet — the Satan of the Iyov story, the evil inclination, the angel of death are all one and the same. The Maharal suggests that this can be understood as a statement of the different manifestations of evil in the world. The evil that operates within every human soul (the yetzer hara) is the very thing that plays the role of prosecutor against the person (the Satan), which is ultimately the evil force that destroys life (the malach ha-mavet).

Bava Batra 17a-b

The second perek of Masechet Bava Batra, Perek Lo Yachpor, focuses on the care that a person must take within his own property so that he does not cause damage to his neighbor’s property.

The first Mishnah lists a number of things that are perfectly reasonable things to do on one’s own property, but that they must be kept at least three tefachim (handbreadths) from the wall that divides the properties. Thus the Mishnah teaches that a person cannot dig a hole or a ditch close to the boundary line, nor a canal for the transfer or water or a pool used for washing clothing.

The commentaries discuss the source of these rules, since the Gemara appears to offer two separate potential problems. On the one hand, it appears that the concern with these structures stems from the presence of water, and fear that the moisture may cause problems. On the other hand the Gemara implies that the excavation itself is a source of concern, lest it undermine the foundations of the neighbor’s property.

While Tosafot points to the moisture as the main concern, claiming that the digging only creates the potential for damage, the Rashba argues that the digging itself creates problems of stability and is the main reason for the enactment requiring three tefachim of separation. The Ritva quotes the Re’ah and the Geonim who say that both reasons are applicable, and either one would be sufficient reason to create this rule.

Aside from excavations, the Mishnah lists other normal field uses that must be kept away from the fence marking the border, ranging from things that create heat like lime and fertilizer to things that may damage the wall like plowing and planting right next to it. Similarly, the Mishnah teaches, an oven must be kept away from the wall, three tefachim for the kalya, which is four tefachim from the opening of the oven.

The kalya is the part of the oven that is the widest; according to Rashi, it is the base of the oven which tapers to a smaller opening at the top.

Bava Batra 18a-b

As we learned in the Mishnah on yesterday’s daf the second perek of Masechet Bava Batra focuses on keeping neighbors from damaging each other’s property by limiting certain activities within their own property.

Aside from the examples enumerated in the Mishnah, the Gemara quotes a baraita that obligates a neighbor to keep:

The problem with leeks and onions growing close to each other’s rests in the similarities that they share. These two vegetables, leeks – krishim or allium porrum – and onions – betzalim or allium cepa – not only look similar, but they belong to the same botanical family. Due to their close relationship, if they are planted close to each other, insects that ordinarily pollinate such plants may inadvertently cross-pollinate them, producing non-fertile plants. Therefore those leeks and onions that are being grown for their seeds will be worthless.

With regard to mustard and bees, mustard plants are common in Israel, and their colorful flowers attract bees to them. Rashi explains that the bees may eat the sharp mustard, which may then lead them to devour their own honey, causing a loss to the beekeeper.

Rabbi Yossi disagrees with this last halacha, arguing that the owner of the mustard plants can argue that as much as his plants may cause damage to the bees, similarly the bees cause damage to his plants. Since both parties are causing damage to one another, we cannot make demands on one of them rather than on the other. This position is rejected by the Tanna Kamma, since the damage that is done to the leaves is minimal – birds and other insects do more damage than bees – and the bees cannot reach the mustard seeds themselves.

Bava Batra 19a-b

As we learned in the Mishnah (daf 17), one of the things that the owner of a field cannot build right next to his neighbor’s property is a pool used for washing clothing.

Our Gemara quotes Rav Nachman in the name of Rabbah bar Avuha who distinguishes between two types of pools used for washing. He claims that the pool discussed in the Mishnah that must be kept three tefachim (hand-breadths) from the boundary is a pool used for soaking the clothing (the machmatzan), but the pool of water used for agitating the clothing (the nadyan) must be kept four amot (cubits) away from the boundary.

The method used for washing clothing – which is still the basic method used today, albeit using a different technique – involved two stages. In the first stage, clothing was left to soak, usually together with soap or some other cleansing agent whose purpose was to break down the oils and other contaminants in the material. The neighborly concerns with this stage of the washing process stemmed mainly from the smells that emanated from the treatment of the dirty clothing.

In the second stage the clothing was moved to a different pool of water where it was rubbed or agitated by hand or by foot, a process which removed the dirt and the cleaning agents from the material. This stage often involved splashing and spraying dirty water, which had potential to damage property well beyond three tefachim from the pool.

The R”i MiGash offers an alternative explanation for the nadyan, one accepted by the Rambam, as well (see Hilkhot Shechenim 9:5). He explains it not as a separate pool, but as the rock on which the agitation was performed. Here, too, the potential damage involved dirty water spaying onto the neighbor’s property.

Bava Batra 20a-b

Were there municipal building codes in the time of the Mishnah?

The Mishnah on our daf teaches that a person cannot place a tanur – an oven – in his house unless there are at least four tefachim (handbreadths) of space above it, lest the ceiling catch on fire and it would cause damage to others; and if he wants to place it on an upper floor, he can only do so if there is a ma’azivah – if there is mud, clay and plaster of at least three tefachim between floors. For a kirah – a smaller type of oven – just one tefach would suffice. Even so, if any damage is done, the owner of the oven will have to pay.

According to Rashi, based on this Mishnah, members of the community have the right and the responsibility to stop someone from bringing such an oven into the house, unless he takes the proper precautions, since there is a concern for community welfare to ensure that fires will not start. Tosafot suggest that the Mishnah is simply offering neighbors who live above or below the planned oven the right to complain and stop him from introducing it, but overall, even Tosafot accept Rashi’s ruling on the matter.

The tanur that was used in people’s homes at the time of the Mishnah was a large, earthen utensil that looked like a very large jug, and was used primarily for baking bread. In order to bake the bread properly, the heat had to be brought to a very high temperature, requiring a large fire (see this article for a description of bread baking in such oven). Kirayim were also made of clay, but they were much smaller and had two holes upon which pots or pans could be placed, which cooked over a much smaller fire.

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.