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 7a-b
The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that all of the people living together in homes that face a courtyard must contribute to basic needs of the courtyard – e.g. a gatehouse and door. Similarly, all of the inhabitants of a city must contribute to the communal needs of the city.
The bet sha’ar or gatehouse was a small building that was erected at the entrance to a courtyard whose purpose was to regulate entry into the courtyard, occasionally with the assistance of a guard who would be stationed within.
Although the Mishnah presents the idea of a gatehouse as essential for the courtyard, the Gemara questions whether such a structure is a good thing to have at the entrance. The Gemara tells of a certain pious individual who was often visited by Eliyahu HaNavi, and that after building a gatehouse, Elijah stopped coming to him. The Gemara offers several different possible distinctions between recommended gatehouses and those that are problematic –
- Is the gatehouse positioned inside or outside the courtyard?
- Does the gatehouse include a door or not?
- Is the door secured by a latch or not?
- Can the latch be opened from the outside or only from the inside?
The idea behind all of these possibilities is that it is reasonable to construct a gatehouse that is set up to help the inhabitants of the courtyard control the flow of people coming in from the public thoroughfare, but only if it will still afford access to a poor person who wants to come and collect alms from the people who live there.
The latch that is mentioned as one of the factors that is considered is called a potachat by the Gemara, a type of lock-and-key combination that was popular in the time of the Mishnah. When inserted in the key hole, the door could be opened easily by a person, but it held the door closed against animals pressing on it.
Bava Batra 8a-b
Following the Mishna‘s discussion (daf 7b) of communal responsibilities, the Gemara on our daf teaches laws regarding the community’s obligation to ensure that the needy were taken care of by collecting charity.
According to the baraita:
- Money for the charity box – kupat tzedakah – is collected by two people and distributed by three, one time per week specifically to poor members of the community
- Food for the charity plate – tamchui– is collected by three and distributed by three on a daily basis to whoever is in need.
- The community can switch monies between the kupat tzedakah and the tamchui, and, in fact, can choose to use the money that was collected for any community purpose.
The rishonim argue about how to understand the ruling that collected charity money can be used for any purpose based on a decision made by the community. Rabbeinu Chananel, the Ramah and others suggest that this allows the community to switch the money from one charitable need to another, but that they cannot use it for any other purpose. The Ramban and Rabbenu Yonah understand that the community has the ability to decide to use the money for any purpose, although the Ramban permits use only as a loan that will be returned to the poor at a later date. Tosafot and other rishonim allow great latitude for the community to use charity money for any community need.
The tamchui – the charity plate – that is mentioned appears to have been a large, deep plate that was used to hold food. A tamchui could be made out of any material – metal, wood, glass – although most of them appear to have been made of earthenware. Some of the tamchui’s were very large and could hold a large amount of food; some even had sections in them so that different types of food could be placed inside without getting mixed together. It appears that the tamchui mentioned in our Gemara was a simple one where people placed food for the poor according to their generosity.
Bava Batra 9a-b
The Gemara on today’s daf continues discussing the theme of tzedakah – charity – that began on yesterday’s daf, by offering a selection of statements made by the Sages about the importance and significance of giving charity.
Rav Assi teaches that the commandment to give charity is considered equivalent to all of the other mitzvot in the Torah (based on the passage in Nehemiah 10:33)
Rabbi Elazar teaches that when the Temple stood, a person could bring his shekel as a donation to the Bet ha-Mikdash and receive forgiveness; since the destruction of the Temple, if people involve themselves with acts of charity all will be well, if not, their enemies will come and take their money by force.
Rabbi Elazar teaches that someone who gives charity in secret (tzedakah b’seter) is greater than Moshe (based on a contrast between Devarim 9:19 and Mishlei 21:14).
Rabbi Yitzhak teaches that someone who gives a coin to a poor person receives six blessings (based on Yeshayahu 58:7-9) while someone who speaks consoles and nicely to him receives eleven blessings (based on the continuation of the text in Yeshayahu, 58:10-12).
Regarding this last teaching, Tosafot suggest that Rabbi Yitzhak does not mean to suggest that someone who consoles a poor person in addition to giving him charity will receive all of these blessings (although it is certainly a good thing to give charity and console), rather even someone who cannot offer charity for one reason or another, will still receive a myriad of blessings if he treats the poor person with respect and offers him words of encouragement. The commentaries note that just as the halacha views causing emotional pain to another person as being more severe than causing him monetary loss, similarly calming and consoling someone in need is viewed as even greater than offering them money.
Bava Batra 10a-b
In the context of discussing the importance of giving charity, Rabbi Meir raises one of the most basic questions of theology – why doesn’t God, who loves all of His children, and is omnipotent – support the indigent? The answer that he offers is that God offers us an opportunity to do good by giving charity, thus saving us from the punishment of Gehinom.
The Gemara relates that Turnisrufus – Tineius Rufus, the Roman governor in Israel after the destruction of the Second Temple – asked Rabbi Akiva this very question. When Rabbi Akiva shared Rabbi Me’ir’s answer with him, Turnisrufus responded that he could prove that giving charity should have the opposite effect, sending the giver to Gehinom. His argument was that if a king becomes angry at his servant and banishes him to the dungeon, ordering that he be neither fed nor given to drink, he would certainly be upset with someone who defied his orders and fed the prisoner. Given that the Jewish people are the servants of God (based on Vayikra 25:55) and that He decreed that some people are poor, how can you suggest that it fulfills God’s will for His servants to feed the poor, who he decreed should be poor?
Rabbi Akiva responded with a parallel parable. If a king becomes angry with his son and banishes him to the dungeon, ordering that he be neither fed nor given to drink, he would certainly be pleased to hear that someone defied his orders and fed the prisoner. No doubt that person would be rewarded! Given that the Jewish people are called the sons of God (based on Devarim 14:1), this is the appropriate comparison.
Unsatisfied, Turnisrufus argued that the Jewish people are considered God’s children only when they serve him properly. Given the current state of the Jewish people, he argued that they were certainly at a point in history when they should be viewed as God’s servants, and that his parable was the correct one. Rabbi Akiva pointed to the passage in Yeshayahu (58:7), which he interpreted to refer to a situation where foreign soldiers were billeted in Jewish homes, as discussing current reality – and that passage concludes “offer the hungry your bread.”
Turnisrufus ruled in Judea during the period of the Bar Kochba revolt, which he put down with great cruelty. As is told in this story, he carried on philosophical and theological debates with Rabbi Akiva – whose death he ordered as one of the Asara harugei malchut – the Ten Martyrs.
Bava Batra 11a-b
Closing the section on the subject of charity, our Gemara relates the story of King Munbaz, who spent all of the money in his treasury as well as his father and forefather’s treasures in order to support the country during a year of famine. When his actions were criticized by his brothers and his family, he responded that his fathers and forefathers had collected fortunes, but that his use of the money was better:
- My fathers collected treasure below, I am collecting treasures above (based on Tehillim 85:12).
My fathers collected treasure where it can be stolen, I am collecting in a safe place (based on Tehillim 89:15)
- My fathers collected treasure that did not earn interest, I am collecting treasure that earns interest (based on Yeshayahu 3:10).
- My fathers collected treasure of money, I am collecting treasures of souls (based on Mishle 11:30).
- My fathers collected treasure for others, I am collecting treasure for myself (based on Devarim 24:13).
- My fathers collected treasure for this world, I am collecting treasures in the next world (based on Yeshayahu 58:8).
Munbaz was the king of Adiabene at the end of the Second Temple period. Adiabene was a small kingdom in the north of Syria on the banks of the Euphrates. In the generation prior to the destruction of the second Temple, Queen Heleni, together with her sons Munbaz and Izates, began to study Torah with Jews who traveled through their kingdom, and eventually converted to Judaism. It appears that other members of the ruling elite did so, as well. Heleni visited Jerusalem a number of times and made donations both to the Temple and to the destitute people living there. Her children followed in her footsteps, and even sent troops to support the Jewish uprising during the Great Revolt. Upon his mother’s death, Munbaz declined the position of monarch, allowing his brother to become king, but he took the throne upon his brother’s death. Stories about this family, including detailed accounts of their conversion, appear in Josephus. It appears that after his death, Munbaz was buried in the Graves of the Kings in Jerusalem together with other members of his family.
Bava Batra 12a-b
When studying the Bible we find that prophecy begins to wane during the Second Temple times, and that by the time the Second Temple was destroyed, prophecy has largely ceased to exist. The Gemara on today’s daf discusses what became of nevuah – of prophecy.
Rabbi Yochanan taught that from the time the Temple was destroyed, nevuah was taken from the prophets and given to shotim and tinokot – to fools and to small children.
This difficult statement has been the center of much debate and discussion among the commentaries.
The Maharsha rejects the notion that true prophecy has been given to these kinds of people. The concept of prophecy – of the ability to receive the word of God – must be given to those people who are on a high spiritual and intellectual level. He suggests that we are not discussing true nevuah here, rather a lower level of foreknowledge that comes through a supernatural force, but not through a real relationship with God.
The Iyun Yaakov suggests that the lack of nevuah after the destruction of the Temple is a consequence of the fact that en nevuah shorah ela mitokh simcha – that prophecy can only take place in a setting of joy – and after the destruction of the Temple, people with high levels of intellectual and spiritual sensitivity cannot reach a level of joy that would allow them to connect with the Almighty. Specifically because of their lack of sensitivity, fools and children may occasionally undergo a prophetic experience.
The Maharal explains that there is a constant barrage of prophetic waves that emanate from on high that are beyond the comprehension of people with normal intellect. Ordinarily, only select individuals – nevi’im – are able to tap into these waves and still retain their sanity, while ordinary people cannot receive these waves because of their source, which is beyond comprehension. It is specifically those individuals whose intellect does not stand in the way of their comprehension – like children and fools – who can occasionally receive these messages.
Bava Batra 13a-b
The Gemara on our daf focuses on scrolls of Torah, Nevi’im (Prophets) and Ketuvim (Writings).
Rabbi Meir rules that the entire text of Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim can be written in a single scroll. Rabbi Yehuda rules that each of them must be written in a separate scroll. The Chachamim rule that each of the books of the prophets must be written in a separate scroll by itself.
While Rabbeinu Chananel explains that the reason Rabbi Yehuda insists on separate scrolls is so that the holier Torah should not end up being under the books of navi or Ketuvim, Tosafot argue that this would not explain the reason for separate scrolls for nevi’im and Ketuvim. Therefore Tosafot suggest that the reason is simply to distinguish between them.
Rebbe (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) relates that a scroll with Torah, Nevi’im and Ketuvim was presented to him and he approved it. In fact, the halacha follows Rebbe, and we allow these disparate texts to be bound up in a scroll together, although they will not have the holiness of a sefer Torah, rather they are treated as ordinary Chumashim (see the Rambam in Hilkhot Sefer Torah 7:15). These types of scrolls are not made with two handles like a sefer Torah, but with a single handle. In order to protect the parchment and the writing on such a scroll, the baraita requires that a sufficient amount of empty parchment be left on the inside, so that it can fit around the wooden handle (ke-day lagol amud), and a larger amount of empty parchment must be left at the end of the scroll so that it can fit around the entire width of the scroll (ke-day lagol hekef).
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.
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.