Masechet Bava Metzia 104a-110b

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06 Aug 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 Metzia 104a-b

The ninth perek of Masechet Bava Metzia, which is entitled ha-mekabel sadeh me-chaveiro – “Someone who receives a field from his friend” – began on yesterday’s daf and its focus is the relationship between the owner of a field and the person who commits to working the field.

Ordinarily, someone who gives a field to his friend does so with the expectation that the recipient of the field will plow, seed and harvest the field, and that they will share the produce based on some agreed-upon formula. The Mishnah on today’s daf teaches that if the recipient of the field leaves it barren, the courts will estimate how much the field should have produced, and he will have to pay that amount to the owner. The Mishnah explains that this is based on the agreement which states “if I leave the field barren and do not work it, I will pay the full value.”

One of the questions raised by the commentaries is why the Mishnah needs to teach us this rule. Clearly, if a condition like that is agreed upon and is written into an agreement, the parties involved will have to keep it.

Rabbeinu Chananel explains that the condition written in the agreement is not written appropriately, that is, it does not follow the regulations derived from the negotiations between the tribes of Reuven and Gad with Moshe that appears in Sefer Bamidbar (chapter 32) – see Kiddushin 61 for details on the rules of tenai Bnei Gad and Bnei Reuven. Furthermore, there is an element of asmachta – an assumption made by the recipient that he will never have to pay the penalty, since he is certain that the circumstances will never come to pass, i.e. he is certain that he will work the field. Generally speaking we rule that asmachta lo kanya – when someone agrees to a condition because he is certain that it will never come to pass, the agreement does not take effect.

Many commentaries explain otherwise, arguing that the Mishnah should not be taken literally, and that this rule applies even if the agreement was not clearly written into the contract, if that was common practice in that community.

Bava Metzia 105a-b

The Mishnah on today’s daf discusses the case of a sharecropper who agrees to work the field in exchange for a certain percentage of the harvest, and finds that the field does not produce enough to make it worth his while. According to the Tanna Kamma, if it will produce enough to make a kri – a pile of grain – he is obligated to work the field. Rabbi Yehuda rules that if it will produce the amount of grain that he used for seed, he will have to work the field.

In offering a practical definition for Rabbi Yehuda’s ruling, Rabbi Ami quoted Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that for a field the size of a kor, four se’ah was needed for planting; Rabbi Ami himself said that for a field that size eight se’ah was needed. An elderly man explained this discrepancy to Rav Hama brei d’Rabbah bar Avuha by telling him that during Rabbi Yochanan’s time the land of Israel was fertile, but during Rabbi Ami’s time it had become barren.

There is much evidence in the Gemara – particularly in the Talmud Yerushalmi – that the fertility of the land of Israel dropped precipitously during the period of the amoraim. We find that even during Rabbi Yochanan’s time – in the first generation of amoraim – he mentions a change in the land’s produce. This stemmed, apparently, from a worsening of economic conditions in the Jewish community in Israel, which led to improper use and maintenance of agricultural land at that time. This led to over-farming the land, whose consequence was a drop in its ability to support crops.

The Gemara also mentions two different methods of farming – mapolet yad (hand seeding) and mapolet shevarim (seeding with oxen). Mapolet shevarim made use of a mechanism that held seeds and was attached to the plow so that the seeds were distributed directly as the plowing was done. While this method saved time and effort, a much larger amount of seeds was needed in order to reach the same level of produce as planting with the mapolet yad method.

Bava Metzia 106a-b

Can someone who rents a field decide to plant something other than what was agreed upon?

According to the last Mishnah on today’s daf, if the agreement was to plant oats he cannot plant wheat, but if the agreement was to plant wheat, he would be allowed to plant oats. Similarly, if the agreement was to plant grain, he cannot plant legumes (kitnit), but if they had agreed that he would plant kitnit, he can choose to plant grain. In both of these cases Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel disagrees, ruling that no change can be made.

The Tanna Kamma‘s reasoning is that certain crops weaken the ground more than others. Since the individual who is planting is only renting the field, he cannot sow a crop that will weaken it more than what they had agreed upon. If, however, he wants to sow a crop that will do less damage to the ground, he would be permitted to do so.

Although there are some manuscripts that have the Tanna Kamma permitting the planting of grain instead of the agreed-upon legumes, the reading that appears above would not seem to be the correct one, since kitniyotleguminae – are well known as adding to the wellbeing of the soil. The root of leguminae has bacteria that allow them to extract nitrogen from the air, making it more fertile.

The Gemara explains Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel’s position as being based on the passage in Tzefania (3:13) forbidding people from being deceptive under any circumstances, even if in the end something positive will come out of it. Another explanation raised in the Gemara is that the owner of the field may have a specific reason why he wants a certain crop to be planted. According to Rashi, he may want the field to grow the same crop every year. Tosafot suggest that the owner may want to rotate his crops, in order to be sure that the soil retains different types of nutrients.

Bava Metzia 107a-b

Your mother always told you not to skip breakfast. What do the Rabbinic Sages have to say on the matter?

Our Gemara quotes Rava as asking Rabbah bar Mari for the source for the Rabbinic dictum that you should make sure to eat early in the morning – in the summer because of the heat and in the winter because of the cold. Furthermore the Rabbis taught that sixty men cannot catch the individual who made sure to eat in the morning.

Rabbah bar Mari responded with a passage from Sefer Yeshayahu (49:10) which indicates that eating in the morning will protect a person from heat and cold. Rava suggested a pasuk from the Torah. The passage in Sefer Shemot (23:25) teaches:

  1. va-avadetem et ha-Shem Elokechem – that first one must serve God – understood by Rava as morning prayers, then
  2. u-berakh et lahmekhah ve-et me-mekhah– your bread and water are blessed, and finally
  3. va-hasiroti machalah mi-kirbekhah – illnesses are removed from you.

This approach matches current medical thinking that breakfast is the most important meal of the day. After hours of sleep, during which time a person does not eat or enjoy any sustenance, the body needs a certain amount of liquid and nutrition in order to meet the individual’s immediate needs. Although healthy people have stored energy reserves in their bodies that allow a person to function even without a morning meal, nevertheless, a regular breakfast allows for normal activity throughout the day.

The passage quoted by Rava teaches that machalah is removed. The Gemara identifies machalah specifically with marah – diseases of the gall bladder. While this organ certainly can become diseased, it is odd to find an emphasis on these diseases specifically. While the Gemara may be referring to the gall bladder as representative of digestive diseases generally, some suggest that this is a reference to the basic belief of Greek medicine (one that was popular until recent times) that the body was composed of four humours – arba marot – and that a lack of balance between these humours could lead to both physical and spiritual diseases.

Bava Metzia 108a-b

Is there a mitzvah to be a “good person”?

One of the general commandments in the Torah is Ve-asitah ha-yashar ve-ha-tov- lifnei Hashem – that you should do what is right and good before God (Devarim 6:18). This mitzvah is understood by the Sages as requiring the Jewish people to behave appropriately towards others even when there is no specific monetary obligation to do so. One example is the rule of bar mitzrah – a neighbor. Someone who owns an adjoining field has the first rights to purchase it in the event that his neighbor decides to sell it. Since there are obvious advantages to owning two fields that are right next to each other, the Sages established a number of enactments that give the neighbor preferential treatment when the field is being sold.

The Gemara also enumerates a number of cases where the laws of bar mitzrah do not apply. Thus, someone who sells all of his possessions to a single individual will not have to offer first rights of refusal to his neighbor (Some say that this is because he may be allowed the convenience of selling everything at once, and not having to worry about multiple contracts and receipts. According to the Rambam this is because someone who sells all of his possessions must be forced to do it because of pressing family or financial reasons, and we will not force him to begin negotiations with the neighbor). Similarly someone who sells to the original owner – i.e. the person he bought it from does not have to offer it to the neighbor, or if he gave the field as a present to someone, he does not have to offer it to the neighbor.

A notable exception is someone who purchases a field from a non-Jew, who can tell the neighbor that he should be thanked for “chasing away a lion,” i.e. that he should be happy to have a Jewish neighbor (who will work out disagreements through the Jewish courts, etc.) rather than a non-Jewish one. The Rosh challenges this Gemara by asking why this is such a good argument – shouldn’t the purchaser still be obligated to offer the field to the neighbor based on the commandment ve-asitah ha-yashar ve-ha-tov? This leads the Rosh to conclude that only the seller is obligated in the laws of bar mitzrah. The purchaser has no responsibility at all to make sure that the neighbors are pleased with the sale.

Bava Metzia 109a-b

How much notice must be given to a worker who is going to be fired?

Our Gemara tells the story of a man named Runia who worked for Ravina planting for him. Ravina found that his work was poor and that he was losing money, so he fired him. When Runia complained to Rava that he had been fired without warning, Rava responded that there was no need to warn him before letting him go.

The Gemara explains that this is not true in all cases, rather that according to Rava there are certain professions whose workers are considered mutrin ve-omdin – that they are always “on notice” since the damage that they do cannot be undone. The list of professions includes:

Rashi explains that makrei dardekei are a problem because of the mistakes that the children cannot unlearn. The Ri”f suggests that this is talking about a teacher who is violent towards the students or who cannot control them. Tosafot suggest that the irreplaceable loss is the loss of time that the children could have been learning.

With regard to the tabacha, the Ra’avad asks why his mistake should be considered a loss, since he would be required to pay for mistakes that he made. The Ra’avad suggests that there are cases where the damage is permanent, e.g. when the customer needed meat for a guest or for his own meal and has no other options.

Although we translated safar mata as a scribe, some suggest that it should be read sapar mata – the city barber, and that the reference is to someone who gives haircuts that leave the recipients publicly embarrassed.

Bava Metzia 110a-b

Paying a worker on time is a biblical commandment. In two places the Torah commands that a daily worker must be paid promptly –

  1. Vayikra 19:13 lo talin pe’ulat sakhir itkhah ad boker – “do not retain the wages of a hired worker until the morning,” and
  2. Devarim 24:15 be-yomo ti-ten sekharo, ve-lo yavo alav ha-shemesh – “on that day give him his wages; the sun should not set on it.”

The Mishnah on our daf understands that the passage in Vayikra teaches the law of a day worker, who must be paid by sometime during the night following the completion of his work, while the law regarding a night worker, who finishes his work by morning, requires payment by the end of the day, based on the pasuk in Sefer Devarim. Someone who is paid according to the hours that he works must be paid the same day (or the same night) that he does his work. The principle presented by the Gemara is that sechirut enah mishtalemet ela ba-sof – workers get paid only upon completion of their work – so once the worker has completed the agreed-upon time or project, the person who hired him has a reasonable amount of time to pay him his wages.

The Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that if wages are not paid on time, the employer has transgressed both positive and negative commandments. Nevertheless, there are no further biblical prohibitions forbidding holding back wages beyond the first day or the first night. Rav teaches that there is a rabbinic prohibition that he calls bal tash’he – don’t “hold back” wages. Support for this idea comes from a passage in Mishlei (3:28) quoted by Rav Yosef, which teaches that a person should not tell his friend that he should “come back tomorrow” to receive payment that is due him.

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.