Masechet Bava Metzia 118a-119a

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Terraced Field
20 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 118a-b

When someone owes money to another person, how must he pay him? Must he pay in currency that can be easily spent, or can he give him other items of value to pay off the debt?

The Mishnah on our daf tells of a worker who was hired to gather straw. Upon completing his work and asking to be paid, his employer tells him to take the straw that he gathered and keep it as his wages. According to the Mishnah, the worker does not have to accept the straw instead of the agreed upon wages. If he does agree to accept the straw, however, the employer cannot change his mind later on and say that he wants the straw and will pay him his salary.

This halacha stands, even though the general rule is that shaveh kesef ke-kesef – that objects of value are viewed as money – since the pasuk that requires prompt payment (Vayikra 19:13) is understood to obligate an employer to pay his worker according to their agreement.

The rishonim establish three different types of situations of payment where objects of value may be used instead of actual cash payments –

  1. Ba’al chov – a borrower must pay back a loan in cash, unless he does not have any money with which to pay. If he has no money then he must pay back what he has available. If it is land, he pays beinonit – middle quality land.
  2. Nezikin – damages, where the person who caused the damage can pay with whatever he has, but if he pays with land, he will pay idit – the best quality land
  3. Sachir – a hired worker, who must be paid in cash, and the employer is obligated to find money for him, even if he does not have it readily available.

The Ran explains the rule of sachir as being based on the assumption that a worker needs the money for day-to-day living expenses, and he does not anticipate having to go to the trouble of selling what he receives in order to support himself.

Bava Metzia 119a

The Mishnah on yesterday’s daf (118b) discusses a situation where two fields were terraced so that one was situated above the other, with a tree growing out of the side of the terrace. The Mishnah records a disagreement between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda, with Rabbi Shimon suggesting a compromise position. According to Rabbi Shimon, all fruit that can be reached by the owner of the top field will belong to him; the rest belongs to the owner of the bottom field.

The Gemara on our daf reports that Ephraim Safra, one of Reish Lakish‘s students, quoted Reish Lakish as accepting Rabbi Shimon’s position. When this was shared with Shevor Malka, he praised the good sense of Rabbi Shimon’s ruling.

Shevor MalkaShahpuhr – was the name of a number of Persian kings. According to Rashi and other rishonim, our Gemara is referring to the first king Shahpuhr, who continued his father’s success in wars against the Roman Empire, capturing the city of Netzivim and arriving at the border of Syria. In the course of a number of attacks, he not only defeated the Roman emperor Velrinus, but he captured him and held him until his death. With regard to internal matters, he was an open-minded leader, and allowed a good deal of freedom of religion. It appears that he showed an interest in Judaism and was on good terms with the amora Shmuel.

Although we find a number of places in the Talmud where Shmuel is referred to by the nickname Shevor Malka, Rashi rejects the possibility that this is the case here, since it is obvious that Shmuel would have known the Mishnah and would have been familiar with Rabbi Shimon’s ruling. Therefore it does not make sense to suggest that he praised Rabbi Shimon after hearing Ephraim Safra quoting Reish Lakish’s ruling.

In his Ya’arot Devash, Rabbi Yonatan Eibeschutz discusses how this teaching could have been shared with Shevor Malka, given the tradition that forbids teaching Torah to non-Jews. He explains that among the Noachide laws that non-Jews are obligated to follow are dinim – jurisprudence. Thus it is appropriate to teach Noachides property law as interpreted by the Sages.

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.