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.
Rav Safra quotes Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chanania as suggesting that the Torah‘s use of ve-shinantem as the expression used to command that parents teach their children Torah (see Devarim 6:7) should be understood to mean that Torah study should be divided into three parts, and a person should divide his years so that one third of the time is spent studying mikra (the written Torah), one third studying Mishnah (oral traditions) and one third Gemara (underlying concepts and discussion of the Mishnah). The Gemara objects to this suggestion, arguing that a person cannot possibly know how long he will live, and will not be able to divide up his time properly. In response the Gemara concludes that a person should divide up his days, rather than his years.
Rashi understands the suggestion of dividing days to mean that the days of the week should be devoted to different areas of study. Tosafot disagree, and rule that every day should be divided up. This appears to be the source for the Gaonic tradition – one that appears in our prayer books to this day – that includes korbanot, a section of readings culled from the written Torah, the Mishnah and the Gemara, whose focus is on the daily sacrifices. Traditionally, people rely on a different suggestion raised by Tosafot in the name of Rabbeinu Tam, that the standard Babylonian Talmud includes a mixture of mikra, Mishnah and Gemara, and its study fulfills the requirement of dividing the days between these different areas of Torah study.
In his Lekutei Torah, Rav Shneur Zalman mi-Liadi suggests that the categories should be viewed more broadly, and that mikra refers not only to the written Torah, but also to the midrashim and commentaries written about it, while Mishnah refers to the halakhic part of the Torah. This allows a person to keep a schedule of dividing Torah into three parts even as he develops intellectually and needs less time for “simpler” aspects of Torah study.
Who gets more credit – someone who does mitzvot because he is obligated or someone who does mitzvot as a volunteer?
Although most people’s immediate reaction is to give more credit to the volunteer who has indicated a personal desire to perform mitzvot, Rabbi Chanina rules gadol ha-mitzuveh ve-oseh me-me she-aino metzuveh ve-oseh – that someone who is commanded to perform a mitzvah and does so is greater than someone who performs the commandment without being obligated to do so. The Gemara reports that upon hearing this teaching, Rabbi Yosef who was blind said that he would throw a party for the sages who ruled against Rabbi Yehuda who says that blind people are not obligated to perform mitzvot, since he wanted to receive appropriate reward for his actions.
Why would this be true? Several approaches are offered by the rishonim.
Tosafot explain that a person who is commanded to perform mitzvot has a harder time doing them because his evil inclination discourages him from doing what he needs to do. A volunteer, who knows that he is not really obligated in the mitzvah and can choose not to do it, does not have to resist his evil inclination when performing the mitzvah. Tosafot Toch suggests simply that there is less reward for someone who performs an action that may not be God’s will, as evidenced by the fact that he was not commanded to do it.
The Rambam concludes from this Gemara that we cannot discount the actions performed by someone who was not commanded to do a mitzvah, since the Gemara states that such a person receives less of a reward, but clearly he does receive some level of reward for doing what he did. Rabbeinu Tam goes so far as to use this Gemara as a source for his ruling that women who are not obligated in mitzvot asei she-hazman gerama – positive commandments that are time-related – should, nevertheless, recite a blessing upon performing them. This has become the accepted ruling on this matter, at least in the Ashkenazi community.
Our Gemara, whose focus has been the mutual obligations of parents to their children and children to their parents, concludes that the obligation of morah – awe of one’s parents (see Vayikra 19:3) – forbids a child from sitting in his father or mother’s place, contradicting them, etc. while kibbud – respect (see Shemot 20:11) – obligates a child to feed and clothe his parents. Who must pay for this? Is the child obligated to do so, or should the funds come from the parents’ money?
Rav Yehuda rules that the child must pay; Rav Natan bar Oshaya rules that the parent must pay.
The latter position is accepted by most of the rishonim as the halacha, that although the child must take the responsibility to make sure that the parent has what he or she needs, the child will not have to pay for it.
What will the halacha be in a situation where the child is wealthy and the parent cannot afford to pay for his or her basic needs? Here the rishonim are clear that the child must pay whatever is necessary to support his or her parents, and that the courts will even force the child to do so, if necessary. The source of this obligation, however, is a point of dispute. Rabbeinu Tam sees it as a basic obligation of kibbud av va-em, arguing that the discussion in our Gemara was based on the assumption that the parent had enough money to pay for his or her needs. In the event that the parent cannot pay for those needs, the child will be obligated to do so. According to most of the rishonim, the child will not be obligated to support the parent because of kibbud av va-em, rather because of the child’s obligation of tzedakah – to give charity. With regard to charity, a person is obligated to give support to those who are closest, and the courts do have the right, according to Jewish law, to force a person to give what he can afford for communal needs.
The passage mipnei seivah takum ve-hadarta penei zaken commands us to stand up before an elderly person and honor the aged (see Vayikra 19:32). Nevertheless, the Gemara understands that honoring the zaken obligates us to stand before a Torah scholar. Isi ben Yehudah comments that the obligation to stand before the elderly applies to all old people. The Gemara records that Rabbi Yochanan who accepts Isi’s ruling made it his business to stand before elderly non-Jews, saying kamah harpatki adu alayhu d’hani – “how many adventures this man must have experienced!”
The expression harpatka is used in Modern Hebrew to mean “adventures.” It appears to have its source in middle Persian, perhaps from the word ahraftak meaning “time” or “the experiences that come with time.” The Aruch translates the word as “time” and specifically as “difficult times.” Rabbenu Yehonatan explains that the fact that a person succeeded in surviving to an old age, living through good times and bad, is an indication that he is loved by God and that the world has a particular need for this person – thus he is deserving of honor. The Chatam Sofer writes that the honor given to an elderly person – even to a non-Jew – stems from a source similar to that of the Torah scholar, since the life experiences of an old person are also knowledge that deserves respect.
The Gemara continues, telling stories about Rava, Abayye and Rav Nahman, Torah scholars all, who – according to Rashi‘s understanding of their behaviors – chose not to offer personal honor to elderly people who were not scholars, but chose instead to send servants or messengers to assist and honor them. While Tosafot appear to suggest that these elderly people were Jewish, most of the mefarshim (commentators) understand that this follows Isi ben Yehuda’s ruling, and that it includes non-Jewish elderly, as well. According to the Shittah Mekubetzet the people who were being honored were chasidei umot ha-olam – righteous gentiles.
The Mishnah (29b) taught that women are not obligated in mitzvot asei she-hazman geramah – positive commandments that are dependent on time. Our Gemara asks for a source that frees women from these commandments, and presents Tefillin as the archetype – just as women are not obligated to lay Tefillin, similarly all mitzvot asei she-hazman geramah are not obligatory for women.
The Shittah Mekubetzet asks why the Gemara asks for a source freeing women from mitzvot asei she-hazman geramah rather than asking how we know that women are obligated to perform any mitzvot asei at all. Anyone who studies the Torah knows that it is written in the masculine, and appears to be directing its commands to men. Furthermore, the Gemara later on (35b) feels obligated to prove that women are obligated to refrain from negative commandments (mitzvot lo ta’aseh). The Shittah Mekubetzet answers that we know that the Gemara has sources indicating that women are obligated in certain mitzvot asei she-hazman geramah (e.g. the commandment to eat matzah on Pesach), thus it is only natural that the Gemara would seek a source for the fact that women are not obligated in other mitzvot. He also points out that the entire question is predicated on a misunderstanding of the foundation of the Torah, since it is well known that the Torah was given to the entire Jewish People – men and women – based on the passage (Shemot 19:3) ko tomar le-bet Yaakov ve-taged li-bnei Yisrael, which is understood by the Sages to mean that Moshe was obligated to teach the Torah to the women (Bet Yaakov) as well as the men (Bnei Yisrael).
It is interesting to note that the 20th century movement of formal Torah schooling for women that was the brainchild of Sarah Schenirer, who recognized that in the modern age in order to ensure that women kept mitzvot it was essential that girls join their brothers in the study of Torah, was called Bet Yaakov based on this midrash.
The Mishnah (29a) taught that women are obligated to refrain from all mitzvot lo ta’aseh – negative commandments – with the exception of three –
- Bal takif (not to shaving their payot – the “corners” of the hair on one’s head – see Vayikra 19:27)
- Bal tash’hit (not to shave one’s beard – according to the Gemara, with a razor – see Vayikra 19:27)
- Bal titmah le-metim (a kohen cannot come into contact with a dead body – see Vayikra 21:1).
In searching for sources for these laws the Gemara points out that the commandment that kohanim refrain from ritual defilement is clearly directed to men only – “bnei Aharon,” ve-lo b’not Aharon (see Vayikra 21:1). The suggested source that excludes women from cutting their payot and beards is the juxtaposition of the hair of one’s payot with the hair of one’s beard in the passage in Vayikra (19:27) – lo takifu pe’at roshkhem ve-lo tsh’hit et pe’at zekanechah. The Gemara argues that the law that applies to the beard also applies to the payot, and since women do not ordinarily have a beard, the prohibition against shaving one’s beard does not apply to them, thus the prohibition against cutting payot does not apply to them either.
With regard to men, our Gemara concludes that since the Torah used the term lo tash’hit (do not destroy) with regard to cutting one’s beard, the prohibition regarding shaving one’s beard would only be with a razor, which is mash’chit (destructive), but mispara’im ke-en ta’ar – a scissor-like cutting action that removes hair – is permitted. Based on this, most rishonim permit shaving one’s beard if it is done using that method, but they still prohibit cutting one’s payot against the skin even mispara’im ke-en ta’ar, since regarding this halacha the Torah forbids the very act of hakafah (rounding the “corners”.) The Rambam, however, disagrees, apparently because he takes the juxtaposition of bal takif and bal tash’hit very seriously, concluding that all of the laws of one apply to the other, as well. Thus, just as one’s beard can be cut with a scissors, so one’s payot can be cut with a scissors. [Note that in the famous portrait of the Rambam he does not appear to have payot.]
It should be noted that based on Kabbalistic sources, the Ar”i forbade cutting one’s beard under all circumstances.
The Mishnah on our daf teaches that many of the laws that relate to bringing sacrifices in the Temple apply to men and not to women. The exceptions are the mitzvah of tenufah – lifting the mincha (the meal offering) – brought by a sotah (a woman suspected of adultery who drinks the “bitter waters” – see Bamidbar 5:11-31) and a nezirah (see Bamidbar 6). The mincha was brought by the person bringing the sacrifice in a basket. It was removed from the basket and placed in a kli sharet – a utensil belonging to the Temple – and was given to the woman to hold. As is generally the case with menachot, tenufah was then done, with the kohen placing his hands under the hands of the owner and lifting the mincha up in the air. Afterwards it was brought to the altar and sacrificed, with the remainder given to the kohanim to eat.
Tosafot in Yevamot (19a) bring a question that is presented by the Talmud Yerushalmi. Is there not a lack of propriety in having the kohen lift the mincha up thereby touching the hands of the woman? The Yerushalmi rejects the possibility that a cloth was placed between their hands, arguing that something like that would create a chatzitzah – a separation – which would not allow the requirement of tenufah to be fulfilled correctly. Rather, the Yerushalmi concludes, such a short term physical touch does not lend itself to sensuality.
Others suggest that the kohen did not actually place his hands directly under the woman’s while he was performing tenufah with her, rather he would hold the edges of the utensil on their upper end. The Tosafot HaRosh suggests that we can reconcile the two explanations by saying that the Talmud Yerushalmi recognized that given the close proximity of the kohen and the sotah, it was likely that they would come into contact with one another, and that putting them into such a situation was deemed inappropriate. The conclusion, however, was that contact for just a moment is no
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.