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.
Menachot 30a-b: Could Moshe have written his own obituary?
Rav Yehoshua bar Abba quotes Rav Gidel in the name of Rav, as teaching that the last eight pesukim of the Torah have a unique status – that “an individual reads them in the synagogue” – that they are a unique single unit. What is special about these 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 Devarim31:26). 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.
Menachot 31a-b: Writing a mezuzah
Beginning on today’s daf, the discussion in the Gemara moves away from the laws of a Sefer Torah and turns its focus on the laws of mezuzah, which was mentioned in the previous Mishnah (daf 28a).
A number of the laws distinguish specifically between the way a Torah must be written and the way a mezuzah is written. For example, certain parts of the Torah, like Parashat Ha’azinu and Shirat ha-Yam – the song sung by the Children of Israel upon crossing the Red Sea – are written as song or poetry. These special songs must be written in a unique fashion, and the rest of the Torah cannot be written in that way, while a mezuzah can be written in poetic form, even though that is not the ordinary way of writing it. Another example is the length of a given line. A line in the Torah must have at least 30 letters in the line (the word le-mishpehoteichem written out three times), while a mezuzah may have even two words on a given line.
There is, of course, a single tradition regarding how the two parshiyot, or chapters, of Shema and ve-haya im shamo’a in mezuzot are to be written, which has been the practice of Jewish scribes for hundreds of years. This standard model has 22 lines, each of which opens with a specific word. According to this ancient tradition, the second parsha – ve-haya im shamo’a – starts at the beginning of the seventh line. This does not allow for the usual split between two separate parshiyot, which ordinarily is an empty space dividing between the conclusion of the first parsha and the beginning of the second parsha on the same line. This is resolved by following the position of the Rambam so that an empty space is left following the end of the first parsha, and the second parsha – ve-haya im shamo’a – is indented into the following line.
Menachot 32a-b: King Monbaz and a mezuzah on a stick
Regarding the laws of mezuzah, Rav Yehuda quotes Shmuel as teaching that putting a mezuzah on a stick so that it can be placed near the doorpost – or even tied on to it – is not a fulfillment of the mitzvah, and, in fact, is dangerous. Nevertheless, the Gemara reports that the household of King Monbaz did this very thing when they stayed in inns while traveling, so that they would at least have the remembrance of the mitzvah.
Rashi explains that since the mitzvah was not fulfilled, in consequence the person does not receive the protection offered by the mezuzah, and will find himself in danger. The family of King Monbaz was traveling, and, as such, was not obligated in the commandment – the Talmud Yerushalmi suggests that it was during wartime – and they wanted, nevertheless to remember the mitzvah, yet have a convenient method of taking it with them.
Monbaz 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 Monbaz 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, Monbaz 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, Monbaz was buried in the Graves of the Kings in Jerusalem together with other members of his family.
The Talmud often comments that the activities of this family were praiseworthy, and we find a detailed description of their lives and their conversion to Judaism in the works of Josephus.
Menachot 33a-b: Where – and why – do we affix mezuzot on our doors?
Rava teaches that we are commanded to place the mezuzah on the doorpost facing the public domain within the tefach – the handbreadth – closest to the outside.
In discussing why this is the requirement, the Rabbanan say that it is simply so that the mezuzah will be reached immediately upon entering a house. Rabbi Chanina of Sura suggested that it is so that it will protect the entire house. In this context, the Gemara quotes the following in the name of Rabbi Chanina:
Come and see how the character of the Holy One, blessed be He, differs from that of men of flesh and blood. According to human standards, the king dwells within, and his servants keep guard on him from without; but with the Holy One, blessed be He, it is not so, for it is His servants that dwell within and He keeps guard over them from without; as it is said, The Lord is thy keeper; the Lord is thy shade upon thy right hand (Tehillim 121:5).
What is this protection?
Rashi says that it protects the inhabitants of the home from destructive forces.
The idea that the mezuzah offers protection to the inhabitants is found in the Talmud and Midrashim, and it has a source in the Torah itself. When the Children of Israel were leaving Egypt, they placed the blood of the Passover sacrifice on the doorposts of their homes, an act that protected them from the destructive angel who was carrying out the Plague of the Firstborn (see Sefer Shemot12:23). Furthermore, the commandment of mezuzah closes with a promise that fulfillment of this mitzvah will offer “long life to you and to your children.” We therefore find ancient traditions that connect mezuzah with protection, and that people included the names of angels with the parchment. Still the Tur and others rule that the commandment must be fulfilled for itself and not with the intention of gaining such protection.
In a strongly worded statement, the Rambam objects to treating the commandment of mezuzah as an amulet (see Hilchot Tefillin 5:4), and he argues that the “protection” that it offers is that it serves as a reminder of God’s presence and uniqueness, and as such, a reminder that keeps a person from sin.
Menachot 34a-b: Tefillin – of heads and hands.
According to the Mishnah (daf, or page, 28a) all four of the parshiyot, or chapters, of the Torah that are placed in Tefillin (Shema and ve-haya im shamo’a, as in mezuzot, as well as the two other parshiyot where the mitzvah of Tefillin appears in Sefer Shemot, Chapter 13 – kadesh and ve-hayah ki yevi’akhah), must be included in order for the Tefillin be valid. This ruling leads the Gemara to segue from its discussion of mezuzot to a discussion of Tefillin.
The Gemara quotes baraitot that describe the differences between the Tefillin shel rosh – the one placed on the head – and the Tefillin shel yad – the one placed on the arm. The Tefillin shel rosh is made up of four separate pieces of parchment on which the different parshiyot are written. These parchments are placed in four separate compartments of leather that are made together as one. Rashi describes how the soft raw hide is placed over a mold with four protruding “fingers” so that during the processing the leather is stretched out in the appropriate form. These four compartments are pressed together, and when finished there is a clear separation between them that can be seen even from the outside.
In contrast, the baraita teaches that in the Tefillin shel yad all four of the parshiyot are written on a single piece of parchment and placed in a leather box that has a single compartment.
In the continuation of the Gemara, Rav Chananiah quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that although, if necessary, Tefillin shel yad can be made into a shel rosh, a shel rosh cannot be made into a shel yad, since the Tefillin of the head have a higher level of holiness, and the general principal is that we do not lower the holiness of a sanctified object.
Rashi suggests that the higher level of holiness ascribed to the Tefillin shel rosh stems from the fact that two of the three letters of the holy Name shin-dalet-yud are on the shel rosh (the shin appears on the compartment and the dalet is on the knot at the back of the Tefillin, while only the yud is made as a knot on the shel yad. Others disagree with this reasoning and argue that by definition the holiness of the head – the center of human intellect – is of greater import than that of the hand.
Menachot 35a-b: Shapes and colors of Tefillin
The Gemara relates that many of the specific laws regarding Tefillin are halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai – laws taught orally to Moshe Rabbeinu when he was receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai. For example:
- Rav Chananel quotes Rav as teaching that the need for a base for the square Tefillin, called the titura, is a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.
- Abayye teaches that the hollow area through which the strap of the Tefillin is pulled, called the ma’abarta, is halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai
- Similarly, Abayye teaches that the letter shin, formed in the leather or the Tefillin shel rosh – Tefillin worn on the head – is halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.
- Rabbi Yitzhak teaches that the rule requiring the leather straps of the Tefillin to be black is a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai.
- A baraita is quoted as teaching that the requirement that Tefillin must be square is a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai
The Gemara suggests relating this last requirement with the law that appears in a Mishnah in Masechet Megillah (24b), which warns that wearing round Tefillin is dangerous and will not fulfill the mitzvah. Rav Papa argues that the Mishnah in Masechet Megillah may be talking about a different case – where the Tefillin were made round like a nut with no base and there is concern lest the individual wearing such Tefillin may crack his skull if he bangs his head while wearing them. The baraita is teaching that the squareness of the Tefillin is a requirement.
Although the requirement that Tefillin be made square is clearly presented by the Gemara as a halacha le-Moshe mi-Sinai, nevertheless, it appears from the discussion of the rishonim that this was only viewed as a necessity with regard to the Tefillin shel rosh, but that the single parchment of the Tefillin shel yad – Tefillin worn on the arm – could be placed in a cylindrical leather covering if placed on a square base. Evidence of this practice can be found by examining the Tefillin found in the Cairo geniza and in other illustrated manuals from the Medieval period.
Menachot 36a-b: When are tefillin worn?
The general approach of the Gemara is that tefillin are a mitzvat asei she-hazeman grama – a positive time-bound commandment. When do we refrain from wearing Tefillin?
Rabbi Yossi HaGalili points to the passage that commands that Tefillin be worn mi-yamim yamimah – from day to day (see Sefer Shemot 13:10). He suggests that we can learn from here that it is only appropriate to wear Tefillin during the day, and only on some of the days – excluding Shabbat and holidays.
Rabbi Akiva argues that the basic source to limit the commandment of Tefillin to weekdays is the previous passage about Tefillin “…and they shall be a sign (ot) on your hand and a remembrance between your eyes” (Shemot 13:9), which he understands to mean that Tefillin are only necessary when there is a need for an ot – a sign. On days that are considered in and of themselves an ot, there is no need to don Tefillin. There are many different explanations as to what makes Shabbat and Yom Tov (=Jewish holiday) days that are considered to be an ot. Some explain that the commandments regarding the holiness of these days make them a sign for the Jewish people. Some say that it is the fact that work is forbidden that makes such days stand out on the calendar as a sign. Yet others argue that it is the unique commandments of each of the days – sukkah, matzah, refraining from eating chametz, etc.
Some understand from this that it is prohibited to wear Tefillin on Shabbat and holidays, since doing so is an act of belittling the unique ot of the holiness of the day. The Rashba even suggests that putting on Tefillin on Shabbat or holidays involves the prohibition of ba’al tosif – that it is forbidden to add onto the commandments of the Torah. Nevertheless, the Rambam and the Tur rule that there is no prohibition, per se, although the Sages did forbid wearing Tefillin in the public domain on those days.
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.