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.
This month’s Steinsaltz Daf Yomi is sponsored by Dr. and Mrs. Alan Harris. The Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan
The operating principle that we learned about in the last Mishnah (see daf, or page, 63) is she-raglayim la-davar – that recognizing the doubt that exists in a given situation, it is reasonable to allow people to remain in their status quo. The Mishnah that appears on our daf, as well as some of the Mishnayot that follow, appear here at the end of Masechet Nazir because they also are based on the principle of she-raglayim la-davar.
Our Mishnah deals with a situation where a person comes upon a place where he finds a body buried, and it is not clear whether this was a body that was buried here temporarily, with the intent of moving it to a proper cemetery when the opportunity arose, or if it is part of a shechunat kevarot – a formal burial area – that cannot be disturbed. Such a discovery was likely to take place during the period before one of the shalosh regalim – the three pilgrimage holidays, Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot – when it was common practice to check the roads that the olei regalim – the pilgrims – would take in order to assure that they were clear of anything that would ritually defile them. The olei regalim would always need to remain in a state of ritual purity in order to bring sacrifices in the Temple, and it was, therefore, essential that the roads were kept clear of tumah (ritual defilement) on their behalf. Thus, discovering a dead body on or near the public thoroughfare led to the question “can this body be moved?”
Generally speaking, halacha recognizes that met koneh et mekomo – that a dead person takes possession of the ground where he is lies and cannot be moved. Therefore, if we have reason to believe that a person was buried in a specific place, he cannot be moved, and the grave would need to be clearly marked. If, however, an unknown body was found, the Mishnah teaches that it can be moved to a cemetery. One case where we are forced to assume that a body was buried in a place purposefully is when a number of bodies were found buried in close proximity, and another one is found nearby (within twenty amot), since raglayim la-davar – the status quo would indicate that this is a shechunat kevarot.
The two Mishnayot that appear on this daf teach halakhot that are based on the same principle that we were introduced to in the previous mishnayot – she-raglayim la-davar – that recognizing the doubt that exists in a given situation, it is reasonable to allow that situation to remain in its status quo. The three cases that appear on our daf deal with –
- nega’im – leprosy
- zav – a type of venereal disease
- someone who injures another person
With regard to nega’im (see Vayikra 13:2-8) about which the kohen must rule by determining if the condition has spread or not, the Mishnah teaches that the kohen must be certain if he is to declare that a change has taken place. Otherwise we assume that the original situation remains the same – she-raglayim la-davar.
The situation of a zav (see Vayikra 15:2) is when a person is suffering from gonorrhea, a venereal disease transferred from person to person, usually during sexual interaction. In the course of this disease an infection develops, one of whose indications is a mucous-like emission. Although the Sages recognized the differences between normal semen and this discharge, it was not always easy to determine what the emission was, which forced a person who has such an emission twice in a row to check whether it may have been the result of any one of a number of activities that may have led to the emission, without it being related to the disease. Once a person was determined to be a zav, however, no further checking was done – she-raglayim la-davar.
The last case is when a person hits another person in a manner that could, theoretically, kill him, but he does not immediately die. In such a case, the court examines the injured man to determine what his condition is. If they find that he will recover, then the perpetrator will be fined according to the normal rules of injuries. If they believe that he will likely die, the perpetrator will be held until the result of his action becomes clearer. The Mishnah teaches about a situation where the court believes that he will die, but he appears on his way to recovery – but then he suffers a relapse and dies. The Tanna Kamma rules that the perpetrator will be held liable, while Rabbi Nehemiah rules that he will be released – she-raglayim la-davar.
The last Mishnah in Masechet Nazir appears on our daf, and discusses whether the prophet Shmuel was a nazir. Rabbi Nehorai points to the prayer said by Shmuel’s mother, Hannah, prior to his birth where she promises u-morah lo ya’aleh al rosho (I Shmuel 1:11), which he interprets to mean that his hair will not be cut, similar to the statement made about Shimshon (see Shoftim 13:5), perhaps the most famous biblical nazir. Rabbi Yossi argues that morah simply means “fear” and that Hannah is saying that should he be born, her son will show no fear of man.
Most of the commentaries on Tanach, including the Septuagint, translate morah in our context as “metal” – that is to say, a razor. Targum Yonatan, however, suggests that the root of morah is marut – ownership or leadership.
The Tosafot Yom Tov points out that even Rabbi Yossi would have to agree that the word morah indicates nezirut in the case of Shimshon. The Maharsha, however, argues that Rabbi Yossi would not interpret morah as nezirut even in Shimshon’s case. He would understand the statement to simply mean that as long as he kept the rules of nezirut, Shimshon would never fear any man.
It would appear that the reason this Mishnah is placed here is to allow the tractate to close with an aggadic concept that highlights the greatness of nezirut. The Tosafot Yom Tov suggests that the correct place for this Mishnah would have been as an introductory statement at the beginning of the Masechet, although Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi chose not to put it there since identifying Shmuel as a nazir is a matter of disagreement. In his commentary to the Mishnah, the Rambam points out that the discussion about Shmuel is not merely an academic point, in fact it has ramifications in the realm of halacha. If a person were to announce “I will be like the prophet Shmuel” according to Rabbi Nehorai he would become a nazir.
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.