Masechet Rosh Hashanah 3a-9b

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07 Dec 2006

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, and the Lewy Family Foundation, and Marilyn and Edward Kaplan


Rosh Hashanah 3a-b

The Gemara on our daf examines the background of one of the Canaanite kings who attacked the Children of Israel during the exodus from Egypt. The passage in Bamidbar 33:40 describes how the Canaanite king of Arad heard of the approach of the Children of Israel and waged a war against them, taking captives. The Gemara asks what it was that he heard that made him feel this was a moment in which Bnei Yisrael were vulnerable.  Our daf goes on to explain that it was the sudden absence of the ananei ha-kavod (the clouds of glory that had accompanied them on their desert journeys up to that point) after Aharon ha-Kohen‘s death (see Bamidbar 33:38-39) that gave him the sense that it was an opportune time to attack.  (Tosafot point out that the discussion is not about the passage in Bamidbar 21:1, since that pasuk – verse – clearly indicates what the king heard.)c

In an attempt to clarify the identity of the king of Arad, whose exploits seem to be similar to those attributed to other kings, the Gemara claims that he had a number of names. One suggestion is that his true name was Sichon; he was called Canaan because that was the name of his kingdom, and the nickname Arad stems from his sharing attributes with the arod – the wild donkey of the desert.

From a variety of sources it appears that the arod is one of two types of wild donkeys – equus hemionus, the Asian wild ass, or equus asinus. Some argue that the arod must have been the African donkey, which apparently existed in the land of Israel at that time. These animals are similar in their body structure and lifestyle to horses, and they live in dry areas and in the desert. With the domestication of almost all donkeys, few species now exist in the wild.

Rosh Hashanah 4a-b

In the course of a discussion about the Persian king Koresh, who was known to have brought sacrifices to God together with prayers on behalf of himself and his children (see Ezra 6:10), the Gemara on our daf quotes a baraita that teaches the virtues of giving tzedakah, even with an ulterior motive. According to the baraita, a person who donates a sum of money so that his children will be healthy or so that he will merit a share in the World to Come is considered to be a tzaddik gamur – a completely righteous person.

As can be imagined, the commentaries question why the title of tzaddik gamur is applied to such a person. It would seem more logical to offer that honor to a person who gave charity for altruistic reasons. Moreover, the well-known Mishna in Pirkei Avot (1:3) teaches that a person should serve the Creator like a servant who does not expect any reward from his master.

A simple approach to this can be found in Rabbeinu Chananel, who offers an alternative reading of the Gemara. According to Rabbeinu Chananel, the baraita does not say that the individual is a tzaddik gamur, but rather that the donation is tzedakah gemura – it is considered a legitimate contribution and, that is to say, his desire for reward does not negate the value of his act.

Rashi adds the words im ragil bekakh – if he makes a habit of such donations. According to this approach, one who regularly gives tzedakah and makes receiving a reward a condition for his contributions may still be called a tzaddik gamur, as long as he pays no attention to whether or not he actually receives the reward. The Maharal explains that we must take into account the person’s intention when making the donation. A person who sees his donation mainly as an “investment,” on which he expects a return, cannot be considered a tzaddik gamur. If he gives the tzedakah for the sake of Heaven and simply hopes and prays that it will play a role in making him deserving of reward, such a person can be considered a tzaddik gamur.

Finally, the Ran suggests in his derashot that we must distinguish between a tzaddik and a hasid, a pious person. Someone who gives charity – even with ulterior motives – has done what he is obligated to do and is considered righteous. To be considered pious – which is the level expected by the Mishnah in Pirkei Avot – a person must be pure of mind and intention.

Rosh Hashanah 5a-b

Our daf opens with a discussion of the obligation of linah – staying over in Jerusalem even after having sacrificed the obligatory korbanot associated with the three pilgrimage holidays of Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot. Regarding the holiday of Passover, the Torah (Devarim 16:7) commands that the korban Pesach must be eaten in the place chosen by God and that “in the morning you can turn and go to you tent.” This passage is understood by the Sifre as commanding people who come to the Temple to stay overnight, leaving only the next morning. This obligation is explained by the Sefat Emet as stemming from a desire to show that a visit to the Temple is not simply a brief stopover, but is rather a significant, overnight stay.

How long does one need to remain in Jerusalem in order to fulfill the obligation of linah? We find three main positions on this question:

The Ritva suggests another approach, which distinguishes between the obligation that stems from the sacrifice, which is only one day, and the obligation that stems from the holiday itself, which will obligate people to remain until the Yom Tov is over.

Rosh Hashanah 6a-b

The Torah (Devarim 23:22) teaches that a person who accepts upon himself to bring a sacrifice cannot postpone fulfilling his promise. This mitzvah, referred to by the Sages as bal te’aher – “do not be late [in bringing your sacrifice]” – is followed by another pasuk (see Devarim 23:24), that emphasizes the need for one to fulfill all promises that he/makes as a positive commandment, including – according to the interpretation of the Sages – promises made to charity.

How long does a person have to carry out his/her obligations before being held liable for bal te’aher?

Regarding sacrifices, the generally accepted position of the Sages is that a person has a full cycle of holidays – Pesach, Shavu’ot and Sukkot – to bring the commitments that were made to the Temple. Regarding charity, however, Rava teaches that it must be given immediately after the commitment is made. He explains that, unlike a sacrifice that must be brought to the Temple, poor people are always accessible, so it must be given right away.

Several positions exist in understanding Rava’s teaching.

Rosh ha-Shanah 7a-b

We learned in the Mishnah (2a) that the month of Nissan is the first month of the year with regard to counting the months. Our Gemara searches for a source for this law, beginning with the command in the Torah that declares the month of the exodus from Egypt to be the first month of the year (see Shemot 12:2). The difficulty in establishing this as a definitive source stems from the fact that the names of the months that are currently in use in the Hebrew calendar are never mentioned in the Torah. Thus the Gemara turns to Nakh (Nevi’im – Prophets, and Ketuvim – Sacred Writings) to identify the months of the calendar by name and numbering:

Even though the last passage brought up by the amora’im is the clearest one of all, the Gemara explains that it does not constitute the best proof, since it may simply be saying that Nissan was the beginning – the first month – of Haman‘s plot against the Jews. The Maharsha points out that according to this logic, none of the months mentioned in Megillat Esther can act as sources, since all of them may be counting from the beginning of the plot against the Jews. Although he leaves the question standing, this is a topic already discussed by rishonim. The Ritva explains that it may be common to announce a given date as the beginning of a particular happening, but it would be unusual to count from that date later on in the process. The Rosh argues that once it was established when the process began, it would be without purpose to repeat it over and over again.

Tosafot quote the Yerushalmi, which points out that the underlying assumption in this Gemara is that we rely on the tradition that the people had regarding the order of the months as we know them today. Without that piece of information, the entire proof-text of pesukim makes no sense.

Rosh Hashanah 8a-b

One of the most progressive laws commanded in the Torah was that of yovel – the Jubilee Year – when all Jewish slaves were set free, and fields that had been purchased returned to their original owners. The Mishnah (2a) teaches that the yovel begins on the first day of Tishrei, which, our Gemara points out, seems to contradict the simple reading of the Torah. The pasuk (see Vayikra 25:9-10) commands that the blast of the shofar announcing the Jubilee year – together with the freedom of slaves and the return of land – should take place on Yom Kippur, the tenth day of Tishrei.

In answer to this question, the Gemara introduces us to the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan ben Beroka, who rules that the holiness of the yovel year begins on the first of Tishrei but that its regulations only take effect later on. Thus, beginning with the first of Tishrei, slaves no longer work for their masters, but they do not yet go home; rather, they eat, drink and rejoice, wearing their crowns. On Yom Kippur the shofar announcing the Jubilee year is sounded, and the newly freed slaves return home.

Rashi understands the ruling that the slaves sit “with crowns on their heads” as indicating that they are now free men who can wear crowns should they choose to do so. A similar idea is expressed by the Ritva, who explains that it is an expression indicating that the slaves can now behave like free men. The Me’iri, however, quotes the Talmud Yerushalmi (our version of the Talmud Yerushalmi does not include this) as saying that this refers to covering the head with a sudar – a scarf or turban – which was the style of free men, not of slaves. This expression of freedom is one that we refer to daily as part of our morning prayers in the berakhah of oter yisrael betifarah – thanking God for covering us with glory.

Historically, it is interesting to note that during the times of the Mishnah, it was commonplace in Roman society for the free men to wear olive wreaths on their heads during times of celebration, something that a slave could never do. The week and a half between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur is described by Rabbi Yohanan ben Beroka as days of celebration, and it is certainly possible that the popular celebratory wreaths were worn by the former slaves on that occasion.

Rosh Hashanah 9a-b

The commandment to keep Yom Kippur (the tenth day of Tishrei) as a day of rest and solemnity teaches that we are commanded to begin on the ninth day of Tishrei, and continue from evening to evening (see Vayikra 23:32). The Gemara on our daf quotes Rabbi Yishma’el as learning the rule of tosefet Yom ha-kippurim – beginning the holiday early and completing it late – from this passage, a rule that is then extended to Shabbat and Yom Tov, as well.

Another teaching that is derived from this pasuk is presented by Hiyya bar Rav mi-Difti, who interprets the passage as teaching that someone who eats and drinks on erev Yom Kippur is credited as though he had fasted on both the ninth and the tenth days of Tishrei. This is generally understood to mean that there is a special mitzvah to eat on the day before Yom Kippur.

Several explanations are given for this law. Rashi and the Me’iri suggest that since there is a mitzvah to fast on the tenth, someone who spends the day before preparing for that mitzvah is given credit for the preparation. The Eliya Rabbah (Rav Eliyahu Shapira’s gloss on the Shulchan Arukh) suggests otherwise. According to him, someone who eats a lot the day before the fast has a harder time refraining from eating on the fast day, therefore the person who spends the ninth of Tishrei eating is credited for having additional inuy. Others point out that Yom Kippur is a holiday, a day on which we really should be eating and drinking. Since we cannot eat and drink on Yom Kippur, we “make up” for it on erev Yom Kippur. Finally, some explain that this is preparation for the mitzvah of expressing regret and asking for forgiveness. Since someone who is well-fed is less likely to be irritable and get into disagreements, we are commanded to put ourselves into such a position so that we will be better suited to be remorseful and apologize.

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.