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.
The Gemara on today’s daf continues its discussion of Moshiach – the Messiah. One of the questions that is dealt with is “What is his name?” Several possibilities are suggested in the Gemara –
- In Rabbi Sheila’s study hall the suggestion was “Shilo” (see Bereshit 49:10 )
- In Rabbi Yannai’s study hall the suggestion was Yinon (see Tehillim 72:17 )
- In Rabbi Chanina’s study hall the suggestion was Chanina (see Yirmiyahu 16:13 )
- Another suggestion raised was that he is Menachem ben Chizkiya (see Eicha 1:16 ).
Clearly all of these Sages were suggesting the names of their teachers as potential candidates to be the Messiah – something that we find regarding the names of other Sages in different midrashim, as well. This is, apparently, based on the continuation of the Gemara where it is taught that in every generation there are individuals who are worthy of being the Messiah, but because the time has not yet come he cannot be crowned as such. The students sitting in the various study halls each saw their own Rabbi as being the one most likely to play that role in that generation.
The Gra suggests that the names listed in the Gemara form an acrostic –
whose opening letters spell out “Moshiach.”
Rav Nachman is quoted as saying that if the Messiah was someone who was living in his generation, then he – Rav Nachman himself – would be the obvious candidate. The passage that he refers to in order to support his claim appears in Sefer Yirmiyahu (30:21 ) where we learn that it is someone already in a leadership position who will be the Moshiach, and Rav Nachman filled that role.
Even in later generations it was not uncommon to find Jewish leaders who hinted in their writings to the possibility that they were worthy of bringing the redemption, something that was, on occasion, taken very seriously by their students.
For how long will Messianic times last?
This enigmatic question is discussed on today’s daf with the Talmudic Sages offering different suggestions on the matter.
- Rabbi Eliezer says 40 years (see Tehillim 95:10)
- Rabbi Elazar ben Azariah says 70 years (see Yeshayahu 23:15)
- Rabbi says three generations (see Tehillim 72:5).
Perhaps the most surprising suggestion is made by Rabbi Hillel who says that the prophecies regarding Moshiach were already fulfilled in the time of King Chizkiyahu (see daf 94) and therefore there is no future Messiah for the Jewish people.
How are we to understand Rabbi Hillel’s statement?
Rashi suggests that this means the future redemption will not be led by a human being, but by God Himself. The Rema in his Torah ha-Olah argues that this means that the Messiah will not arrive because of the merit of the Jewish people, rather solely for the honor of God.
Rav David Bonfil explains this discussion as follows. Messianic times will serve as the time when the world generally and the Jewish people specifically will be prepared for Chayei ha-Olam ha-Ba – their lives in the World to Come. The issue debated by the Sages is how long will be needed to prepare for the spiritual level necessary for that time. Thus, the shorter the amount of time that is needed for this preparatory stage, the greater the current level of the Jewish people. Rabbi Hillel who says that no time is needed at all assumes that the Jewish people are already on the high level necessary.
Rav Yosef responds to Rabbi Hillel’s statement by pointing out that the story of King Chizkiyahu took place during first Temple times, while prophecies foretelling of the coming of the Messiah are still being told by the prophet Zechariah during second Temple times (see Zechariah 9:9).
Rabbi Hillel who appears in our Gemara is not Hillel ha-Zaken. It appears that he is the younger brother of Rabbi Yehuda Nesi’ah, the grandson of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi.
In the Mishnah (90a) we find that Rabbi Akiva includes people who read sefarim chitzoni’im – books outside the Biblical canon – among those who do not have a share in the World to Come. The Gemara on today’s daf offers a baraita that defines these books as sifrei minim – sectarian books – while Rav Yosef teaches that it also includes Sefer Ben-Sira.
Sefer Ben-Sira is one of the earliest books composed after the closing of the Biblical canon. It was authored by Shimon ben Yehoshua ben Sira, a native of Jerusalem, who was a younger contemporary of Shimon ha-Tzaddik, prior to the Hasmonean era. The book of Ben-Sira was held in great esteem, and after its translation into Greek by the author’s grandson (in the year 132 BCE in Alexandria), it because widely known even among those who were not familiar with the Hebrew language. Sefer Ben-Sira is included as a canonical work in the Septuagint (and therefore is considered such in many other translations of the Bible), and although the Sages chose to view it as one of the sefarim chitzoni’im – books outside of the canon – they quote it in a respectful manner throughout the Talmud, sometimes even referring to it as Ketuvim. Still, because of confusion between this work and another one that was known as Alfa-Beta d’Ben-Sira, which was a popular – and problematic – work, we find statements in the Gemara forbidding the study of Sefer Ben-Sira.
For generations Sefer Ben-Sira was known only from its translations, but recently parts of it have been found in the original Hebrew (in Masada and elsewhere). Since it was not part of the official Biblical canon it appears that the copyists felt more freedom when working with it and we find several different versions of the same text. When it appears in the Talmud it seems likely that it is being quoted by heart by the Sages, rather than from a written text.
Jewish music – with themes based on biblical verses and voices – has found a significant place in the daily life of the modern-day Jewish community.
Somewhat surprisingly, the Gemara on today’s daf appears to reject the use of biblical passages when composing music.
Our Gemara teaches a baraita: He who recites a verse from Shir HaShirim — the Song of Songs — and presents it as a type of song, and one who recites biblical verses inappropriately at a party, brings evil upon the world, because the Torah girds itself in sackcloth, and stands before the Holy One, blessed be He, and laments before Him, ‘Sovereign of the Universe! Thy children have made me as a harp upon which they frivolously play.’
The baraita continues: He replies, ‘My daughter, when they are eating and drinking, what shall they occupy themselves with?’ To which she replies, ‘Master of the Universe! If they are knowledgeable in the written Torah, let them occupy themselves with the Torah, the Prophets, and the Writings; if they are students of the Mishnah, with Mishnah, halakhot, and aggadah, if students of the Talmud, let them engage in the laws of Pesach, Shavuot and Sukkot according to the upcoming holiday.’
In conclusion the baraita teaches that Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar quotes Rabbi Shimon ben Chanina as saying that when a biblical passage is quoted appropriately – “in season” – then it brings good to the world, based on Sefer Mishlei (15:23).
It appears from the conclusion of the Gemara that great respect must be shown to biblical passages, and when used in song or conversation it is essential that the holiness and spirituality of the biblical text be maintained. When sung or discussed appropriately, however, not only is it permissible, but it is a positive thing to do.
The Gemara on today’s daf returns to the list of kings that appears in the Mishnah (90a), which enumerates three kings that lost their share in the World to Come. The three kings listed are Yeravam, Achav and Menashe.
Who were these kings?
Following King Solomon’s reign, the Jewish people broke into two separate kingdoms – Yisrael in the north and Yehuda in the south (see I Melakhim, or Kings, chapters 11-12). While the southern kingdom was ruled by the Davidic dynasty until the destruction of the first Temple, the northern kingdom suffered from assassinations and upheavals and had a series of different dynasties that ruled until the exile by the Assyrians.
King Menashe, the son of the righteous King Chizkiyahu, was from the Davidic line (see II Melakhim chapter 21).
- King Yeravam was the individual who led the people in their revolt against the Davidic dynasty and established the Northern Kingdom (see I Melakhim chapters 11-12).
- King Achav, the son of Omri, led the people in the Northern Kingdom to accept and implement Canaanite idol worship (see I Melakhim 16:23-34).
Our Gemara discusses what merit Achav’s father, King Omri, had that allowed him to become king of Israel. According to Rabbi Yochanan, it was his establishment of Shomron, a new city in the Land of Israel, that gave him that merit (see I Melakhim 16:24). An obvious question that is raised in response to Rabbi Yochanan’s assertion is that Omri became king before he built the city. The Maharsha explains that since God knew that Omri would build the city, He gave him the opportunity to do so. The Iyun Yaakov suggests that Rabbi Yochanan’s intent was to explain why Omri merited a dynasty that lasted a number of generations, and building a new city in Israel was reason for him to receive that reward and recognition.
As we learned in the Mishnah (90a), King Menashe, the son of King Chizkiyahu is one of the three kings who lost his share in the World to Come.
The navi in Sefer Melakhim, or Kings (II Melakhim 21:16) describes that aside from the sins that he encouraged the people of the kingdom of Yehuda to commit, Menashe also killed innocent people. In Bavel that was understood to mean that he killed the prophet Yeshayahu, while in Israel they explained that he built a huge idol that was so large that its weight killed a thousand people every day when they were made to carry it.
At the same time that Menashe is accused of idol worship and murder, the Gemara also attests to the fact that he was a brilliant Torah scholar. Our Mishnah quotes a baraita that teaches that Menashe would teach 55 different approaches in Torat Kohanim – the midrash halacha on Sefer Vayikra – one for every year of his reign. Rashi explains that every year of his reign he would return to this midrash and develop new approaches to its content. Torat Kohanim was chosen both because it deals specifically with issues relating to the Temple and because its contents were considered by the Sages to be particularly difficult. The Maharsha explains that the fact that Menashe was learned indicates that whatever sins he committed were premeditated.
Having said all of this, Rabbi Yehuda’s opinion in the Mishnah is that Menashe does have a share in the World to Come, since he did teshuva – he repented – as is indicated in Sefer Divrei HaYamim – (II Divrei HaYamim 33:13). Rabbi Yochanan argues that anyone who says that Menashe does not have a share in the World to Come weakens the hands of ba’alei teshuva – of penitents. He argues that during the last 33 years of Menashe’s reign he was a ba’al teshuva.
As we have learned, the Mishnah (90b) includes a list of the kings — as well as ordinary individuals — whose activities caused them to lose their share in the World to Come.
The Gemara on today’s daf asks who made up these lists?
In response, Rav Ashi explains that the lists were compiled by the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah – members of the Great Assembly.
The question of who made up these lists can be understood as follows. The other teachings in the Mishnah relate to issues that can be derived by study or logic, so there is no need to ask who established them. Regarding an individual’s rights to the World to Come, however, how could any human being be certain of who is deserving to merit this. Rav Yissachar ber Ilenberg in his Sefer Be’er Sheva explains that Rav Ashi’s response was that the last group of prophets – the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah – who knew this based on their prophesy, were the ones who were able to compile these lists.
The Gemara continues by quoting Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav who taught that they wanted to include another king in the list of those who did not merit the World to Come. Somewhat surprisingly, they wanted to exclude King Solomon (see I Melakhim chapter 11). The Gemara relates that –
- His father, King David came to appeal their decision, but they paid no attention to him.
- A heavenly fire came and singed their safsal – the bench that the Anshei Knesset HaGedolah were sitting on – but they paid no attention
- A bat kol – a heavenly voice – defended King Solomon’s honor, quoting the pasuk in Mishlei (22:29) that indicated that the one who built God’s Temple quickly, giving it priority over his own palace, deserved recognition, but they paid no attention.
Finally the Heavenly voice quoted the passage in Iyov (34:33), indicating that the decision of who is invited into the World to Come is one made by God and not by human beings.
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.