Masechet Shavuot 5a-11b

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01 Jul 2010
Torah

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.

Shevuot 5a-b: Defining biblical leprosy

The Mishnah (2a) described that marot nega’im – biblical leprosy – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two nega’im – the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 13:1-2) – a se’et or a baheret – each have toldot – other, lower level signs of this plague – that are similar to them in color. Our Gemara quotes a Mishnah in Masechet Nega’im that teaches that a se’et is the color of white wool, and its toldah is the color of the membrane of an egg. A baheret is the color of snow and its toldah is the color of the lime that was used to paint the Temple sanctuary.

Rabbi Chanina notes that this Mishnah disagrees with Rabbi Akiva who rules that the different shades of white are hierarchical which will not allow a nega that is the color of lime to be joined with another nega to be the appropriate size.

There are two main explanations in the rishonim regarding this disagreement.


Shevuot 6a-b: The need to be sensitive to political realities even in the religious study hall

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the Mishnah (2a) described that marot nega’im – biblical leprosy – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 13:1-2) – a se’et or a baheret – each have toldot – other, lower level signs of this plague – that are similar to them in color. According to the Gemara, a se’et is the color of the membrane of an egg, and its toldah is the color of white wool. A beheret is the color of snow and its toldah is the color of the lime that was used to paint the Temple sanctuary.

On today’s daf, we find that the Sages attempt to offer parallels to this hierarchy by describing the relationship between a king and his underlings. Rava rejects the suggestions made by the other Sages arguing that the only true parallel is the relationship between two kings who are on the same level – like Shevor Malka, the king of Persia and the Roman Caesar. In response, Rav Papa asked him which of the two is greater.  Rava replied that Rav Papa’s question makes it sound as though he was living in a forest his whole life, since everyone knows which currency is more widely accepted in the world.

Rashi explains that Rav Papa was aware of the political reality of the outside world, but he was confused by the fact that Rava mentioned the Persian king before the Roman Caesar. Rava needed to do this since he lived under Persian rule and had to make sure that he spoke in a manner that was respectful to the local authority. The Chatam Sofer indicates that this was the basis of Rava’s comment – did Rav Papa not recognize the need to be sensitive to the honor of the Persian rule?

Some of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbeinu Chananel) interpret Rava’s comment differently, and understand that he asked whether Rav Papa had a problem with his eyes. Did he not see which of the two countries was the greater one? Alternatively, the Aruch brings an opinion that Rava asked whether Rav Papa wanted to become blind, since the Persian kings were wont to blind people who did not show proper respect to the monarchy.


Shevuot 7a-b: Bringing sacrifices on a “sliding scale”

The Mishnah (2a) taught that the laws of yedi’ot ha-tumah – situations where a person forgot that he was ritually defiled and entered the Temple or ate consecrated food – are “two that are four.” That is to say that there are different situations regarding how the mistake was made – as noted he could have forgotten his status and either entered the Temple or eaten consecrated food – or he could remember his status but forget that the food was consecrated or that it was forbidden for him to enter the Temple in this state. These are the situations referred to by the Torah when it says (Vayikra 5:2-14) that the sinner must bring a korban oleh v’yored – a “sliding scale” sacrifice where a wealthy person will bring goat or a lamb, a middle income person will bring a dove and a poor person will bring a meal offering.

The Gemara on today’s daf asks how we know that these laws apply specifically to the Temple and to food consecrated to the Temple, since the Torah itself simply says that the person erred, was ritually impure and was guilty, without specifying what he was guilty of. In response, Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi suggested a gezeirah shava – a method of comparing similar words that appear in two places in the Torah. Rabbi’s statement was praised by Rava, who said that Rabbi “drew up water from deep wells” in suggesting this.

Rava’s praise is questioned by a number of the commentators, who point out that the rule of a gezeirah shava is that it must be received as a tradition; no Rabbi, however great he may be, can create one on his own. It is therefore difficult to understand why it is so impressive from Rabbi to simply repeat a teaching that he had received from others. The Ritva and others suggest that Rabbi’s tradition was limited to the knowledge that this particular word had a toldah attached to it. His greatness was to work out the significance of that teaching.


Shevuot 8a-b: The many causes of biblical leprosy.

Two similar se’irim – sacrificial goats – are set aside for use in the Temple service on Yom Kippur, and are chosen by lottery to be brought as a sacrifice in the Temple or sent to be thrown off the cliff to Azazel (see Vayikra 16:5-22). The Gemara on today’s daf discusses the se’ir that was brought as a sacrifice in the Temple – what purpose did it serve? Although the baraita is certain that it comes to atone for sins that relate to entering the Temple in a state of ritual defilement, our Gemara considers other possibilities, as well.

Perhaps it comes to atone for a yoledet – a woman who recently gave birth?

The Gemara explains that the Torah makes clear that this is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity, like that of a yoledet.

Perhaps it comes to atone for a metzorah – a person suffering from biblical leprosy?

Again, the Gemara explains that this sacrifice is an atonement for sin, not for ritual impurity. In response the Gemara points out that Rabbi Shmuel bar Nachmani says that every case of metzorah comes about as a result of one of seven different sins, so the sacrifice could be seen as acting as an atonement for one of those sins. The Gemara explains that further atonement is unnecessary, since the tzara’at itself acts as atonement.

What are the seven sins that lead one to become a metzorah?

Rabbeinu Chananel lists them as follows:

Tosafot argue that it appears to be clear that the sacrifices brought by the metzorah are not sin offerings for these underlying acts, since those sacrifices would never be brought if the person had not become a metzorah. The Rivan is quoted as answering that the sacrifices of a metzorah serve a dual purpose, both as part of the process of ritual purification, and also as an atonement for the underlying cause of the tzara’at.


Shevu’ot 9a-b: A diminished moon in the heavens

The Mishnah (2a) taught that when a person who was tamei – ritually defiled – was unaware of his status and he entered the Temple or ate consecrated food, since he cannot bring a sacrifice for atonement (given that he was unaware that he had done anything wrong), sacrifices brought on holidays and on Rosh Chodesh serve to offer him that atonement. The source for this is the passage (Bamidbar 28:15) that describes how the sacrifice is a sin offering la-Hashem – to God – which is understood to refer to sins that only God is aware of.

The Gemara quotes another teaching derived from this passage. Reish Lakish says that the sacrifice brought on Rosh Chodesh – the new moon – makes reference to a sin offering la-Hashem because God says to the Jewish people that this sacrifice should be brought to atone for God having minimized the moon. The idea that God made the moon smaller is discussed at length in the Gemara Chullin (60b) where the Gemara describes that originally both the light of the day – the sun – and the light of the night – the moon – were the same size, but that God made the moon smaller after it complained that two equal rulers could not exist together (see also Rashi on Bereshit 1:16).

The way the text of our Gemara reads, it appears that God asks that the Jewish people bring a sacrifice on God’s behalf, since he performed an inappropriate act in minimizing the moon. That approach is certainly a difficult one to understand, although some commentaries suggest mystical explanations for such a request. The Ri”f explains that the sacrifice is certainly brought to atone for sins done by the Jewish people – as Rabbi Yehuda explained, for unknown sins – but God commanded that it be brought on Rosh Hodesh by way of consolation to the moon for having lost its primary place in creation.


Shevuot 10a-b: What to do with leftover animals consecrated for sacrifice

How were the animals in the Temple purchased?

According to Rashi, the general practice in the Temple was to set aside six animals that had been checked and found to be appropriate for sacrifice that would serve the needs of the upcoming communal sacrifices. This way, there was always a reserve of animals available for the Temple’s needs. Tosafot ha-Rosh quotes an opinion which says that it all depended on availability. The kohanim in the Temple tried to always have a reserve of animals, and if a particularly good buying opportunity came up, they would buy a large number of animals.

According to both of these approaches, we can understand the question raised in the Gemara – what was to be done with leftover korbanot (sacrifices)? With the new year for sacrifices beginning on the first day of Nissan, when the end of Adar arrived there would often be a pool of animals that had been set aside for sacrifices, but could no longer be used, since the new year’s sacrifices had to come from the new year’s donations.

Ulla quotes Rabbi Yochanan as teaching that animals that were set aside to be used as temidim – daily offerings – that were not sacrificed, can be redeemed even though they remain unblemished (ordinarily an animal that had been set aside to be used as a sacrifice could only be redeemed in the event that it developed a blemish that would keep it from being brought on the altar). When Rabbah repeated this teaching, Rav Chisda objected, saying “who will listen to you and to Rabbi Yochanan, your teacher!? Where did the animal’s holiness disappear to?”

The expression used by Rav Chisda is interesting inasmuch as we have no record in the Talmud that Rabbah ever left Babylonia for Israel to learn with Rabbi Yochanan. We do know that Rabbah’s brothers traveled to Israel where they were so taken by Rabbi Yochanan’s leadership that they wrote to Rabbah that he should join them in Israel in order to learn from Rabbi Yochanan. Although, given his age, he could not have spent many years in Israel, it does appear that Rabbah traveled to Israel, as we find a number of places where Rabbah quotes Rabbi Yochanan’s teachings.


Shevuot 11a-b: Where does holiness disappear to?

As we learned on yesterday’s daf Rabbah repeated the teaching of Rabbi Yochanan teaching that animals that were set aside to be used as temidim – daily offerings – that were not sacrificed, can be redeemed even though they remain unblemished (ordinarily an animal that had been set aside to be used as a sacrifice could only be redeemed in the event that it developed a blemish that would keep it from being brought on the altar). Rav Chisda objected to this saying, “who will listen to you and to Rabbi Yochanan, your teacher!? Where did the animal’s holiness disappear to?”

On today’s daf Rabbah replies to Rav Chisda, explaining that when these animals are purchased lev bet din matneh aleihem – “bet din has in its heart” – that they are bought on the condition that if they are needed they will be used as sacrifices on the altar, but if they are not needed then they will be treated like any standard donation to the Temple, and their value will be consecrated but their bodies will not.

A similar law is brought by the Gemara, where we find that the ketoret – the incense offering – will only become fully consecrated after it was readied for sacrifice in a kli sharet – a utensil sanctified for use in the Temple, but otherwise the laws limiting its use do not apply. Here, too, the Gemara asks “where did the holiness disappear to?” In response the Gemara responds that the ketoret was unique because it lasts for an entire year.

Rabbeinu Chananel explains this answer by pointing out that a large amount of the incense for the ketoret was prepared at the beginning of the year. At that time the holiness remains only in the value of the ingredients; the ketoret does not get its essential holiness until it is actually placed in the kli sharet and readied for actual use.


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.