TalmuDigest

For the week ending 28 April 2007 / 10 Iyyar 5767

Chagigah 21 - 27

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll
  • Immersion of vessels for purification while one is in the other
  • Are there ten or eleven different levels of purity in the Mishna
  • Maintaining peaceful relations between the learned and unlearned
  • Borrowing a vessel from one not careful re laws of purity
  • Rabbi Yehoshua's criticism of Beit Shammai and his subsequent contrition
  • Degree of credibility of the unlearned in regard to purity
  • Parts of a vessel and how the impurity of one affects the entire vessel
  • Which decrees were made because of what once happened on a boat crossing the Jordan River
  • Why a vessel completed in purity requires purification for sacred use
  • The Sages versus the Tzedukim separatists on the issue of the Red Heifer
  • When the entire contents of a vessel become impure because of a part of it
  • How far can impurity be transferred both in sacrificial matter and terumah
  • One impure hand affecting the other
  • When and where everyone can be relied upon re purity of wine and oil
  • The contaminating corridor between Judea and Galilee
  • Checking a field for remnants of a grave
  • Where clay vessels may be acquired with no fear of impurity
  • Starting a sale during Festival and continuing afterwards
  • Purifying the Sanctuary after Festival and the status of the altar
  • Miracle of the ever-fresh showbreads
  • The table of today like the altar of old
  • The resistance to Gehinnom fire of the scholar and sinner

Contrite Sage at the Grave

  • Chagigah 22b

When Rabbi Yeshoshua expressed sharp disapproval of a halachic ruling of an earlier generation of the Beit Shammai sages, he used the term "I am ashamed of your words Beit Shammai." The rationale for that ruling was subsequently explained to him by one of the contemporary sages of that Talmudic academy. A contrite Rabbi Yehoshua then prostrated himself before the graves of the Beit Shammai sages and begged for forgiveness.

This scene of a contrite sage at the grave recalls an incident related in the previous perek of the mesechta. The Sage Yehuda ben Tabbai sentenced to death a witness whose testimony in a capital case had been totally discredited by witnesses who testified that he had been with them elsewhere at the time he claimed to have seen the crime committed. This sage was implementing the Torah command to punish such a false witness with the penalty he had attempted to inflict on the defendant. He was particularly anxious to make this implementation despite the fact that a defendant had not been executed in order to demonstrate the true Torah position of the sages in opposition to the view of the Tzedukim separatists who held that the punishment was due only if the defendant had been executed on the basis of false testimony.

In his haste, however, he overlooked the fact that no false witness is liable for such retribution unless the entire witness team was discredited, which was not so in this case. Accused by a fellow sage of shedding innocent blood, he would prostrate himself before the grave of the executed witness and beg forgiveness. At such times a wailing voice was heard, which people assumed was that of the dead witness. The Sage Yehuda ben Tabbai, however, insisted that it was his own voice and would continue to be heard until he died.

In the case of Rabbi Yehoshua, there seems to also have been a lifelong effort to gain forgiveness from the Beit Shammai sages. It was said that his teeth had turned black from the fasting he did as repentance for his sharp words.

What the Sages Say

"When there was a Beit Hamikdash the altar achieved atonement for sin, but now it is a person’s table (through hospitality to the needy – Rashi) which atones for him."

  • Rabbi Yochanan and Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish - Chagigah 27a

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