The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 5 July 2008 / 2 Tammuz 5768

Sotah 39 - 45

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Blessing With Love

Before the kohanim bless the congregation, they say a blessing in which they praise Hashem for "sanctifying us with the holiness of Aharon and commanding us to bless His people Israel with love."

The commentaries call attention to the closing phrase of this blessing, which seems to indicate that this mitzvah to bless the congregation must be done with love. Why, they ask, is it only regarding this mitzvah that our sages established the text of the blessing preceding it to include the prerequisite of "love?"

Two sources are cited as explanation. One is a midrash (Devarim Rabbah 11:4) which focuses on the word "amor" in the Torah passage (Bamidbar 6:23) instructing the kohanim in what to say in their blessing. This word, meaning "say" (to them), is written with a "vav" to make it "full." The message, says the midrash, is that Hashem wanted the kohanim to know that when He delegated to them the power to bless Israel, He insisted that they not do so in a haughty and impatient, half-hearted manner, but rather with wholehearted sincerity.

The other source is a quote from the Zohar cited by Magen Avraham (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 128:18): "Any kohen who does not love the people or is not loved by them should not lift his hands in prayer."

Both of these sources indicate that this is not simply a mitzvah for kohanim to lift their hands and pronounce the blessing written in the Torah. There must be a genuine desire on the part of the kohanim to see the people blessed and reciprocally on the part of the people to receive the kohanim's blessing. The kohanim must therefore prepare for this by stressing in the praise they give to Hashem for commanding this mitzvah the need to do so with love.

Two supports of this approach may be suggested. One is the custom of the kohanim saying a special prayer before ascending the podium to bless the congregation, in which they ask that they be able to perform the mitzvah without any obstacle or flaw. This unusual preparation for a mitzvah may be necessary because of the challenge it provides to human emotions. Another support for the symbiotic relation between blesser and blessed is the requirement for kohanim to lift their hands. Rabbi Yosef Elbo, in his Sefer Haikarim, explains this as a virtual placing of hands on the head which is an integral part in every blessing.

  • Sotah 39a

A Point of Honor

Every seven years Jews fulfilled the mitzvah of hakhel. On the first day of Chol Hamoed (Intermediate Days of) Succot following the shemitta year, all men, women and children of Israel gathered in the Beit Hamikdash to hear the king read aloud selected chapters of the Torah.

Although the king had the royal prerogative of sitting while he did this reading, the mishna tells us that King Agripas stood, a gesture which gained for him the praise of the sages. The gemara challenges the praise given to this king for waiving the honor due him from the ruling of Rabbi Ashi that a king cannot waive the honor due him from his subjects. The response to this challenge is that he may do so in regard to a mitzvah such as this in which he show_ied honor to the Torah he was reading.Tosefot raises a problem with this response from two different sources. One is from an incident concerning this very same king. The gemara (Mesechta Ketubot 17a) rules that a king's procession takes priority over that of a bride's in regard to right of way. King Agripas, however, once waived his royal prerogative and gave the bride's procession right of way in order to honor her. When the gemara challenges the praise given him by the sages for this gesture on the grounds that a king may not waive the honor due him, the response given is that the two processions met at a crossroads such that the royal procession's turning to another road was not a blatant display of forfeiting royal dignity and could be construed as a genuine need to head in that direction. Why did the gemara, asks Tosefot, not simply answer, as it does here, that in regard to the mitzvah of honoring the bride, the king may waive his honor?The second challenge comes from a gemara (Mesechta Kiddushin 32b) about Rabban Gamliel, the head of the Sanhedrin, serving the sages who were his gues at a wedding feast for his son. Although there was initial disagreement amongst these sages as to whether it was proper to accept this service, the conclusion of the gemara is that although a king may not waive the honor due him, a nasi (Sanhedrin head) may do so. The clear inference of this conclusion is that a king in the same circumstance of honoring Torah sages would be restrained from doing so. Why, asks Tosefot, would it not be proper for a king to waive his honor to fulfill the mitzvah of honoring Torah sages?

As a solution, Tosefot distinguishes between a mitzvah which is an expression of respect for Hashem and one which is respect for humans. By reading the Torah in a standing position Agripas was placing the honor of Hashem and His Torah above his own. (A similar example is found in Mesechta Sanhedrin 19b where Rabbi Yehuda contends that although a king is not obligated to perform yibum or chalitza with his childless brother's widow, it is praiseworthy if he does so because by doing such a mitzvah he places the honor of Hashem above his own.) But when it comes to the mitzvah of honoring a bride or a Torah sage, the honor of the king takes precedence because of their obligation to honor him. There is therefore no mitzvah involved in the king deferring to them.

  • Sotah 41b

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