Gittin 68 - 74
Remedies of the Rabbis
A wide variety of remedies for physical and psychological disorders is offered by our Sages in the first part of the seventh perek.
Maharsha raises an interesting problem in regard to this: King Chizkiyahu was praised by the Sages for hiding the "Book of Remedies" (Mesechta Berachot 10b). Rashi explains that his motive was to encourage people to pray to Hashem for recovery. Why then did the Sages Ravina and Rabbi Ashi, who redacted the Babylonian Talmud, include these remedies? Might this not defeat the purpose of Chizkiyahu's concealment?
Maharsha's explanation is that since Hashem gave man the right to heal himself (Shemot 21:19) there is nothing wrong with having a knowledge of remedies for illnesses. Publicizing all of them for the general public, however, is problematic because there may be some people who will put all of their faith in the remedy rather than in Hashem. This is why Chizkiyahu put away the Book of Remedies and left their knowledge to those who received them via oral tradition.
But just as the Sages saw the need to write down the Oral Law -- which was initially supposed to be transmitted orally -- because the weakening memories in later generations posed a danger that this information would be forgotten (Gittin 60a), so too did the Sages find it necessary to record the remedies lest they likewise be forgotten by everyone, even those who should know them.
Maharsha concludes with these words:
"Thus you see that the Talmud lacks no area of wisdom, for you will find a true and effective remedy for any illness if you fully understand the language of the Sages. Let not any scorners scoff at the Sages that they were deficient in medical knowledge."
The compilation "Ta'amei Haminhagim" quotes the Maharil to the effect that one should refrain form using any of the remedies and chants mentioned in the Talmud because a failure to fully understand and administer them may lead to a person losing faith in the Sages. The only exception, he notes, is the treatment mentioned in Mesechta Shabbat (67a) for one who has a fish or meat bone stuck in his throat because experience has proven its effectiveness.
[Ed: I know a first-hand of the effectiveness of the above.]
Is it the Gesture that Counts?
If a man gives his wife a get on the condition that she give him a specific sum of money, the get is valid, says the mishna, only if she fulfills the condition. Rabbi Asi posed the following question to his master, Rabbi Yochanan:
What if the husband subsequently waives the need for giving him the money -- is this considered fulfillment of the condition or not?
When Rabbi Yochanan replied that this is not considered fulfillment since she did not actually give him the money, he was challenged from a beraita concerning vows:
If a man told his friend that he would take a vow prohibiting himself from having any benefit from that friend unless that friend provided the man's son with a certain amount of grain and wine, it is the opinion of the majority of the Sages that, should he change his mind, he need not apply to a sage for nullification of the vow. Rather, he can waive his demand and declare that he considers it as if his son had received the goods.
Rabbi Yochanan's response was that in the case of divorce it may be assumed that bitter feelings motivated the man to make his condition, in order to make things difficult for his wife. Therefore, if she is spared this difficulty it is not considered fulfillment of the condition. In the case of the vow, on the other hand, the father's only motivation was to improve his son's financial situation. If his situation improved in a manner which rendered such a gift unnecessary, the waiving of the demand can readily be considered a fulfillment of the condition.
An interesting halachic question arises regarding the gift of two food items that one is obligated to give another Jew on Purim. If the recipient refuses the gift and declares that he considers the gesture of giving as if he had actually received the gift -- does this qualify as fulfillment of the mitzvah?
Rema (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 695:4) rules that in such a case the giver is considered as having fulfilled his obligation.
Mishna Berura (ibid.), however, cites the view of later authorities who disagree. Their objection can be understood in light of the reason that the Sages commanded the sending of gifts on Purim. Since the purpose was to improve relations between Jews by providing one another with food for the Purim feast, this goal cannot be achieved unless one accepts the gift.
On the other hand the language of the command in Megillat Esther (9:22) is the "sending of gifts" rather than "giving of gifts." This can be interpreted as a requirement only to make the gesture of sending, and the mitzvah would be thus fulfilled even if the intended receiver doesn't accept it.