Niddah 9 - 15
Dont Take It Literally
A deviation from the literal meaning of a phrase in the Torah is sometimes mandated by the indication offered by another phrase.
In regard to the purification process required for one who has become ritually impure as a result of contact with the dead, the Torah gives these instructions. On the third and seventh day following such contamination, one who is pure shall sprinkle the mixture of spring water, red heifer ashes and other ingredients known as mei hanidah (purification waters) on the impure one. (Bamidbar 19:19) A couple of passages later (ibid. 19:21) we are told that the one who administered this sprinkling himself becomes ritually impure.
This latter statement, point out our Sages, is not to be understood literally. The one who does the sprinkling actually remains pure, for this passage is referring to the one who carries these purification waters when he is not involved in the purification process. The reason why the Torah referred to this carrier as a sprinkler is to teach us that he contracts ritual impurity only if he carries the amount of purification water which qualifies for the purification process.
Tosefot raises the question as to what compelled the Sages to conclude that the second passage mentioned above could not be understood literally on the basis that it was unimaginable for the sprinkler to become impure. The answer given is that the first passage reads The pure one shall sprinkle upon the impure one. The need to identify him as being pure despite the rather obviousness of such a requirement indicates that the sprinkler is not only pure to begin with but remains so even after he completes his role.
- Niddah 9a
The Transposed Sanctuary
A famous synagogue is mentioned in our gemara as the one on whose roof a halachic dialogue took place between the Sage Shmuel and his disciple Rabbi Yehuda. It was called The Synagogue of Shaf Veyativ in the city of Nehardoa.
In his commentary here Rashi defines these Aramaic words as the name of a place within the precincts of the great Babylonian metropolis Nehardoa.
Rashi elsewhere (Mesechta Avodah Zara 43b) offers another explanation based on the passage For your servants desired its stones and favored its earth. (Tehillim 102:15)
When the first phase of the Babylonian Exile took place with the forced departure of King Yochanya and his elite company of government ministers and Torah scholars (Melachim II 24:10-16), these exiles took along with them stones and earth from the Beit Hamikdash in Jerusalem. With these sacred materials they laid the foundation for the synagogue they built in Nehardoa. According to this approach the words Shaf Veyativ mean that it was transported from Jerusalem and settled in Nehardoa.
This was indeed a dramatic demonstration of how much these exiled Jews loved the stones and earth, as was foreseen by the author of the Psalms of Tehillim. But it also achieved for the builders of this synagogue and the following generations which prayed there a special connection with G-d. Where is the Divine Presence in Babylon? asks the gemara (Mesechta Megilah 29a) and the answer given is in the Synagogue of Shaf Veyativ in Nehardoa.
Maharsha points out that while this synagogue hosted the Divine Presence in the manner that the Beit Hamikdash did, every synagogue that has a quorum of Jews praying in it is also graced with that sanctity.
- Niddah 13a