#71 - Sanhedrin 79-85
The Strange Skull
One of the last kings of Judea was Yehoiyakim who ruled for eleven years and followed in the ways of his sinful ancestor Menashe (Melachim II 23:36-37). The Prophet Yirmiyahu foretold the grim fate that awaited him because of his evil: "His burial will be like that of a donkey, dragged away from here till the gates of Yerushalayim." (Yirmiyahu 21:19)
How this prophecy was fulfilled is detailed in our gemara. Rabbi Chiya bar Avriyah once found a human skull that had been discarded by the gates of Yerushalayim. On it was written "This, and one more". Unaware of the skulls identity he buried it. When it emerged from its grave he reburied it. Its second reemergence convinced the Sage that it must be the skull of Yehoiyakim who was condemned not to have a normal burial.
Since it was the skull of a king the Sage felt that it was undignified to leave it thus lying in shame. He therefore wrapped it in some cloth and placed it in a box in his home. When his wife came upon this mysterious skull one day she mentioned it to a neighbor. "It is probably the skull of his first wife whom he is unable to forget", suggested this neighbor. Aroused by this suspicion she cast the skull into the furnace and destroyed it. When he learned what had happened, her husband declared that this was the fulfillment of "this" the casting of the skull in the street "and one more" its destruction in the furnace.
Was the body of Yehoiyakim initially cast into the street and not buried at all or was it buried but reemerged just as it did when Rabbi Chiya buried it? The Targum of Yonason ben Uziel translates the word burial in Yirmiyahus prophecy as "cast away," which indicates that no burial at all took place just as a donkey is not buried. Rashi here follows the same approach. Maharsha, however, points out that the word indicates that some form of burial did take place because even a donkey is interred to remove the danger of the carcass causing tumah to those who come into contact with it, or to rid the environment of the foul odor. But just as a donkey is not buried deep in the earth like a human, likewise this evil king was buried in a grave so shallow that it could easily come to the surface.
My Son, The Doctor
Amongst the capital crimes for which execution by strangulation is the penalty is striking a parent and causing a wound (Shmot 21:15).
What if the father is in need of bloodletting for his health may his son perform that procedure even though it causes a loss of blood which constitutes a wound?
Conflicting opinions seem to emerge from our gemara. Rabbi Matna rules that it is permissible on the basis of the command to "love your fellow Jew as yourself" (Vayikra 19:18). Rabbi Dinu bar Chinena points to the equation the Torah makes (Vayikra 24:21) between the obligation to pay for wounding someones animal and the death penalty for wounding a parent. Just as one will not be required to pay the owner of the animal on whom he performs a veterinary service so too will the son called upon to heal his father be permitted to do so.
In apparent contrast to the lenient approach of these Sages we find that Rabbi Papa did not permit his son to remove a splinter from his body, and the Sage Mar, the son of Ravina, refused to allow his son to open a blister to remove the liquid inside.
Rambam (Hilchot Mamrim 5:7) reconciles this apparent conflict in the following manner. If another person is available to perform any of the aforementioned medical functions it should not be done by the son. This is so because in the course of the procedure he may inadvertently cause a wound not essential for the treatment and be unwillingly guilty of the grave sin of wounding a parent. If no one else, however, is available to perform the procedure and the parent is in pain then the son may surely do so. The Kesef Mishne explains Rabbi Matnas point about "loving like yourself" in the same way that the Sage Hillel phrased it when he offered a convert a nutshell introduction to Torah: "Dont do to others what you would not want done to you." (Mesechta Shabbat 31a). Since the son would wish his father or anyone else to treat him when he is ill, so there can be no restraint in doing the same for his father.