Ketubot 25 - 31
Second Look at Missing Brother Mystery
A surface reading of a gemara often reveals only the tip of the iceberg and we must rely on the commentaries for the whole picture. Let us illustrate this truth so familiar to Talmudists with an examples from our gemara.
Mori bar Issak was visited by a man from Bei Chozoah who claimed that he was his brother and demanded a share in the inheritance from his dead father. When Mori declared that he did not recognize him as his brother the case was brought before the court of Rabbi Chisda. "He may be honestly stating that he does not recognize you," said Rabbi Chisda to the visitor, "just as Yosef recognized his brothers when they came to Egypt but they failed to recognize him. When he left them they already had beards so that their appearance had not significantly changed. He, however, was then without a beard so that they did not recognize him now with a beard."
To clarify matters Rabbi Chisda asked the visitor to produce witnesses to testify that he was Mori's brother. "I have such witnesses," he responded, "but they are afraid to testify against so violent a man as Mori." Rabbi Chisda then turned to Mori and asked him to produce witnesses that the visitor was not his brother, reversing the normal rule that the burden of proof is on the claimant, because of Mori's violent reputation. To the gemara's question that we cannot believe witnesses which Mori brings because they may be intimidated by him to lie on his behalf, the answer is given that we only suspect that witnesses will refrain from testifying against him, but not that they will actually lie on his behalf.
Now let us retell this story based on the commentary of Tosefot.
The visitor was born in the community where Mori lived and went abroad as a youngster together with his father. When he returned and made his claim to the inheritance, Mori did not categorically deny that he was his brother but rather claimed that he did not recognize him. This would seem rather suspect for someone not to be able to recognize his own brother if not for Rabbi Chisda's comparing it to the honest failure of Yosef's brothers to recognize him. When the claimant produced witnesses to testify that he was Mori's brother, they declared that they would not testify. This was sufficient grounds for Rabbi Chisda to accept the charge by the claimant that they were afraid to testify against Mori because of his violent reputation. He then challenged Mori to get those very witnesses to testify either that the claimant was not his brother or that they did not recognize him as being his brother. Why will we believe them asks the gemara, if we suspect that they are intimidated by Mori? To which the gemara replies that intimidation is presumed only as a cause for the witnesses to refrain from testifying, but not as a cause for them to actually lie in Mori's behalf.
When the Heat is On
Everything is from Heaven, say our Sages, except cold and heat. Tosefot explains that in regard to all threats to a person's security or comfort which Heaven directs against him he is helpless to prevent them. In regard to cold and heat, however, he has been given the ability to protect himself against their effect.
A challenge to this seems to emerge from a Midrash (Vayikra Rabbah 16:8, not Bereishet Rabbah as mistakenly appears in our text):
The Roman Emperor Antoninus asked Rabbi Yehuda Hanasi (Rebbie) to bless him. "May Hashem protect you from the cold," said the Sage. "For this I need your blessing?" countered Antoninus who pointed out that all he needed to do to avoid the effects of cold was to add another blanket. "May Hashem protect you from the heat," came the new blessing of Rebbie. "This is indeed a blessing," replies the grateful emperor, "for it is written (Tehillim 19:7) 'Nothing is safe from its (the sun's) heat.' "
This Midrash would seem to indicate that man lacks the power to defend himself against the effects of extreme heat, and it was necessary for Rebbie to pray for such protection for the ruler who so befriended him.
Tosefot responds to this challenge by pointing out the difference between a person's ability to protect himself against heat while he is at home and when he is on the road or involved in battle. While at home, he can cool off in a stone house or basement (the ancient version of fans and air conditioning!), an arrangement not available when he is away. As the ruler of a mighty empire, Antoninus had to do a considerable amount of traveling and conducting wars. He realized that in those situations he would be unable to find refuge from the extreme heat of the sun to which he would often be exposed. He therefore appreciated the blessing of his friend, the Jewish Sage, that he receive special Diving protection from such discomfort.