The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 20 February 2010 / 5 Adar I 5770

Sanhedrin 9 - 15

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Third Witness or Fifth Wheel?

The Rule: A case is determined, says the Torah, upon the testimony of two or three witnesses.
The Problem: If two witnesses are sufficient why does the Torah mention a third one?
The Resolution: The third witness, explains Rabbi Akiva, is placed in the same boat with the other two even though his testimony was superfluous in determining the outcome of the case. This can have the following ramifications:
  1. If all three witnesses are exposed as liars by another set of witnesses who testify that they were together with them at another locale on the day they claim to have seen the crime then the punishment meted out to the first two (whatever they intended to inflict upon the innocent defendant) is also given to the third .
  2. If the third witness is found to be a relative of the defendant or ineligible for any other reason he disqualifies his two co-witnesses.

From the first ramification Rabbi Akiva draws an interesting lesson in retribution: If a man is punished for simply attaching himself to sinners - such as the first two false witnesses who could have committed their crime without him - we can conclude that one who attaches himself to people doing a mitzvah will receive a great reward even if his role is only peripheral. (Because of the Talmudic dictum that Hashem rewards in greater measure than He punishes - Rashi.)

  • Sanhedrin 9a

Blame, Shame and Fame

Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi (Rebbie) sensed a disturbing odor of garlic one day while he was lecturing and requested that the source of the offending smell leave the room. Rabbi Chiya immediately left the room and the other disciples followed suit. The next morning Rabbi Chiya was challenged by Rebbie's son Shimon for irritating his father with the garlic odor. Rabbi Chiya then explained that he would never have done so inconsiderate a thing and only walked out in order to save the real culprit from embarrassment.

This tradition of risking personal embarrassment in order to save another from shame is traced through the Talmudic generations from Rabbi Chiya to Rabbi Meir and the Sage Shmuel Hakatan all the way to Moshe Rabbeinu and Yehoshua.

  • Sanhedrin 11a

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