Talmud Tips

For the week ending 22 July 2023 / 4 Av 5783

Gittin 58- 90

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbis and Kings

“Shalom aleichem, kings. Shalom aleichem, kings.”

With these words the Torah scholar named “Geneiva” walked up to the Sages Rav Huna and Rav Chisda and greeted them. They asked him why Torah Sages are called “kings”. He answered by citing a verse in Proverbs (8:15), “Kings reign with me (the Torah), and rulers legislate righteousness.” This statement on our daf is almost certainly the source of the well-known expression, “Mon malchei? Rabbanan” — Who are kings? Sages who have internalized the wisdom of the Torah are the true kings who can lead the Jewish People in the way of G-d.

Years ago I attended a certain Torah class that was taught by a very great Rabbi. The other students and I sat around a table awaiting his arrival. When he entered the room we all stood up, as is the halacha for students to stand in honor of their Rabbi. As he walked past to the head of the table he said to me, “What is all this fuss for?” I was surprised by his question, but after a second replied that “The Rabbi is our Rabbi, and we are showing honor to our Rabbi as we should.” He paused for a moment and said, “Indeed you have a dilemma. I don’t consider myself to be a Rabbi, and therefore you have no need to stand. However, since you consider me your Rabbi, you need to act appropriately and stand.” I sheepishly suggested that if our standing bothers him, he may tell us that he forgoes his honor so that we need not stand, based on the halacha that “a Rabbi who forgoes his honor, his honor is given up”. He replied, “That’s the real dilemma. Since I don’t consider myself to be a Rabbi, it doesn’t make sense for me to forgo my honor as a Rabbi. Therefore do whatever you need to do.” Of course we all continued to stand for him each day since he was our Rabbi and we certainly needed to stand for him to display our honor for a Torah scholar. Based on our gemara, however, that a Torah scholar is considered a king, I afterwards wondered if my original suggestion — that he could forgo the honor due to him as a Rabbi — was actually incorrect. As a Torah scholar is a “king”, the halacha is “a king who forgoes his honor his honor is not relinquished.”

Gittin 62a

The Kindness of Being Rushed Into Exile

“Hashem acted with kindness to the Jewish People by hastening their exile at the time of King Tzidkiyahu while those who had previously been exiled at the time of King Yachoniya were still there (in Bavel).”

This “kindness” that Hashem did for our nation by exiling a second part of the Jewish nation is taught by the Sage Mareimar on our daf, and is based on a verse in the Book of Daniel (9:14; a chapter that serves as inspiration and textual source for much of our “tachanun” prayer). The verse states, “And Hashem hastened up the evil and brought it upon us, for Hashem, our L-rd, is righteous with all His deeds that He has done, and we did not listen to His voice.”

But, really, what kind of “kindness” is it to be “hurried into exile”?

The Sage Mareimar answers this question with the above teaching regarding the exile at the time of King Tzidkiyahu being followed relatively quickly by the exile of King Yochaniya. The latter exile followed soon after the earlier one, eleven years later. Hashem, in His great kindness, “hurried” the next exile to be only a short time after the first one in order that the latter group of exiles would be able to learn Torah in Bavel from the earlier-exiled Sages, who were still alive there. The gemara states, based on a verse in the Book of Kings (II 24:16), that there were 1,000 very great Torah scholars in Bavel in the earlier exile. These Torah scholars were still alive there to transmit the Torah to the massive exile of the Jewish People in the days of King Yochaniya, eleven years following the exile of these Torah Sages during the reign of King Tzidkiyahu. (Rashi)

Another explanation for the “kindness of being hurried into exile” is offered by the Sage Ulla. He taught that Hashem hurried the Jewish People out of the Land of Israel after being there for 850 years, since they were transgressing in the Land, and if they would have continued doing so for two more years they would have been completely destroyed (G-d forbid). This is based on a fascinating hint that Ulla finds in the following verses: “When you have children and children's children, and you will be long established in the Land, and you become corrupt and make a graven image, the likeness of anything, and do evil in the eyes of the L-rd your G-d… you will speedily and utterly perish from the Land to which you cross the Jordan, to possess. You will not prolong your days upon it, but will be utterly destroyed.” (Deut. 4:25-26) The word for “long established” in the verse is “v’noshantem”, which has the numerical value of 852, i.e. 852 years. If they had remained in the Land of Israel for a total of 852 years — two more years — they would be punished as the verse says: “utterly destroyed”. Hashem showed them great kindness by exiling them two years before this tragedy could occur. (Rashi)

Gittin 88a

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