For the week ending 5 December 2015 / 23 Kislev 5776

Sotah 44 - 49

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • The two degrees of exemption from military service
  • The meaning of "faint of heart" exemption
  • Three different categories of Jewish wars
  • The high court judges needed for ritual of beheading the calf in case of an unsolved murder
  • When such a ritual is not performed
  • Measuring which city is closest to the victim's corpse
  • The qualifications of the calf and the slaughtering site
  • The declaration of the elders of the nearest city
  • The importance of providing a safe escort
  • The Prophet Elisha and the bears
  • Failed attempts to persuade sinners to repent
  • Discovery of the murderer and conflict of testimony
  • The impact of proliferation of murderers and adulterers on the rituals connected with these matters
  • The revolutionary decrees of Yochanan Kohen Hagadol
  • The impact of the absence of the Sanhedrin, the prophets and the Beit Hamikdash
  • The Heavenly voice that replaced prophecy
  • The impact of the passing of certain Sages
  • A portrait of the sad situation preceding the arrival of Mashiach

Two Views of Kavod HaTorah

  • Sotah 49a

"With the passing of Rabban Gamliel the Elder there came an end to kavod haTorah."

This lament mentioned in the final mishna of Masechet Sotah raises a problem when we refer to a similar lament which appears only two lines earlier. There we are told that with Rabbi Akiva's passing there came an end to kavod haTorah. These two great Talmudic Sages lived centuries apart. How then could the honor accorded to the study of Torah come to an end in two different eras?

The answer lies in the explanation provided by Rashi of what sort of kavod haTorah each of these Sages represented. In the era of Rabban Gamliel people stood while studying Torah to express the respect and honor thus accorded to Torah. It was only with this Sage's passing that physical weakness of the generation compelled student of Torah to sit while studying.

The kavod haTorah expressed by Rabbi Akiva generations later was his ability to interpret a meaning in every word, letter and even the crowns of letters, which appeared on the surface to be superfluous. This brought great honor to the Torah by demonstrating that there was nothing extraneous in it.

Although the extreme forms of kavod haTorah represented by these Sages came to an end with their passing, we have the opportunity even today of expressing our respect for Torah in some manner. Standing up when a Sefer Torah or a Torah scholar passes by is an expression of kavod haTorah reminiscent of the days or Rabban Gamliel. Studying the Torah in depth to fathom all of its subtle nuances is an echo of the kavod haTorah represented by Rabbi Akiva.

What the Sages Say

"On what can we rely (in pre-Messianic days) but our Father in Heaven."

  • Mishna Sotah 49b

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