For the week ending 20 March 2010 / 4 Nisan 5770

Sanhedrin 37 - 43

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • Seating arrangement of Sanhedrin
  • Warning witnesses regarding sanctity of life
  • Invalidity of circumstantial evidence
  • Creation of Adam – when and how
  • Dialogues between Sages and heretics
  • The "fox parables" of Rabbi Meir
  • The death of Achav and the greatness of Ovadiah
  • The interrogation of witnesses
  • Torah source for the questions put to them
  • The warning given to potential sinner and his response
  • The career of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai
  • When witnesses contradict each other
  • Kiddush Levanah – blessing for the new moon
  • Conclusion of trial and execution

The Sun as a Parable

  • Sanhedrin 39b

"You Jews say that wherever ten of you pray together the Divine Presence is there. How many Divine Presences are there?"

This was the challenge presented to Rabban Gamliel by a heretic. The Sage's response was to gently rap the heretic's servant on the neck and ask him why he let the sun come into his master's room.

"But the sun is everywhere!" protested the heretic in wonder at the Sage's statement.

"If the sun, which is but one of the billions of G-d's servants, can be everywhere at once," said Rabban Gamliel, "why is it so difficult to understand that the Divine Presence can be wherever ten Jews pray together!"

In one of his halachic responsa, (Binyan Zion Response 3) Rabbi Yaakov Ettlinger offers this explanation of Rabban Gamliel's reply.

Even though the sun is many millions of miles from earth, it is a common figure of speech to say that the "sun came into the room" when the curtain is removed. It is also common to refer to this as a sudden appearance of the sun even though it was always there even before the curtain was removed. The truth is that it is not the sun which has entered but rather its rays, and those rays were always there but only become visible when the curtains are removed.

In similar fashion we speak of the Divine Presence as rays emanating from the Divine Source in Heaven. Those spiritual rays are always there but our physicality serves as a barrier like the curtains against the rays of the sun. When ten Jews pray together, that physical barrier is removed and the rays of Divine Presence can thus be everywhere such a holy gathering takes place.

What the Sages Say

"One who makes the blessing for the new moon in its proper time is considered as if he welcomed the Divine Presence."

  • Rabbi Yochanan - Sanhedrin 42a

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