Talmud Tips

For the week ending 18 March 2017 / 20 Adar II 5777

Bava Batra 53 - 59

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rabbi Yochanan asked Rabbi Banah, “How should the table of a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) be? Rabbi Banah answered, “Two-thirds should be covered (on the side where the diners sit, two-thirds of the width of the table should be covered with a tablecloth for the bread to be put on and for diners to eat upon — Rashbam), and a third should be revealed (the remaining width of the table, away from the diners, should be without a tablecloth, as a place to put the bowls and cups of drink, so that that the spillage from the bowls and cups will not dirty the tablecloth and ruin the food). However, the table of an ‘am ha’aretz (ignoramus) is akin to bonfire with hot pots surrounding it (the bread and tablecloth are in the middle, while the bread and food bowls surround them near the diners — Rashbam).

Rabbi Yochanan asked Rabbi Banah,“How should the bed of a talmid chacham be? Rabbi Banah answered, “It should have nothing under it in the summer except for his sandals (for storage, since he wears them only in the muddy, rainy winter, due to the mud — Rashbam); and nothing under it in the winter except for his shoes. The underside of the bed of an ‘am ha’aretz’, however, is a place where he puts everything, including vessels and food — Rashbam).

Rabbi Banah teaches Rabbi Yochanan in our gemara the way a talmid chacham behaves with dignity and refinement, befitting a person who has internalized the Torah that he studies. This includes clean and honorable clothing, modest appearance, refined and clean eating habits and even the way he stores what he owns in a pure and orderly manner.

I suggest seeing the Maharsha’s commentary on this gemara, which explains the significance of each aspect of the conduct of a talmid chacham, as opposed to that of an am ha’aretz. The running theme is the dignity, refinement and lack of placing excessive emphasis on constant physical pleasures displayed by a Torah scholar, unlike the self-centered, physical-pleasure-oriented mindset and lifestyle of an am ha’aretz.

On a practical note regarding a question I have often been asked by yeshiva students residing in dorm rooms who would like to store their property under their beds (often in a suitcase): When they ask if it’s okay, I say to them that it’s fine if done in an orderly manner, but not to put food under their bed. As the Maharsha explains, this is for reasons of good hygiene, and also since sleep is considered one-sixtieth of death, and there is a “ruach ra’ah” (spiritual impurity) under the place where one sleeps. If a person does sleep over food, however, the halachic authorities do not forbid the food from being consider fit to eat.

  • Bava Batra 57b, 58a

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