Talmud Tips

For the week ending 9 February 2019 / 4 Adar I 5779

Chullin 58-64

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
Library Library Kaddish

The Humble Sun

Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi raised an apparent contradiction: One verse states, “And G-d created two great luminaries,” while the same verse states immediately afterwards, “the great luminary to rule the day and the lesser luminary to rule the night.”

He answers that originally the sun and moon were created as equals. However, the moon objected to the creation of two “great luminaries” based on the claim, “Is it possible for two kings to share one crown?” G-d answered the moon, saying “Go and diminish yourself!” This teaching of Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi is also brought in Rashi’s commentary on the Torah. (Gen. 1:16)

Rashi explains the apparent contradiction as follows: The first part of the verse “two great luminaries” implies that they were of equal size. The latter part of the verse, which speaks of the greater luminary and the lesser luminary, shows that they were of different size.

Although this question is brilliantly answered by Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi, the Vilna Gaon indicates that the apparent contradiction should not be readily viewed as an apparent contradiction. He suggests that perhaps both of the luminaries were called “great” because they were both large compared to the other objects created — but one was created larger and the other was created smaller. Why, therefore, should Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi understand the phrase “two great luminaries” to mean that they were both of equal size, leading to an apparent contradiction that he needed to resolve?

The Vilna Gaon offers an answer based on a gemara in masechet Yoma (62b), which teaches that it is unnecessary for the Torah to state the word “two” regarding something that is plural. A plural noun always implies two unless there is another word that teaches a larger quantity. This is so because the minimum of “plural” is “two”. Therefore, in the verse of the “two great luminaries” the word “luminaries” would have indicated that there were two, but of unknown size or sizes. It must be, reasons Rabbi Shimon ben Pazi, that the “extra” word “two” in respect to the luminaries, is written in the Torah to teach that the “two great luminaries” were (originally) identical in size. Hence the apparent contradiction that he asked and answered.

There is an important behavioral lesson to be learned from the silence of the sun. A verse in Sefer Shoftim teaches that “people who love G-d will be as the sun when he goes forth in its might.” (5:31) Our Sages teach that this refers to “people who are insulted but do not insult back, hear themselves insulted but do not answer back.” ( Shabbat 88b)The sun was silent when it heard its royalty and greatness being challenged by the moon, and was rewarded by G-d for staying silent and avoiding a dispute. This is an important character trait of the righteous. (See Maharitz Chiyot on this point, and more.)

· Chullin 60b

Words That Really Sting

“People say that a mosquito can carry 60 large measures of iron on its beak.” (Rashi describes the creature as a type of fly that bites like a wasp.)

What is the message of this “folk statement” taught on our daf? The Mahrasha expounds that this is a parable from which we should learn to have greater awareness about the nature of lashon hara (negative speech) and its extreme seriousness. This insect bites with its mouth and, similarly, a person can cause great damage with the words that come out from his mouth. And although the insect is not aware of the enormous pain and damage its bite can cause, likewise a speaker of lashon hara is likely to think that he has not done any harm with his “mere words”. But nothing could be further from the truth, and his negative speech could be as powerful as the bite of this insect, resulting in damage of enormous magnitude.

The Maharsha concludes by reminding us what the Yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael teaches elsewhere in Shas. The seriousness of the transgression of lashon hara is equivalent to the composite seriousness of idolatry, adultery and murder. The Torah considers these three sins especially grave, and one must forfeit his life rather than transgress any one of them. Yet, lashon hara is equivalent to all three of these cardinal sins, and one who is a habitual speaker of lashon hara also forfeits his place in the World-to-Come. He notes that the equivalency taught in masechet Erchin 15b is derived from the usage of the word for “large,” indicating the enormity of these transgressions. The gemara there teaches the importance of Torah study and learning humility in helping avoid lashon hara, and instead speaking only permitted and good words.

· Chullin 58b

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