Talmud Tips

For the week ending 8 August 2020 / 18 Av 5780

Shabbat 149 - Eruvin 15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Poor and Rich Animals

Rav Papa said, “None is poorer than the dog and none is richer than the pig.”

This statement is made in our sugya in the context of the eating and the digestive nature of certain animals. Rashi here explains regarding the “wealth” of the pig, “All food is fit for it, and it finds what to eat, and, also, people feed it a lot.” It follows, that the opposite is true for the dog: not all food is fit for it, it doesn’t find (easily) what to eat, and people do not generally feed it very much. (This obviously refers to non-domesticated dogs, unlike the pets that are commonly “adopted as part of the family” by many in our times.)

The Gaon from Vilna views this statement as commentary on the observance of certain mitzvahs. The dog, with its barking and troubling noise, is a metaphor for the prohibition against speaking lashon hara (negative speech and slander). Rav Papa teaches that there is no prohibition “poor” — i.e. neglected — more than lashon hara. On the other extreme is the pig, a metaphor for the mitzvah to fulfill the laws of keeping kosher. “None is richer than the pig” alludes to the fact that the Jewish People are most careful when it comes to fulfilling the mitzvah to keep kosher. Although both mitzvahs are equally important, and are done with the mouth, one is poor and neglected while the other is rich and faithfully observed. (Hopefully, the “poor mitzvah” has or will soon become extremely “wealthy” with the study and awareness of observing the laws of kosher speech.)

  • Shabbat 155b

The Lukewarm Kettle

As people say, “A kettle of two partners is not hot and not cold.”

This bit of wisdom is used to explain a halachic ruling in our sugya that distinguishes between a private succah and a public eruv for a mavoi (alley). Both a succah and the beam across the top of the alley may not be at a height above twenty amahs. A ruling is taught in our gemara that if the schach is partially above and partially below twenty, it is kosher. However, if the beam is part above and part below, it is not permitted to carry in that mavoi on Shabbat. In both cases, there exists a potential concern that the bottom part may come off from the top part, leaving only the invalid top part, which is above twenty amahs.

Rava from Parzakia invokes an aspect of human nature to explain the difference in rulings in the two cases. In the case of a succah, the mitzvah is incumbent on the individual, and each person will therefore pay attention to make sure his schach is in good condition and correctly positioned. Not to worry. But the beam of the alley is used for a mitzvah that involves many people (all residents of that alley) and no single person may feel it is his responsibility to keep an eye on the condition of the “highish” beam. Rather, each person assumes that someone else will be responsible. Like the partners’ kettle, with each partner thinking the other partner will keep the fire burning. Therefore, a ruling is made not to allow a beam that is part below and part above the permitted height to permit residents to carry in the communal area.

  • Eruvin 3a

A Heavenly Profession

“Be extremely careful in your work, my son," said Rabbi Yishmael, "because yours is a Heavenly profession. If you delete even one letter from the Sefer Torah you write, or add one letter, you destroy the world.”

This is the sagely advice that Rabbi Yishmael gave Rabbi Meir when Rabbi Meir came to Rabbi Yishmael to learn Torah and said that he was a scribe by profession.

The advice includes a problem with either adding or deleting a single letter. Rashi cites examples of how this addition or deletion might lead to a heretical or blasphemous reading of the Torah. However, in Tosefot we find only examples of addition, but not subtraction. Why does Tosefot omit mention of subtraction?

The Maharsha explains that only in regard to adding a letter is there a need to stress the danger of creating a heretical text. Deleting a letter, however, is an obvious danger even if the meaning of the word is not affected. Why? Our tradition teaches that the letters of the Torah form the sacred Names of Hashem as they appeared before the creation of the world, as black fire on white fire. These exact letters were used by Hashem when creating His world and it is through them that He continuously sustains it. Therefore, deletion of even one letter of this sustaining force threatens the existence of the world.

  • Eruvin 13a

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