Daf Yomi

For the week ending 10 May 2003 / 8 Iyyar 5763

Avoda Zara 51-57

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Retired Stones

In the northeast corner of the Beit Hamikdash courtyard was an office in which the stones of the altar defiled by the Greeks were stored. They were placed there because they were no longer fit for use as altar stones, nor for any secular use.

But why were they disqualified for use in rebuilding the altar when the Hasmoneans defeated their Greek oppressors and renewed the service in the Beit Hamikdash? Although the Greeks used these stones for idolatrous purposes they were Jewish property and one does not have the power to cause the property of another to become forbidden for use through his idol worship.

The answer, says Rabbi Papa, is to be found in the passage which prophetically foretells the Greek invasion of the Beit Hamikdash. "Robbers shall enter into it," declared the Prophet Yechezkel (7:22), "and profane it." Once the Greek bandits entered the Beit Hamikdash the stones of the altar lost their sanctity and were no longer considered Jewish property. The Greeks were therefore able to assume possession of the stones, and by using them for idol worship they became forbidden for use by Jews.

Our gemara describes the quandary facing the Hasmoneans. The only way to remove the status of idol worship material from the stones was to have an idol worshipper show abandonment of them by smashing them. But they would then be unfit for use in a new altar which the Torah states (Devarim 37:6) can be built only with "whole stones". Smoothing these smashed stones to make them whole was also ruled out by the Torah command that "You shall not lift up any iron tool upon them." (ibid. 27:5)

How about using the stones for a secular purpose since they already lost their sanctity with the Greek invasion? This was rejected as well because it was not proper that stones which had once served a sacred purpose should now be used for a secular one. The only thing left to do then was to retire them from any use and to store them away in that office.

Avoda Zara 52b

Jealous or Resentful?

What is the true meaning of the description given in the Torah of G-d as "a jealous G-d"? (Devarim 4:24)

This was the issue behind two questions asked of Rabban Gamliel, one from a Roman philosopher and the other from a Roman general. The first asked why G-d vents the anger caused by His jealousy of the idols worshipped by the heathens on the worshippers rather than upon the idols themselves. The second challenged the sage that such Divine jealousy implied that there was real substance to the idols, "since a wise man is jealous only of another wise man, a powerful man of another man of power and a wealthy man of another wealthy one."

Rabban Gamliel responded to both challenges with a parable. But before studying his explanation it is necessary to analyze the true meaning of the term kanno literally translated as jealousy as it applies to the human and the Divine. In human terms one is jealous of the wisdom, wealth or power enjoyed by someone else and which he would like to himself enjoy. This is obviously not the case in regard to G-d. When referring to the Divine Source of everything we are compelled to translate kanno as resentful towards idol worshippers for the reverence paid to false gods, rather than jealousy of the spurious deities themselves.

The philosopher, explains Maharsha, was intelligent enough to be aware that G-d is resentful rather than jealous. For him the problem was only why this resentment was directed towards the worshippers rather than the idols. The sages reply was a comparison to the situation of a prince who called his pet dog by his fathers name. Does the king show resentment towards the dog or towards his disrespectful son?

The general, on the other hand, assumed that the word kanno really meant jealousy in human terms. He therefore inferred from this that there must be something to those idols if G-d is indeed jealous of them. To him the sage made the comparison to a man who takes a second wife who is of inferior status. The first wife is understandably resentful of the insult which she would not have felt had her competitor been superior to her. Rabban Gamliel was thus educating the general that G-d was not jealous but rather resentful that an inferior idol should be treated as a competitor.

Avoda Zara 54b

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