Maccot 23 - Shavuot 6
The Guarded Tongue
One of the 11 lofty standards of Torah observance which King David enumerated (Tehillim 15:4) as qualifying a man to dwell in G-ds sanctuary is his control of his tongue. Rabbi Simloi cites the patriarch Yaakov as the personification of this quality because of his hesitation to go along with his mothers plan for him to impersonate his older brother Eisav and thus dupe his blind father Yitzchak into bestowing upon him the blessings intended for the firstborn.
The Rashi commentary here (actually written by his son-in-law Rabbi Yehuda ben Nosson who took over from 19b after Rashis passing) seems to focus on Yaakovs aversion to saying a lie, even though he was the one deserving of his fathers blessings rather than his wicked brother who had earlier sold him his firstborn rights. He expressed his reluctance by telling his mother that he feared lest my father touch me (and realize that I am not my hairy brother) and I be exposed in his eyes as a deceiver (Bereishet 27:12) and consented to cooperate only after his mother assured him that she had a Divine directive to carry out this deception. Yaakov feared that his fathers suspicion would compel him to actually say that he was Eisav, as he eventually did (ibid. 27:19), and therefore hesitated to do something which might cause him to deviate from the truth.
The commentaries in Tehillim, however, define the praise of David in regard to controlling the tongue from indulging in gossip which can harm another. In light of this perspective Maharsha here explains that Yaakov was afraid that if his fathers touching of his hairless arms exposed the impersonation he would be compelled to defend his action by revealing to Yitzchak that Eisav was unworthy of receiving his blessings, both because of his evil ways which were unknown to his father and because he had sold his firstborn rights to his younger brother. Yaakovs reluctance to risk entering a situation in which he would be forced to say lashon hara qualified citing him as the personification of guarding ones tongue from speaking evil.
The Ignorant Jew
Is it possible that a Jew can be ignorant of the most basic elements of Torah law?
This hardly seems to be a question in an era of such widespread ignorance of Judaism. But it is a serious question which arises in our gemara and elsewhere in the Talmud.
A chatat sin-offering is required as atonement for a Jew who involuntarily enters the Beit Hamikdash or eats sacrificial flesh is a state of ritual impurity. This is limited, however, to one who had some initial awareness of impurity but did not realize his sin until after he had committed it. This initial awareness, says the Sage Rebbie, need not consist of more than having once learned in school that contact with a contaminating agent renders one impure, even though he fails to make this connection at the time of contact and actually realize that he is impure. One who lacks even such an initial awareness is exempt from bringing this sacrifice.
To the challenge of Rabbi Pappa as to how it is possible that any Jew should fall into the mishnas category of never having learned in school such an elementary matter, the Sage Abaye responded that this could happen in the case of a Jewish child taken captive by gentiles and raised by them without the opportunity to learn Torah.
A similar question arises in Mesechta Shabbat (68a). The Sages Rav and Shmuel discuss a case in which a Jew has repeatedly violated the Sabbath laws because he had no awareness of the existence of such laws. Upon becoming aware of his Sabbath responsibilities he is obligated to offer only one chatat for all of his numerous violations. How is it possible that a Jew could be so completely ignorant of the Sabbath? Once again comes the answer that he was a child taken into captivity. But there, in contrast to our gemara, a second possibility is raised of a gentile who converted to Judaism but continued to dwell among gentiles.
This second possibility is rather remote because, as Tosefot points out, the conversion had to be conducted by a qualified rabbinical court. Perhaps the likelihood of a Jew thus converted remaining totally ignorant of the Sabbath is so remote that Abaye decided not to include it in his response.