Daf Yomi

For the week ending 29 March 2003 / 25 Adar II 5763

Avoda Zara 9-15

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
Library Library Library

The Right Kind of Milk

The unique relationship between Rabbi Yehuda Hanassi, referred to as Rebbie in our gemara, and the Roman Emperor Antoninus reached a critical point when this righteous Edomite asked the Jewish leader he so respected whether he would have a place in the World to Come. The Prophet Yechezkel had, after all, foretold the grim fate that awaited the heathen nations in the hereafter, and that in that doom would be found "Edom and its kings and all its princes" (Yechezkel 32:29). Rebbie reassured him by pointing out that the term "all" is applied only to the princes and not to the kings because he is the exception to the rule.

Tosefot cites a fascinating Midrash regarding the source of this Romans relationship with Rebbie. When Rebbie was born the Romans banned circumcision. When his parents were reported for defying the ban and circumcising him they were ordered to come to the emperors palace together with the child. Rebbies mother succeeded in switching her child, apparently with the cooperation of the empress, with the baby prince Antoninus. She nursed this uncircumcised prince, and when the time came to appear before the emperor she presented him as her own child. Upon examining this child and finding him uncircumcised he dismissed the charges against the parents and let them go free.

The milk which Antoninus imbibed from the righteous mother of Rebbie had such an impact on him that he eventually studied Torah as a disciple of Rebbie and converted to Judaism. Milk from an impure source, concludes the Midrash, can contaminate (possibly a reference to the refusal of Moshe to be nursed by an Egyptian woman), while milk from a pure source can have a purifying effect.

Avoda Zara 10b

The Original Outreacher

Our mesechta Avoda Zara with its five perakim (chapters) pales beside the mesechta of the Patriarch Avraham which contained 400!

This information relayed by Rabbi Chisda to the Sage Avimi sheds light on an account of Avrahams battle against idol worship found in Rambam (Laws of Avodat Kochavim 1:3), and casually mentioned in an earlier part of our own perek.

Rambam writes that after Avraham reached the peak of his recognition of his Creator at the age of 40 he began challenging the idolatrous beliefs of the people in his native Ur Kasdim and smashing their idols. When he proved too successful the local ruler tried to kill him but he miraculously survived and fled to Charan where he was able to freely propagate his monotheistic faith. He carried on with his sacred campaign from city to city until he eventually reached the Land of Canaan. His efforts succeeded in attracting tens of thousands in whom he planted his great belief and he wrote "seforim" on the subject which he taught to his son Yitzchak.

It is likely that the seforim mentioned by Rambam are the 400 perakim of Avrahams Mesechta Avodah Zarah to which Rabbi Chisda referred. Back on Daf 9a the gemara states that Avraham was 52 years old in the 2000th year after Creation, when he, together with his wife, Sarah, "made souls in Charan" (Bereishet 12:5), thus ushering in the two millennia Era of Torah.

Combining the dates mentioned by our gemara and Rambam we are left with a need to decipher what took place in the life of Avraham between the age of 40 when he started his career of outreach and 52 when he initiated the Era of Torah, and between the latter age and the age of 75 when he left Charan for the Land of Canaan.

In regard to the first point we may assume that even though Avraham began reaching out at 40 he did not reach the peak of his efforts until 52 when he enjoyed freedom of expression in Charan. A similar approach is found in the commentaries who write that the statement in the gemara (Mesechta Nedarim 32a) about Avraham recognizing his Creator at the age of three refers to the beginning of his search, but that he reached the climax of the process only at 40.

There is no exact accounting for the 52-75 period but it probably is the time-frame for what Rambam describes as Avrahams campaign from city to city and country to country to spread the word of G-d.

Avoda Zara 14b

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