Talmud Tips

For the week ending 13 December 2014 / 21 Kislev 5775

Yevamot 72 - 78

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Because they (the Jewish People) were being chastised.”

This is one of two reasons offered in our sugya for the reason that the North Wind — a comfortable wind with “healing powers” — did not blow while they were in the desert (except at midnight as taught later on this daf), and therefore they did not perform the mitzvah of brit mila during all the years in the desert. The other reason given in the gemara is that since they were travelling in the desert there was a “weakness of being on the road” that could pose a risk of danger to a newly circumcised baby.

Regarding the reason of “chastisement” — why were they being chastised in the desert? Rashi explains that it was a punishment for the incident of the golden calf after the exodus from Egypt. One of the Tosefot Sages, Rabbeinu Yitzchak, questions Rashi’s reason, citing a verse in which G-d told the nation that He had forgiven them for the sin of the golden calf, and instructed them to build the Tabernacle as a “home” for the G-d’s Divine Presence. Instead, Rabbeinu Yitzchak claims that the punishment was a result of the transgression by the meraglim (spies). I heard from a great rabbi that Rashi understood the verse that Tosefot cites as indeed teaching a great forgiveness, but not absolute to the extent that there would be no further repercussions — such as deserving the healing North Wind in the desert throughout the day.

  • Yevamot 72a

“This comes to teach that an ‘auspicious time’ is a significant and true factor.”

This is the message that our Sages see as being taught in a fascinating but seemingly disjointed beraita on our daf:

“During the entire forty years that the Jewish People were in the desert not one day passed without the North Wind blowing at midnight, as it is stated (Ex. 12:29), “And it was at midnight, and G-d killed all the firstborn in the land of Egypt….”

What is the connection here between the death of the firstborn at midnight and the North Wind (comfortable — Rashi) blowing every day in the desert? The answer is that “it’s all in the timing”. This is the message. Midnight is a particularly favorable time of day for the Jewish People. Since it was favorable for the punishment of the firstborn in Egypt, it was also favorable as the time for a specific, positive wind each night. This wind also acted as a sign for King David to arise from bed each midnight when this wind would blow through the strings of his musical instrument, awakening him to utilize the remainder of the night for Torah study. (Rashi, partly based on Berachot 3b)

  • Yevamot 72a

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