Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 January 2015 / 12 Tevet 5775

Yevamot 93 - 99

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma said, “I will be amazed if this synagogue does not become a place of idol worship!”

What a strange thing to say! And the gemara concludes that Rabbi Yossi’s tragic prediction came true: “And so it was”. The context of this statement is that Rabbi Yossi ben Kisma was present in a synagogue in Tiberius and saw Rabbi Elazar and Rabbi Yossi disputing a halachic matter in a heated manner that also involved an element of anger. These two Sages argued with such fervor that they tragically unintentionally tore a Sefer Torah during the process.

The Maharsha points out that the eventual fate of the synagogue becoming a place of idolatry is based on what our Sages teach that one who is angry ‘pushes away from him’ the Divine Presence (Nedarim 22b). I have also heard from a great rabbi in Jerusalem that the Sefer Torah was torn also due to a degree of anger in the debate. Although the tearing was not intentional, it occurred as a result of their negligence and they shared a responsibility for this calamity. In fact, the initial wording in the sugya is that “they tore” a Sefer Torah”, which implies “with intent” (Rashi). The gemara of course rejects the absurd possibility that they tore it intentionally, and explains that it was in fact torn without intent. However, we can understand from the initial wording (“they tore”) that it was “as if” they negligently tore it. As our Sages also teach, one who is angry will make a mistake.

  • Yevamot 96b

Rabbi Yochanan said in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, “Whenever someone in this world repeats a teaching in the name of a Torah scholar who has ‘passed’, the lips of that Torah scholar move in the grave.”

This teaching is derived from a verse in Shir Hashirim as is explained in the gemara by Rabbi Yitzchak ben Zeira — and others say it was Shimon Nazira (very important to mention their names!). The reason this teaching is cited in our sugya is to help understand why Rabbi Yochanan originally felt distraught when he heard that his student, Rabbi Elazar taught a halacha that he had learned from Rabbi Yochanan without mentioning Rabbi Yochanan’s name. Another source is cited from King David in Psalms (61) that “I will dwell in your place in the worlds”. Tosefot explains that when a person’s soul is in the Heavenly Yeshiva but his lips are moving in the grave in this world because someone is teaching Torah in his name, it is as if he is dwelling in both worlds simultaneously.

After initially being upset, Rabbi Yochanan was appeased by a novel approach by Rabbi Yaakov bar Idi. Based on a precedent in the Tanach regarding Moshe and Yehoshua, it is clear that it although Rabbi Elazar did not state Rabbi Yochanan’s name, everyone knew that the teaching was from Rabbi Yochanan since he was Rabbi Elazar’s teacher, and even without mentioning Rabbi Yochanan’s name he was in fact mentioning it.

  • Yevamot 96b, 97a

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