Talmud Tips

For the week ending 10 January 2015 / 19 Tevet 5775

Yevamot 100 - 106

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabba said, “Animal and grain offerings cannot atone, but Torah study can atone.”

Abaye said, “Animal and grain offerings cannot atone, but Torah study and deeds of loving-kindness can atone.”

These statements of these two Sages were made in the context of what would alleviate the severity of a Divine decree that the descendents of Eli Hakohen would have only short life spans due to shameful behavior in the Beit Hamikdash. The gemara cites a verse from Sefer Shemuel (I, 3:14) in which God decreed that they would have no atonement and reprieve for this transgression through offerings in the Beit Hamikdash. Rabba and Abaye, however, despite being descendants of Eli, were granted relative longevity due to their involved in Torah study and kind deeds, as they are respectively quoted as teaching above.

It is possible to suggest that the atonement and longevity through Torah study and kindness taught in our gemara is not limited only to the descendants of Eli. Also in our times, when there are no offerings in a Beit Hamikdash, these same merits of Torah and good deeds provide us with atonement and special benefits, as we learn in Avot (1:2) that “The world stands (exists) on three things: Torah study, sacrifices and good deeds.” The remaining two “pillars” that remain in our time — Torah and kindness — enable our true existence in today’s world.

  • Yevamot 105a

Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi said, “This is what my father taught: ‘One who prays should place his vision downwards, and his heart upwards…’.”

This halacha of prayer is taught on our daf and is based on verses cited in the sugya from the Books of Kings and Lamentantions. When the Sage says that one's vision should be faced “downward” this teaches that during prayer one should face towards the Land of Israel, where the Shechina (Divine Presence) exists even after the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash (Rashi, Maharsha). One’s heart, however, we are taught here, should be directed upwards, with intent that we are speaking to the One above us.

The Maharsha poses an apparent difficulty with this halacha from what is taught in the gemara in Tractate Berachot (30a). There we learn that during prayer a person should “direct his heart” towards the Land of Israel and even to the most holy place in the Beit Hamikdash if possible (not “upwards”, as stated in our gemara). The Maharsha offers a possible answer that the gemara there really means to direct one’s heart upwards to the “above” parallel of the places — such as the Holy of Holies — “below” in our world. He seems to reject this answer, however, and appears to intend that we delve further into this matter.

This halacha is codified in Shulchan Aruch Orach Chayim 95:2, which states: “One should bend one’s head downward a bit, so that his eyes will be facing the ground; and he should think that he is standing in the Beit Hamikdash; and in his heart he should focus upward to Heaven.” (The “Be’er Hagolah” cites our daf as the source; and additional, related halachot are taught in the Mishna Berurah there, such as whether to pray with open or closed eyes.)

  • Yevamot 105b

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