Talmud Tips

For the week ending 24 January 2015 / 4 Shevat 5775

Yevamot 114 - 122

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Something in which a tzaddik is involved will not be a cause of suffering to him.”

As taught in a beraita on our daf, this is how Rabbi Dosa explained how he was certain that Nechunya ,the well-digger’s daughter, was not dead from having fallen into a well. After her falling in the pit, her father went to Rabbi Dosa to pray for her welfare. After the first and second hours passed, he told the father that she was still alive. After that, when it would be impossible to survive in the pit any longer, Rabbi Dosa announced that she had been taken out of the pit alive. When asked if he was a prophet, he replied, “I am not a prophet nor am I the son of a prophet, but something which a tzaddik is involved in will not be a cause of suffering to him.”

The gemara continues with a statement from Rabbi Aba, “Nevertheless, his (the well-digger’s) son died from thirst.” This was despite the fact that the father dedicated his work to dig wells to provide water for those who came to Jerusalem (Rashi). Rabbi Aba cites another rule that G-d is “extremely exacting in judgment with the righteous”, as taught in various verses. Although we don’t see any change in the righteousness of Rabbi Nechunya the well-digger, his daughter survived the pit and his son did not survive a lack of water, which the pits were dug in order to store. Why the difference? One explanation is that the daughter was in danger from being in a pit, something that her righteous father was involved in making. The son, however, did not die as a result of the pit — his father’s work — but due to a lack of water (Tosefot as explained by the Bach).

  • Yevamot 121b

“She went to the Sage Abayei, and waited there for three Festivals (for an answer).”

The gemara relates a case where a non-Jew was heard threatening a Jew to desecrate Shabbat in order to provide food for his animals or else he would kill him, “Just as I killed a different Jew (whom he named) because I told him to cook food for me on Shabbat or be killed, and he refused.” The wife of the person whom he claimed to have killed was not sure if she could believe the statement of the non-Jew, which would make her a widow and permit her to remarry. She therefore went to the Sage Abayei to ask about her marital status according to Jewish law. But what is the meaning of staying there for three “Festivals” (“rigili” in Aramaic)?

Rashi offers two explanations. One is that for the three Festivals of Pesach, Shavuot and Succot many great Torah scholars would gather together to hear the teachings of the laws for each Festival. At those times she would have an opportunity to ask them her serious question. Based on the response of the Geonim, Rashi offers a second explanation that these three “rigili” did not refer to these three Festivals. Rather, it refers to the custom of the Talmudic Sages to come with the rest of the people to gather at the gravesite of a departed Torah scholar on the date of his passing each year in his honor (“yahrzeit”) and “establish a Yeshiva there”. These occasions were ideal times to ask the Rabbis an important and difficult question of Jewish law.

Rav Ada bar Ahava instructed her to ask Rav Yosef who was “sharp like a knife”. He ruled that the non-Jew’s statement could not be taken as fact since he mentioned his first “kill” only in order to boost his credibility with the Jew to frighten him to cook on Shabbat; not that he actually killed this woman’s husband.

  • Yevamot 121b, 122a

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