Talmud Tips

For the week ending 31 January 2015 / 11 Shevat 5775

Ketuvot 2 - 8

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

The Yeshiva of Rabbi Yishmael taught: “Why is the main part of the ear hard, while its lobe is soft? In case a person hears speech that is improper, he can bend the lobe into his ear.”

Mankind was created with built-in “noise-cancelling headphones” in order to avoid hearing inappropriate speech!

The main part of the ear serves a natural purpose as a “funnel” to collect sounds and also as a “cover” to protect against entry of foreign objects. The lobe, however, seems to serve no natural purpose. Not so, it is taught here. The earlobe serves as a “plug” that is ready for folding into the ear to avoid hearing improper speech. (Maharsha)

  • Ketuvot 5b

“A person should not allow himself to hear idle speech, since the ears are the first limbs to be burned.”

This is a beraita on our daf, and Rashi explains that the burning refers to the earlobes which are soft and thin and are therefore more sensitive to be burned by heat than other body limbs.

The Maharsha connects this teaching about idle speech to the above teaching about improper and forbidden speech. A person should not think it sufficient to avoid hearing inappropriate and forbidden speech, as taught before. Rather, even idle and useless speech is a hazard that one should take measures to avoid hearing. Why? With all the speech that a person hears in everyday life, if a person is not careful to avoid idle talk he will almost certainly hear forbidden speech as well. One should therefore take steps (and fold earlobes) to hear only speech that is necessary, and listen to talk that is a mitzvah.

Being “the first limb to be burned” illustrates the extreme sensitivity of the ear. It was created as a soft and thin limb, exposed to the dangers of the elements that can easily burn and injure it. This sensitive design also reflects the extreme care needed to protect and guard our ears to hear only “good speech”.

  • Ketuvot 5b

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