Talmud Tips

For the week ending 31 October 2015 / 18 Heshvan 5776

Sotah 9 - 15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

"…because whoever puts his eyes (i.e. covets) that which is not fit for him (i.e. currently forbidden to him) will not receive what he wants and will lose what he has…”

This teaching is part of a beraita which gives this reason as the “double punishment” that a guilty Sotah receives, and also the rule that explains the double punishment of the snake in Eden (see Rashi for details). From the cases listed in the beraita as examples of this principle, it is clear that “putting one’s eyes to covet” means to do more than merely see something and desire it in one’s heart. It means that a person who acts on that desire to try to obtain the object of the desire, not only will not gain it, but will even suffer a substantial loss as a result of the act of the immoral action.

  • Sotah 9a

"He (Avraham) planted an ‘eshel’ in Be’ersheva…” (Ber. 21:33). Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia disagreed about the meaning of ‘eshel’. One said it means an orchard and the other said it means an inn.”

The gemara explains how the Hebrew word “vayita” — which normally means “planted” and would fit well with the opinion that he planted an orchard — is also found in Tanach to refer to “planting” or “building” a structure.

Avraham Avinu, the “pillar of chesed” (loving-kindness) of our Patriarchs, constructed an inn for travellers according to one opinion of our Sages. Rashi explains that the word “eshel” is an acronym for “achila, shtiya, leviya” meaning that he would feed the needy travellers, quench their thirst, and accompany them on the road to continue their travels after being graciously hosted at his inn.

Another explanation for “eshel” is that it is an acronym for “achila, shtiya, lina”, meaning “food, drink, and a place to stay”. A story is told regarding this interpretation. A wealthy man was well known as a great “ba’al chesed” who always opened his home to feed the needy. One day, however, his house burned down. The many people who knew of his great generosity were shocked and asked the Gaon from Vilna for an explanation. He told them, “This wealthy man indeed provided food and drink for the needy but he refused to provide shelter for them. Therefore the ‘eshel’ he provided was incomplete. He fulfilled ‘achila’ and ‘shtiya’ but not ‘lina’. ‘Eshel’ requires all three. Without the third component of ‘lina’ — shelter — he actually made an ‘aish’ (letters aleph and shin), which means that he built and planted a fire that would be a punishment to him.”

A great Rabbi in Jerusalem once explained to me why this that this seemingly gracious host was deserving of such a harsh punishment. The host greatly raised the hopes of the needy by providing plenty of nourishment, but just when they began to feel good and safe, he dashed their hopes of wellbeing by refusing them a secure place to sleep in the shelter of his home. These homeless ones were even more devastated than they had been originally, due to him.”

  • Sotah 10a

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