Talmud Tips

For the week ending 28 May 2016 / 20 Iyyar 5776

Kiddushin 78 - 82

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Be careful with the honor of Rabbi Meir and his Torah… Be careful with the honor of Rabbi Akiva and his Torah.”

These words from Above were quoted by the Satan (yetzer hara, i.e. the human inclination to sin — Rashi) when he ceased attempts to seduce these two great Torah scholars to sin. G-d had initially sent the Satan to test them (and teach them — see the context of these cases in the gemara), and they would see whether they could or could not withstand the temptation to sin which the Satan posed before them. When it appeared that they were faltering, Gd recalled the Satan, with a declaration that he should not tamper with the honor of these great Sages.

The Maharsha asks a question on this gemara. Why was their “greatness” a reason to leave them alone instead of testing them? Our Sages teach in masechta Succah that “whoever is greater than another has a greater yetzer hara than him.” Accordingly, it would have been a true test of these great Sages if the Satan would have continued with his mission. Why did he cease before the Sages had a chance to sin, based on the Heavenly announcement declaring their greatness? Shouldn’t their greatness be all the more reason to continue the test and possibly succeed in tripping them up, G-d forbid?

The Maharsha answers that the Satan ceased trying to entice them to sin because he understood that his mission was doomed to failure on account of the extraordinary Torah greatness of these Sages. We are taught in masechta Sotah (21a) that the Torah has the power to “protect and to save” — i.e., to protect from suffering and to save from sin (Rashi).

I once heard another answer from a great Rabbi in Jerusalem, that the Satan was in fact recalled, not because he was doomed to fail, but rather because he might have possibly succeeded in being a “stumbling block”, the result being a disgraceful dishonor of the Sages and their Torah. The Rambam in his introduction to Pirkei Avot called “Shemona Perakim” writes that there is a caveat to the rule in Tractate Succah that “whoever is greater than another has a greater yetzer hara than him.” This rule, states the Rambam, is not always true. It applies only to transgressions which are “statutes”, which do not have any apparent logical reason for being forbidden. For example, the laws of kashrut and shatnez. In such a case a person who is greater in Torah will have a greater desire to transgress and needs to have extra diligence to overcome his yetzer hara. However, in transgressions which have clear and logical moral reasons — “mishpatim” — such as murder and theft, a greater Torah scholar will certainly not have a greater yetzer hara to transgress! The specific type of temptation to transgress that was put before Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Akiva is of this latter type. The Satan was therefore called off in midstream (literally, in the case of Rabbi Meir), due to the importance of preserving the honor of the Torah of these two great Torah giants.

  • Kiddushin 81a

“The best of doctors are (headed) for gehinom (i.e., deserving of severe punishment in the Afterlife).”

This teaching in our mishna is one that is oft-quoted, especially when a person feels that his doctor is being unfair in some manner (e.g., not giving antibiotics upon request, not writing an opiate prescription for “chronic pain”, or for overcharging), and is the subject of much discussion by our classical Torah commentaries.

One explanation is that a “talented” doctor is often not humble and does not fear G-d, since he knows how to heal himself if needed, and knows what food is healthy to feed himself in order to prevent disease. As a result of this excessive “pride” and lack of fearing G-d he is liable to negligently treat his patients, resulting in their death. In addition he is likely to refrain from accepting impoverished people who require medical attention. (Rashi)

Another commentary states that a doctor who is (or thinks he is) a great expert in the art of healing will not bother to seek a “second opinion” even when he has a doubt regarding his diagnosis or the treatment necessary, and in this way may put the trusting patient’s life in danger. Likewise, he will brazenly rely on his own knowledge and “genius” and not properly research the medical literature in order to remain up-to-date and aware of the best medical care that he should be able to provide. (Tiferet Yisrael, who also relates a fascinating story with an amazing “twist” on this topic)

  • Kiddushin 82a

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