Talmud Tips

For the week ending 20 May 2017 / 24 Iyyar 5777

Bava Batra 116 - 122

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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A Reason for a Great Yom Tov

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said: There were no greater Yamim Tovim for the Jewish People than the fifteenth of Av and Yom Kippur, when the daughters of Israel would go out with white dresses that they borrowed from each other, in order not to embarrass those who were not wealthy enough to have their own.” (This was done for the purpose of finding a marriage partner, as is taught in Masechet Ta’anit.)

This mishna from the end of Masechet Ta’anit is cited in our sugya regarding the laws of inheritance of the Land of Israel, and on the 15thof Av permission was granted for inter-tribal marriages for those who were not part of the generation of “the ones who entered the Land”, according to Rav Yehuda in the name of Shmuel. (Rashbam)

One important lesson taught in this mishna is that great care was taken in order to show utmost sensitivity towards one another. Even those who had appropriate clothing borrowed from someone else, in order to avoid possibly hurting the feelings of someone who was poor and did not own an appropriate dress for the extremely joyous occasion. The greatest Yamim Tovim of the year. The 15thday of the month of Av, and the day of Yom Hakippurim.

The gemara states that the “super-simcha” of Yom Kippur was on account of its being a day of forgiveness (for the sin of golden calf — Rashbam), and also it was the day when the Jewish People received the second set of Tablets of the Torah, following 120 days of prayer and atonement for breaking of the First Tablets on the 17th of Tammuz. Regarding the extraordinary nature of the Yom Tov of the 15th of Av, however, the reason is not readily obvious, and the gemara seeks the reason for this Yom Tov. In response, six different reasons are presented by the Sages of the Talmud.

One of these reasons is offered by Rav Nachman, who said that it was “the day on which the death in the desert concluded.” The adult generation of the desert had accepted the slanderous report of the “spies” who were sent by Moshe to check out the Land of Israel before they would enter it, and were decreed from Above to die in the desert and not enter the Land. The Rashbam cites a Midrash that teaches that on the night of Tisha B’Av each year, the people would dig graves for themselves in the desert, and sleep in them, with some fifteen thousand-plus dying in these graves each year as punishment for their transgression. (This is the meaning of the words in the Torah “a day for a year”: the spies were gone for 40 days, and thus there was one day each year, on Tishba B’Av, when the lethal punishment was exacted — Rashbam).

In their 40th year in the desert, however, no one died in the graves that they had dug and slept in. They thought that they may have erred in the date, and slept again in the graves on the following night, again not dying there. They continued this procedure each night until the night of the 15thof the month, when they saw the full moon and knew it could not possibly be the 9th of Av.

And so it was that on the 15th of Av they realized that the decree of dying in the desert was no longer in effect, and they were in a state of great joy and happiness. But that was not the reason for the full extent of the tremendous simcha of the day, and for its being one the two greatest Yamim Tovim of the year, along with Yom Kippur, as the gemara concludes the explanation of Rav Nachman’s reason. It was not until that year and day that G-d once again began to “speak” directly with Moshe Rabbeinu, just as He had before the sin of the spies. (See Tosefot who quotes the above explanation based on the Midrash cited by Rabbeinu Shmuel — the Rashbam — which indicated that they did not die in the 40th year. Tosefot questions this explanation for a number of reasons, and maintains that they died during the final year in the desert as well.)

  • Bava Batra 121

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