Talmud Tips

For the week ending 27 May 2017 / 2 Sivan 5777

Bava Batra 123 - 129

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

The Double-Edged Sword

“My sword" refers to tefillah (prayer), and “my bow” refers to bakashah (request).

In this manner does our gemara interpret the words of Yaakov Avinu to Yosef, which promise him a double portion in the Land of Israel. The verse states, “And I have given you one portion over your brothers, which I took from the hand of the Amorite with my sword and with my bow” (Ber. 48:22).

The gemara questions how we can understand this verse at face-value, since another verse states, “For I do not trust in my bow, neither will my sword save me” (Tehillim 44:7). The gemara responds to this by explaining, “My sword" refers to tefillah (prayer), and “my bow” refers to bakashah (request). This does not mean that Yaakov merited conquest without his prayer and bow, since there is a rule that a verse also needs to be interpreted according to its meaning as written. Rather, we should understand that Yaakov merited victory not only with sword and bow, but also (and primarily) due to his prayers and supplications.

The Maharsha points out that a different explanation is taught in the midrash for “my sword and my bow”. The midrash teaches that these refer to Yaakov’s mitzvot and good deeds. The Maharsha also points out that Rashi in Chumash explains the “sword and bow” to be Yaakov’s wisdom and prayer, which leaves us with a question: Why does Rashi in Chumash choose to explain the verse neither like the explanation in our gemara nor like the explanation in the midrash? (Also, see the Maharsha for a beautiful elucidation of the metaphorical uses of “sword” for “prayer” and “bow” for “supplication”.)

  • Bava Batra 123a

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