Talmud Tips

For the week ending 6 January 2018 / 19 Tevet 5778

Shavuot 30 - 36

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Mind Your Own Business!

“And he did among his people that which is not good” (Yechezkel 18:18) — Rav said, “This refers to a person who comes (to court) with power-of-attorney.”

The verse is speaking about a person being punished for his own transgressions, and not those of his ancestors. The Maharsha explains that the context of the verse is about monetary claims made between close family members — such as between a father and son, or between brothers — and there is likely a great temptation to appoint a third party to press the claim in court in order to avoid embarrassment and lack of family harmony.

However, explains the Maharsha, this is “not good” since if the actual litigant would be present in court to put forward his claim, it is possible that a harmonious compromise would be reached. Or, better yet, it is possible that the claimant would forgo the debt and stop pursuing his claim. The Maharsha sees a hint to this idea in the repetition of the words for the monetary transgressions mentioned in the verse, suggesting that the one making a claim might realize that he too is guilty of the same transgression in the other direction, and therefore drop his claim altogether. Introducing a non-litigant to represent one of the parties makes the possibility of complete or partial compromise virtually impossible, since this “outsider” with power of attorney needs to be rigid in his ways in order to fairly represent the one who appointed him.

There are other reasons taught as halacha for a power of attorney to be “not good”. One case is if both litigants live in the same city and can therefore be in attendance — so why should a person who is not a litigant come with a power of attorney to inject himself into a dispute that is not his business? However, if the defendant is in a different city, or is a “bully” who will intimidate the lender trying to retrieve his loan or monetary claim — it is a mitzvah for a person to act with a power of attorney to help the claimant receive just treatment and compensation. (See Aruch Hashulchan, Choshen Mishpat 123, who discusses this subject in greater detail.)

  • Shavuot 31a

An Open House

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “Showing hospitality to guests is greater than receiving the Divine Presence.”

Aftef Avraham circumcised himself as G-d commanded, these three verses relate what happened next: “And G-d appeared to him in the plains of Mamre, and he was sitting at the entrance of the tent in the heat of the day. And he raised his eyes and saw three men standing beside him… and he ran toward them from the entrance of the tent and bowed himself to the ground. And he said, 'My [masters OR G-d], if only I have found favor in [your OR Your] eyes, please do not pass by from your servant.'” (Ber. 18:1-3)

A beraita on our daf relates a dispute amongst our Sages regarding the meaning of the third verse — whether Avraham was addressing the human visitors, or whether he was addressing G-d, Who had just appeared to him as stated in the first verse. If it is the former, then the word spelled aleph, daled, nun and yod is not holy, but if it is the latter, then it is a holy name of G-d. Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav that the latter is the correct interpretation, and that Avraham is asking G-d: “Please do not depart from me, but rather wait for me until after I show hospitality to the guests.” Rashi in Chumash cites both opinions, and the Rambam rules like the opinion that it is a holy name, in accordance with the teaching of a “pair” of Tanas mentioned in our sugya, and consistent with the teaching of Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav: “All names of G-d that are written concerning Avraham are holy, even ‘G-d, if I have found favor in Your eyes’ is also holy.” (Foundations of the Torah 6:9)

  • Shavuot 35b

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