Talmud Tips

For the week ending 18 May 2019 / 13 Iyyar 5779

Bechorot 30 - 36

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Speaking in Two Worlds

Rabbi Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “What is meant by the verse ‘May I dwell in Your tent in the worlds’? Is it really possible to live at the same time in both this world and in the World-to-Come? King David prays in this verse that his words of Torah will be repeated in his name after his death. This is because when the teachings of a departed Torah scholar are repeated in his name, his lips move in the grave.”

This statement taught on our daf explains the “curious” behavior of Rav Sheishes. Our sugya relates that Rav Sheishes posed a novel answer to a question raised in regard to the laws of ma’aser beheima. Afterwards, his “shamesh” named Rav Idi went and repeated this answer that he heard from Rav Sheishes in the Yeshiva — but failed to mention that he heard it from Rav Sheishes.

When Rav Sheishes learned that Rav Idi had said these words of Torah without attributing them to their source — Rav Sheishes — he expressed his displeasure. Rav Sheishes said, “Let the one who bit me be bitten by a scorpion (i.e. excommunicated – Rashi).”

The gemara asks why Rav Sheishes was so upset, and answers that he would be denied the benefit of his words of Torah being attributed to him. This benefit is taught by Rav Yehuda in the name of Rav, based on a verse in Tehillim 61:5: “When the teachings of a departed Torah scholar are repeated in his name, his lips move in the grave.”

There is a discussion in the writings of the commentaries regarding the meaning of “lips moving in the grave.” Is this a figurative statement or is it literal? Rashi writes in our sugya that the lips move, which indicates a literal interpretation. The Ein Yaakov and others find it difficult to accept this literal approach that the lips of a departed person would move in the grave, especially after passage of time which would allow for decomposition. Rather, they relate to it as a purely spiritual experience of the soul.

However, the Maharsha suggests a logical explanation for a literal interpretation for the movement of the lips. The speech of a person is an expression of his neshama by means of his physical body. When a person speaks virtuous words, such as words of Torah, he creates a new spiritual energy. And when those words of Torah are repeated in the name of the person who originally spoke them, this spiritual energy “awakens” their source. This means that both the neshama and the physical body that expressed these words from the neshama are awarded a true and real “additional life.” Both in this world and in the World-to-Come.

The Maharsha notes that the gemara ignores a seemingly obvious reason for there being an issue in citing words of Torah without specifying who originally spoke them. We learn in Pirkei Avot 6:6: “One who says something in the name of its speaker brings redemption to the world, as is stated, ‘And Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai.’” (Megillat Esther 2:22) The Maharsha explains that our gemara understood that this concept was not the reason for Rav Sheishes’ disapproval since it would not explain why only he was upset but not the other Sages.

Nevertheless, this reason of “failing to bring redemption to the world” would indeed seem to be a cause worthy of evoking great displeasure amongst all of the Sages, including Rav Sheishes. Therefore, one might ask, why didn’t the gemara give this as the reason as the reason for Rav Sheishes (and the other Sages) being upset? One answer that is offered is that saying words of Torah in the name of their source is not a total and direct method for bringing the geula to the world. Rather, it is one factor that may combine with others to contribute to redemption. As we find in Megillat Esther when Esther told the king in the name of Mordechai about the plot on his life that she had heard from Mordechai, there was no immediate redemption based on her words. Rather, a series of events ensued, as we read in the Megillah, guided by Divine Providence, which led to the redemption of the Jewish People.

(The reader is warmly invited to offer thoughts and sources on this question, sent to the author at ohr@ohr.edu — with the words “Talmud Tips” in the subject line.)

  • Bechorot 31b

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