Talmud Tips

For the week ending 18 July 2020 / 26 Tammuz 5780

Shabbat 128-134

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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From Head To Toe

Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav, “A person should always sell the roof beams of his house and buy shoes for himself.”

People say that the clothes make the man. I would argue that the man makes the clothes — well, someone has to make them! We find earlier in our masechta that Rabbi Yochanan said, “My clothes honor me.” (Shabbat 113a) Rashi explains that clothes honor the person who wears them. Rabbi Yochanan wore “rabbinical garb” that was suitable for him and therefore honored him. And when a person dresses up for Shabbat, his clothing helps him express his great honor for Shabbat.

While the importance of dressing properly — especially on Shabbat — is beyond dispute, our gemara seems to teach the unique significance of wearing shoes. We are taught that one must even sell (at least part of) his home, if needed, to acquire appropriate footwear. The significance of shoes seems to be beyond that of ordinary clothing. Rashi in our sugya explains that there is no greater disgrace than walking barefoot in public. Shoes contribute to our basic sense of human dignity. We are taught that Rabbi Akiva instructed his son Rabbi Yehoshua to never go barefoot.

It is said that when the Kotzker Rebbe would discard his worn-out shoes, he would first cover them up before disposal. He said, “How can I throw away shoes that have served me so well for so long in a disrespectful manner?” Shoes are virtually a necessity to assist us in making our path through life with the goal of fulfilling our purpose in this world. There is even a beracha that was enacted to be said when putting on one’s shoes in the morning: “Blessed are you, Hashem, our G-d, King of the universe, Who has provided me my every need.” (The widespread custom nowadays is to say this beracha together with the other Birkot Hashachar — the Morning Blessings — in shul before Shacharit.)

Kabbalistic teachings apply the shoe-concept to the relationship between a person’s body and soul. The shoe symbolizes the physical body. And just as the shoe encases the lowest part of the physical body and allows it to ambulate in the world, so too does the body encase the lowest level of the soul and allows it to ambulate and relate to the physical world.

  • Shabbat 129a

Once in Joy, Always in Joy

Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel said, “Every mitzvah which the Jewish People accepted in joy, such as milah, is still celebrated to this day with joy (with a festive meal - Rashi).”

Where do we find the source for this idea? David Hamelech said, “I rejoice in Your command, like one who finds great treasure.” (Tehillim 119:162) Rashi, in his commentary to Sefer Tehillim, quotes Chazal’s teaching that this verse refers to the constant simcha that accompanies the mitzvah of milah. When David Hamelech was in the bathhouse and saw himself without tzitzit, tefillin and Torah (due to its being a place where people are not clothed), he was distraught. He said, “Oy vey, I am ‘naked’ of all commandments!” Immediately, however, when he thought of the mitzvah of milah that he was constantly fulfilling, he rejoiced. When he exited the bathhouse he said, “I rejoice in Your command.”

Rashi, in our gemara, explains that since the word for command is singular and not plural (‘imratecha’ instead of ‘imrotecha’) it refers to the singular mitzvah of milah, which preceded the other mitzvahs when it was commanded to Avraham Avinu. David Hamelech rejoicing in the mitzvah of milah — a mitzvah that once it is performed provides constant fulfillment without effort — indicates that milah is a mitzvah that was accepted by the Jewish People with joy and is therefore a mitzvah that will always be celebrated with joy.

  • Shabbat 130a

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