Talmud Tips

For the week ending 5 June 2021 / 25 Sivan 5781

Shlach Lecha: Yoma 44 - 50

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Heirs to the Hair

We learned in a beraita: “Kimchis had seven sons, and each one of them served as Kohen Gadol. The Chachamim asked her, ‘What did you do to merit this great honor?’ She replied, ‘I never allowed the beams of my house see my uncovered hair.’”

Clearly, Kimchis was an important and remarkable person. To have merited receiving this unique and superlative spiritual reward from Above for her modesty, she undoubtedly went beyond the letter of the law in her observance of the halacha requiring a married woman to cover her hair.

We similarly find that our great Torah scholars were renowned for their extraordinary modesty, as we see where Rabbi Yossi said, “The beams of my house have never seen the seams of my shirt.” (Shabbat 118b) In practical terms, this means that he did not turn his shirt inside out whenever he changed clothing, but pulled it over his head while sitting up in bed so that he remained covered as much as possible — out of modesty.

In the case of Kimchis and her sons on our daf, one might wonder how the reward of Kehuna Gedola was measure-for-measure an appropriate honor for her modesty in covering her hair. To explain this connection, Rashi (here) cites the Jerusalem Talmud as follows: King David says in Tehillim 45:14, “The dignity of a princess (which can also be translated as “a daughter of the King”) is in her modesty — and her garment is made of gold embroidery.” A woman with the essence of such outstanding modesty deserves children who will wear the golden garments of the Kohen Gadol.

However, how was this honor technically possible, since there should be only one Kohen Gadol at a time? If the seven sons served consecutively, it would seem to imply the death of the previous son. What type of honor would it have been for this pious woman to have buried six of her sons?

A key to the answer is in the gemara’s account of her son named Yishmael. He became tamei (spiritually impure) just before Yom Kippur one year, and Yeshaivov his brother served as a temporary substitute that year. This same temporary disqualification occurred to Yishmael in a different year, and his brother Yosef served instead that year. Despite these incidents being mentioned only in regard to three of her sons, we can infer that this happened more than twice, which eventually led to all seven brothers having an opportunity to serve as Kohen Gadol — while all the brothers were alive and together. (Tosefot Yeshanim) In this manner, the service of all her seven sons was certainly an honor for their mother, and certainly brought great nachat (Torah joy) to their righteous mother. (See the Maharsha’s Chiddushei Aggadot on our sugya, where he poses a fascinating question and advances a brilliant answer regarding the timings and identities of the events that transpired.)

I found a specific detail in the beraita particularly intriguing. Why does Kimchis say the beams of her house never saw her hair, instead of saying that the walls of her house never saw her hair? “Beams” generally refer to the roof beams above, whereas walls would be the usual eye-level sides of her abode. Did she perhaps say “beams” to indicate that she took special care to never expose the hair on the very top of her head to the (unlikely) possibility that a person on a ladder was looking at her from near the roof beams, or that someone was flying a drone with a camera above her head? I do not think this is the explanation. Rather, Kimchis was not just a person who acted ‘modestl’y, she was, in her very essence, a modest person. Since her modesty was inherent and intrinsic, it was only natural that she would not expose her royal hair toward any direction of the compass.

(For a detailed treatment and understanding of the halacha of hair-covering for a married woman, see Shuchan Aruch Even H’Ezer 75. The sources in Shas, explanations from the Rishonim and rulings by our great Poskim are many, and may depend on numerous factors, such as place — both geographical and its precise “public nature”, time, and communal customs and norms. The topic is renowned to be complex and certainly well beyond the scope of a Daf Yomi column titled “Talmud Tips.”)

  • Yoma 47a

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