For the week ending 11 April 2015 / 22 Nisan 5775

Ketubot 72 - 78

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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  • When husband is compelled to divorce his wife
  • Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi and the contagious illness
  • Two Sages and their conversations with the Angel of Death
  • The wife's rights to sell inherited property

Conversations with the Angel of Death

  • Ketubot 77b

When the time came for Rabbi Chanina bar Papa to depart from this world he was approached by the Angel of Death with whom he had an extraordinary relationship. "Give me thirty days to review the Talmud I have studied," he requested. This desire was based on the Talmudic account (Bava Batra 10b) of a Sage hearing an announcement during a brief experience in Heaven: "Fortunate is the man who arrives here with his Talmud in his hand."

Thirty days later a dramatic exchange took place between the Sage and his angelic executioner. When Rabbi Chanina asked him to lend him his terrifying sword as he accompanied him to show him his place in Gan Eden, just as he had done for an earlier Sage, Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi, the angel pointed out to him that he lacked the merit of his predecessor. Although he conceded that he had fulfilled in his lifetime every command of the Torah, he had not demonstrated the heroic kindness of Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi. That Sage had braved the danger of being contaminated by a serious and highly contagious disease in order to provide company for the victims of that disease while studying Torah, confident in the protection that such study would provide.

Nevertheless, when death finally came Heaven vindicated the exalted status of Rabbi Chanina by placing a pillar of fire between his funeral bier and the crowd which came to honor him, a Heavenly honor accorded to only one or two people in a generation. Appeals to the deceased to have this barrier removed in order to eliminate the impression that the other Sages were not worthy of being in his presence did not succeed. Only when an appeal was made to remove the barrier so that they could properly bury him did the fiery pillar disappear.

What the Sages Say

"If the study of Torah confers charm (as promised in Mishlei 5:19) upon the one who is involved in it, will it not provide him also with the protection of immunity?"

  • Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi as he exposed himself to the danger of contagion, confident that Torah would protect him

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