For the week ending 13 March 2010 / 26 Adar I 5770

Sanhedrin 30 - 36

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The Radiant Sage

  • Sanhedrin 31b

"To the one whose face shines like the son of Batya."

This is how the Sage Mar Ukva was addressed in a letter sent to him as head of a rabbinical court in Babylon, requesting his cooperation in regard to a particular lawsuit.

Rashi offers two possibilities for this unusual title. One is that it is a reference to Moshe who was raised by Batya, the daughter of Pharaoh; and another is that it is a reference to the word bayti used in the tribute paid to Moshe by G-d that "In My entire house (bayti) he is the trusted one." (Bamidbar 12:7).

The skin on Moshe's face had become radiant when he descended from Mount Sinai (Shmot 34:29) and there was a sort of radiance in the face of the Sage Mar Ukva as indicated in the words of King Solomon that "a man's wisdom lights up his face." (Kohelet 8:1)

Although this approach suggests that it was the Sage's wisdom that created the radiance, another approach is mentioned by Rashi on the basis of an unnamed source:

Mar Ukva was a ba'al teshuva who became literally lovesick towards a married woman. The woman one day came to him in desperate need of a loan but he courageously withstood temptation and as a result he recovered from his illness and was rewarded with a Heavenly bestowed light shining from his face. It was these sparks of light that endowed Mar Ukva with the name Rabbi Natan Tzutzita (sparks) attached to him in Mesechta Shabbat (55b).

What the Sages Say

"Like a hammer splitting a rock" is the Prophet Yirmiyahu's poetic description of Torah. Just as the rock is split into many parts, so can one Torah passage offer a number of interpretations.

  • The Yeshiva of Rabbi Yismael (according to Rashbam) - Sanhedrin 34a

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