Yevamot 97 - 103
The Limits of Immunity
How far does Divine protection for the righteous from unintentional sin extend? This question arises regarding an incident concerning Rabbi Elazar ben Tzadok. He once saw terumah being distributed to a particular Jew. Assuming that he must be a kohen, he appeared before a court to testify that this was indeed his status.
Later, recalling this incident, he declared that this was the only time in his life that he ever testified, and it resulted in a slave mistakenly being certified as a kohen. Two questions arise in regard to this declaration -- how did this sage make such a mistake, and what really happened in the end?
Just as a kohen may eat terumah, so too may his Canaanite slave. But if such a slave is given terumah at Hthe place of distribution to kohanim, there is a danger that onlookers may mistake him for being a kohen himself and grant him the rights to marriage which the Torah denies to a slave. Rabbi Yehuda's solution to this problem was to distribute terumah to a slave only if his master accompanied him, so that it would be clear to all that he was receiving this terumah only in his capacity of slave. Rabbi Yossi, on the other hand, made no such restriction, and instead instituted a policy that testimony regarding a man receiving terumah would not be considered evidence that he was a kohen.
Rabbi Elazar bar Tzadok saw the slave receiving terumah without a master present in a city which followed Rabbi Yossi's ruling that slaves are given terumah without their masters present. He subsequently testified regarding his status in a city following the ruling of Rabbi Yehuda where slaves did not receive terumah when they came alone. His mistake was in assuming that what was proof of a kohen's status in one place was the same everywhere else.
But, asks the gemara, did the court actually elevate the slave to kohen status on the basis of the sage's error? No, says the gemara, it only almost happened.
According to the text in our gemara, and which is supported by Rashi's commentary, the gemara's challenge about the likeliness of the sage's error leading to a sinful conclusion is based on the classic Talmudic rule that "if Hashem protects even the animals of the righteous from sin, then He surely protects the righteous themselves." Rashi points out that this is a reference to the donkey of Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair which refused to eat untithed grain (Chullin 7b).
Tosefot, however, expunged this reference from the text because of his position that Divine protection of a tzadik is limited to cases like those in Chullin and Gittin (7a) where the tzaddik was in danger of himself eating forbidden food because of the major disgrace involved. Such protection is not available in cases like Rabbi Elazar's, and the gemara was not suggesting that an unfortunate conclusion was impossible.
Vitality in Our Bones
"May it be Your will...in this month...give us long life...and a life of vitality in our bones..." This prayer, based on the daily prayer of the Sage Rav (Berachot 16b), is familiar to us as the one we say on the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh. In it, we ask for long life, material prosperity and spiritual success. How does chilutz atzamot -- vitality in our bones -- enter into this list of essentials?
The answer lies in the comment of Rabbi Elazar in our gemara that of all the blessings listed by the Prophet Yeshayahu as a reward for kindness to the poor, the most important one is: "He will give vitality to your bones." (Yeshayahu 58:11)
Maharsha explains that this is one of the eleven blessings which Hashem bestows upon one who comforts the poor person with kind words of encouragement (Bava Basra 9b). It is special because it deals with the care of a person's physical constitution. The Hebrew word "etzem" means both essence and bone, because the bones are the very essence of one's ability to function. All the other blessings contained in those passages (ibid. 10-13) deal with matters external to the body, and are therefore not as significant to the ability to function as is the vitality of the bones.
What the Sage Rav had in mind with his daily prayer, and we with our monthly one, is not necessarily the body-building and exercise features of a culture based on physical fitness as an end in itself, but rather a Heavenly blessing of good health and energy which will enable us to better serve our Creator.