THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
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Bava Metzia, 86
1) THE DEATH OF RABAH BAR NACHMENI
QUESTIONS: The Gemara relates that while Rabah bar Nachmeni was fleeing for
his life from the Persian authorities, there was an argument going on in the
Yeshivah in Shamayim. The argument involved the Halachah of the appearance
of a white hair that precedes the appearance of a Baheres spot on the skin.
Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu, as it were, ruled that it is Tahor, while all of the
members of the heavenly Yeshivah ruled that it is Tamei. They asked who will
decide the matter conclusively, and they answered that Rabah bar Nachmeni
can decide the matter since he is the greatest expert on Nega'im and Ohalos.
They sent a Shali'ach to bring Rabah to them, but the Mal'ach ha'Maves could
not take him from this world because he did not stop learning Torah. At that
moment, a wind blew and made the reeds move and make noise. Rabah heard the
noise and thought that it was the Persian legions coming to kill him. He
prayed that he die then rather than be taken by the authorities. At the
moment that he died, he declared, "Tahor! Tahor!"
(a) How could the students in the Yeshivah of Shamayim argue with the ruling
of Ha'Kadosh Baruch Hu?
(b) If they did argue with Him, then why did Rabah not rule in accordance
with the majority opinion (in accordance with Shemos 23:2)?
(c) Why was it necessary for Rabah to be taken from this world in order to
resolve the argument? Why could they not have asked him for his ruling while
he was alive?
(d) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Tum'as Tzara'as 2:9) rules that in the case of a
white hair that precedes the Baheres, the Nega is *Tamei*. How could the
Rambam rule in opposition of the opinion of Hashem, and against the
conclusion of Rabah?
(a) RABEINU CHANANEL (as cited by the Shitah Mekubetzes) writes that the
argument that occurred in the Yeshivah of Shamayim was shown to Rabah in a
dream. There were actually two groups of Tzadikim arguing about the
Halachah. The group that was closer to the radiance of the Shechinah ruled
that the Nega is Tahor, and the group of Tzadikim that was farther away from
the Shechinah ruled that it is Tamei. This was shown to Rabah in a dream so
that he would leave the world with a calm, settled spirit.
The BEN YEHOYADA gives a similar explanation, but he says that in the dream
that was shown to Rabah, it indeed was Hashem who ruled that the Nega is
Tahor, and not the group of Tzadikim closest to the Shechinah. He adds that
the reason why this was shown to Rabah in a dream was in order to show to
him the infinite pleasure that a Tzadik experiences in the World to Come, so
that he would yearn to go there and agree to leave this world. The Ben
Yehoyada says that the reason an argument was shown to Rabah (and not just
the pleasure experienced by the Tzadikim in the World to Come) was so that
Rabah would respond to the inquire, "Tahor" and thus his soul would leave
this world while teaching a Halachah, and while uttering the word, "Tahor."
This symbolized that his soul would cling to its holy Source above which is
all pure, all "Tahor."
RAV YAKOV EMDEN answers differently and explains that the students of the
Yeshivah of Shamayim did not actually argue with Hashem, because it was they
who stated their opinion first, and only afterwards Hashem stated His
opinion. The Gemara here changes the order merely out of deference.
(b) The MAHARSHA (in MAHADURA BASRA) answers that the rule that the majority
opinion must be followed applies only in this world. Therefore, Rabah did
not follow the opinion of the majority in the Yeshivah of Shamayim.
(c) The MAHARSHA explains likewise that the reason why Rabah had to be taken
from this world in order to issue his ruling on the matter is because he
could not have decided the matter in this world. Since, in this world, the
majority opinion must be followed, his ruling would not have been accepted
because he would have been contradicting the majority opinion. Therefore, he
had to be taken to the Yeshivah of Shamayim.
(d) The BEN YEHOYADA explains that the reason why the Rambam rules that such
a Nega is Tamei, in contradiction to the ruling of Hashem Himself, is
because the Rambam understood this incident to be a dream that Rabah saw.
Hence, there is no indication that in reality Hashem's opinion was that it
The KESEF MISHNAH writes that even if this argument in Shamayim actually
occurred, we do not follow opinions that expressed in Shamayim, as the verse
says, "Lo ba'Shamayim Hi" (Devarim 30:12).
This, however, explains only how the Rambam could rule differently than the
ruling of Hashem. How, though, could he rule differently than the ruling of
The Kesef Mishnah answers that Rabah stated his ruling at the moment that
his Neshamah left him, and thus the rule of "Lo ba'Shamayim Hi" applies to
his ruling. (I. Alsheich)
2) AGADAH: THE FOOD OF ANGELS
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when the Torah says that the Mal'achim who
visited Avraham Avinu ate the food that he served, it means that they only
appeared to be eating the food, but they did not actually eat it. If they
did not actually eat the food, then why does the Torah refer to the act that
they did as "eating?"
3) THE GIFTS GIVEN IN THE MERIT OF AVRAHAM AVINU
ANSWER: This question can be answered based on what the commentaries teach
regarding the verse, "Moshe, Aharon, Nadav, Avihu, and seventy of the elders
of Yisrael climbed [Har Sinai].... They gazed at Hashem and they ate and
they drank" (Shemos 24:9-11). The Targum Onkelos there translates this to
mean, "They saw the Divine Glory, and when He accepted the offerings they
brought to Him, they were as happy as if they had been eating and drinking."
On this verse, Avos d'Rebbi Nasan (1:8) relates that "they were nourished
from the Divine Presence, just as the angels."
We see from these sources that eating is not merely a physical act. There is
also a spiritual experience that is metaphorically referred to as "eating."
When experiencing a "meal" of this sort, the soul itself is nourished in
much the same way that our bodies obtain nourishment from the food that we
eat. This spiritual nourishment is received from the "Ziv ha'Shechinah,"
from the Glory of the Divine Presence of Hashem. The pleasure of this
non-physical form of eating is an eternal one and can be experienced without
a physical world. It is this experience that is involved in the eternal
bliss of the World to Come, as the Gemara in Berachos (17a) says, "In the
world to come there is no eating, and no drinking, no childbearing and no
work, no jealousy, no hatred and no competition. Rather, the righteous sit
with their crowns on their heads and enjoy the Glory of the Divine Presence,
as it is stated, 'They gazed at Hashem and they ate and they drank.'"
This spiritual food can even provide, at times, physical sustenance. Moshe
was in Shamayim for forty days at the time that the Torah was given. He told
the Jews, "Bread I did not eat; water I did not drink" (Devarim 9:9). On
what, then, did his body subsist? The Midrash (Midrash Agadah to Devarim
9:9, see also Rabeinu Bachye) answers that his *body* subsisted on the Glory
of the Divine Presence!
Not only Moshe, but the entire Jewish nation shared in such an experience.
For forty years, the Jews subsisted on heavenly Man, which Hashem showered
on the Jewish encampment in the Midbar (Shemos 16:35). What was this Man
that had such remarkable nutritional qualities? Rebbi Akiva taught that "it
was the bread upon which the angels subsist" (Yoma 75b). Rebbi Yishmael,
though, objected, and said, "Go and tell Rebbi Akiva that he is making a
mistake. Do angels eat bread? Even when *Moshe*, a human being, was in
heaven, he did not eat or drink!" What indeed did Rebbi Akiva mean? Rebbi
Akiva must have been referring to the phenomenon we have mentioned above.
The "bread" of the angels is the Glory of the Divine Presence, upon which
they subsist. The Man that the Jews ate contained that quality. According to
Rebbi Akiva, for forty years the Jews drew their physical sustenance from
the Glory of the Divine Presence! (See Kli Yakar, Shemos 16:4.)
Similarly, the meal that Moshe, Aharon and those who accompanied them
experienced was not a physical cuisine. It was none other than the spiritual
dining of the angels in heaven, and of the righteous in the World to Come.
This is why Avraham's visitors were able to "eat" with him. Although it
looked as though they were eating the physical food, the angels were
actually "eating" spiritual, other-worldly food. This is why the Torah
refers to what the angels did as "eating." The Mal'achim found their
spiritual food in Avraham's house, because, as Rashi (Bereishis 18:3)
relates, the Divine Presence did not depart from Avraham's tent while he was
serving his three guests. Hence, we can understand how the guests, who were
actually Mal'achim, enjoyed the Glory of the Divine Presence while eating
with Avraham. Hashem's Presence was right there with them, waiting for
Avraham to finish serving his guests! In fact, this may be what the verse
itself is describing when it tells us, "And he (Avraham) stood by them under
the tree, and they ate." The Midrash tells us that Hashem appeared to
Avraham in a *tree* (see Shemos 3:4). Perhaps, then, the verse can be read,
"And He (Hashem) stood by them under the tree, and [because of that] they
(the angels) ate" -- that is, they received their spiritual from the Glory
of Hashem's Divine Presence! (See Parshah Page to Parshas Mishpatim.)
QUESTION: The Gemara cites Tana d'Vei Rebbi Yishmael who states that in the
merit of the three acts of Avraham Avinu in serving his guests, the Jewish
people merited to receive three gifts while traveling in the Midbar -- the
Man, the cloud that protected them, and the well of Miriam.
This Gemara seems to contradict the Gemara in Ta'anis (9a), which says that
the Man, the cloud, and the well were gifts to the Jewish people in the
merit of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam, respectively! The Gemara there does not
mention that they were rewards for Avraham Avinu's deeds! Moreover, the
Gemara here explicitly refers to the well as "Be'erah Shel Miriam," the well
of Miriam, clearly implying that the well was in the merit of Miriam!
(a) The MAHARSHA answers that in the merit of Avraham Avinu's deeds with his
guests, the Jewish people would have received only a momentary miracle of
the Man, cloud, and well. It was in the merit of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam
that these miracles continued for many years while the Jewish people
sojourned in the Midbar. This is why when Aharon died the cloud went away,
when Miriam died the well went away, and when Moshe died the Man stopped
(b) The BEN YEHOYADA writes that originally, Hashem designated these three
gifts -- the Man, the cloud, and the well -- to be given to the Jewish
people in the merit of Avraham Avinu's deeds. The time came for the Jewish
people to receive the gift of the cloud when they left Mitzrayim. However,
when they left Mitzrayim, they left "b'Yad Ramah" (Shemos 14:8), which can
be translated as "with a haughty spirit" (this understanding is in stark
contrast to the normal meaning of "b'Yad Ramah," as well as to the
translation of the Targum Onkelos). Consequently, they lost the merit to
receive the protection of the cloud. When Hashem did give them the cloud, it
was in the merit of Aharon.
Similarly, the time to receive the gift of the Man in the merit of Avraham
Avinu came when the food that they had brought with them out of Mitzrayim
was consumed. However, they lost that merit when they complained and sinned
by saying, "You took us out into this wilderness to kill us with
starvation!" (Shemos 16:3). Hence, it was only given to them in the merit of
Similarly, the time to receive the gift of the well in the merit of Avraham
Avinu came when the people arrived at Refidim. However, the people sinned
when they complained there to Moshe, and they lost the merit to receive the
gift of the well. However, in the merit of Miriam, Hashem gave them the gift
of the well.
(c) RAV CHAIM SHMULEWITZ in SICHOS MUSAR (5732 #8) gives a Mashal to answer
this question. We know that a small seed is able to sprout into a huge tree.
However, the seed itself cannot sprout without external factors contributing
to its growth, such as soil, water, and sunshine.
Rav Chaim explains that when the Gemara here says that the gifts of the Man,
cloud, and well were granted in the merit of Avraham Avinu, it means that
the "seeds" of these gifts -- the initial reason for granting them, were
given in the merit of the Chesed of Avraham. However, these "seeds" needed
additional factors to cause them to sprout and come to fruition -- this was
the merit of Moshe, Aharon, and Miriam. (I. Alsheich)