QUESTION: The Gemara quotes the verse, "How beautiful are your footsteps...
daughter of the generous one" (Shir ha'Shirim 7:2), and says that this verse
is praising the Jewish people for being Oleh l'Regel three times a year,
calling them "the daughter of the generous one" ("Bas Nediv"). "Nediv" refers
to Avraham Avinu, who is called "Nediv" (c.f. Tehilim 47:10), because he was
the first person to convert, meaning that he was the first to generously
dedicate his heart to recognizing his Creator (RASHI).
Why is this praise applied to the Jewish people specifically at the time when
they are Oleh l'Regel -- what is the connection between going to Yerushalayim
at the time of the festival, and being referred to as the "daughter of
Avraham?" Furthermore, why is Avraham Avinu referred to in this context as
"Nediv," the first to convert?
(a) The MAHARSHA explains why the Jewish people are praised as the daughter
of Avraham Avinu when they are Oleh l'Regel. Besides being the first of
converts, he was also the first to go up to the place of the Mikdash (Har
ha'Moriyah) in order to offer a Korban (his son, Yitzchak). The Jewish people
follow in his ways when they go to offer Korbanos in the Mikdash on the
The Maharsha does not explain, though, why the Gemara mentions the praise
that Avraham was the first of converts. The ETZ YOSEF explains that for
Avraham, converting entailed separating himself from his homeland and his
father's household in order to travel to a distant land (c.f. Bereishis
12:1). In that sense, the people who are Oleh l'Regel are similar to
converts; they separate themselves from their households, leaving everything
behind in order to go to the Beis ha'Mikdash in Yerushalayim.
(b) The CHIDA (in Pesach Einayim) suggests that our Gemara is based on the
Midrash in BEREISHIS RABA 43:9. The Midrash states that as reward for
refusing to accept from Malki-Tzedek "a thread ('Chut') or a shoestrap
('Seroch Na'al')," Avraham was blessed that his descendants offered Korbanos
on the Mizbe'ach (which was encircled with a "Chut" -- painted strip -- of
red dye) and were given the Mitzvah of Aliyah l'Regel. The Midrash goes on to
quote the verse cited by our Gemara, "Ma Yafu... *ba'Ne'alim*...."
(This, again, explains why the Mitzvah of Aliyah l'Regel is related to
Avraham, but not why Avraham is referred to as "the first of converts" in
(b) The Gemara in Berachos (17b) states that shortly before Pesach and Sukos,
when the Jews in Bavel would gather together to learn Torah at the "Yarchei
Kalah" in order to prepare for the festival, a great Kidush Hashem occurred.
There was a tremendous inspiration for the surrounding nations to come and
convert when they saw the immense glory of Hashem as everyone gathered
together in a large assembly to learn Torah in preparation to perform the
Mitzvos of the festival.
The Midrash (Midrash Rabah to Shir ha'Shirim 1:15) compares the Jewish people
to a Yonah, a pigeon, in several ways. One reason the Jewish people are
compared to a Yonah is because there is a type of Yonah which, when fed,
gives off a scent that attracts other pigeons to its nest. Similarly, when
the Chachamim gather the people to teach Torah, the nations who hear of them
come and convert.
In a similar vein, Rashi comments on the verse in the blessing given to the
tribe of Zevulun, "Amim Har Yikra'u" -- "Nations will gather at the mountain"
(Devarim 33:19) that these "nations" refer to the Jewish people who gather at
"the mountain" of Har ha'Moriyah and offer Korbanos to Hashem on the Regalim.
It also refers to the nations of the world who come to Eretz Yisrael to do
business, and while there gather at Har ha'Moriyah and see the Jewish people
gathered there serving Hashem. They become so impressed that they convert.
Combining the two Derashos, we may infer that they come at the time that the
Jews are Oleh l'Regel, and that is when the great assembly of Jews performing
the will of Hashem in unison makes an impression on them and they convert (as
seen from the above-quoted Midrashim).
When the Jewish people conduct themselves in a way which inspires the nations
to convert, they are referred to as "the daughter of Avraham," who was the
first to convert and to inspire others to follow him (c.f. Bereishis 12:5).
That is why the Gemara quotes the verse, "The noblemen of the nations
gathered [to join] the nation of the G-d of *Avraham*" (Tehilim 47:10) --
i.e. they gathered in order to become part of the Jewish people, to convert
(as the Maharsha explains) and follow in the ways of Avraham. Therefore, when
the Jewish people are Oleh l'Regel and inspire the nations to convert, they
are called "Bas Nediv," for they are following the ways of Avraham who led
the way for converts. (M. Kornfeld; I later found this approach in DIVREI
SHAUL on Agados ha'Shas by Rav Yosef Shaul Natanson)
The Gemara (3a-3b) relates how two Talmidim came to greet Rebbi Yehoshua on
the festival. He asked them what Chidush was taught in the Beis Midrash that
day. They demurred and did not tell him, excusing themselves with the claim
that "we are your students and from your waters we drink." He asked again,
saying that it cannot be that no Chidush was said in the Beis Midrash. The
Talmidim remaining silent, and so Rebbi Yehoshua asked them whose week it was
to lecture in the Beis Midrash. They answered his question and told him that
it was Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah's week, but they still did not tell him what
Chidush was said. Finally, he insisted that they tell him what was said in
the Beis Midrash, and they consented and told him three things.
First, they told him that Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah taught that the reason why
the Torah commands that the children must come to hear the Torah reading
during the Mitzvah of Hakhel is in order for those who bring them to receive
Second, they told him that Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah expounded a verse that
says how Hashem made the Jewish people a unique and singular nation in the
Third, they related Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah's (according to Rashi)
explanation of a verse in Koheles, which concludes by instructing a person to
"make his ear like a funnel" and absorb all of the teachings of the
Chachamim, even when the Chachamim seem to argue and their teachings seem to
conflict with each other, for "they are all given by one Master," and they
are all "Divrei Elokim Chaim." Therefore, one must direct his ear to absorb
all of the different viewpoints.
Is there any connection between these three teachings that the Talmidim
related to Rebbi Yehoshua? Was there a specific reason why they chose these
three teachings in particular to relate to him?
From the incident as related in the Gemara, it is clear that Rebbi Yehoshua
did not go to the Beis Midrash. We can presume that the reason he did not go
is because of the incident described in Berachos (27b-28a). The Gemara there
relates that Rebbi Yehoshua argued with Raban Gamliel, the head of the
Yeshivah, concerning a certain Halachah, and Raban Gamliel harshly censured
Rebbi Yehoshua for arguing. As a result, the Chachamim dismissed Raban
Gamliel from his position and appointed Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah in his
place. The incident concludes with Raban Gamliel apologizing to Rebbi
Yehoshua and being reinstated as the head of the Yeshivah. However, Rebbi
Elazar ben Azaryah also remained as the head (because of "Ma'alin b'Kodesh
v'Lo Moridin"), and thus they alternated weeks, with Raban Gamliel serving as
head for two weeks and Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah for one.
It could be that after that incident, Rebbi Yehoshua did not come to the Beis
Midrash. He did not come when Raban Gamliel was lecturing, because he
considered himself to be a greater authority than Raban Gamliel and did not
accept his opinion. He did not come when Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah was
lecturing, because -- as the Gemara there says -- Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah
was only eighteen years old when he became the head, and Rebbi Yehoshua
maintained that there was nothing that he could learn from Rebbi Elazar ben
Azaryah. (The Gemara in Berachos itself shows that Rebbi Yehoshua was
superior to Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah in scholarship, for it says that the
first choice for the person to replace Raban Gamliel was Rebbi Yehoshua, and
only when the Chachamim decided not to appoint Rebbi Yehoshua, nor Rebbi
Akiva who was the second candidate, did they appoint Rebbi Elazar ben
The Talmidim who were visiting Rebbi Yehoshua understood that he was not
attending the Beis Midrash for those reasons. They wanted to convince Rebbi
Yehoshua to come to the Beis Midrash.
First, they quoted the teaching that the Torah instructs us to bring the
children to hear the Torah reading during Hakhel "in order to give reward to
those who bring them." They were saying that even if Rebbi Yehoshua does not
think that he will learn anything from the lecturers in the Beis Midrash, he
should realize that their is reward for just going to the Beit Midrash, even
if he learns nothing.
They then related to him the teaching that Hashem has made the Jewish people
a single nation in the world. This teaching emphasizes that the Jewish people
can accomplish their mission in the world only when they are united. They
were telling Rebbi Yehoshua that he stood to gain through coming to the Beis
Midrash even though he will not learn anything from the lecturer since by
coming, he would increase the Achdus of the Jewish people.
Finally, they gave him a third reason to come. They quoted the teaching of
Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah who derived from a verse that a person is not
justified to say that his opinion is correct and all of the others are not
correct, because all of the opinions are based in Divrei Elokim Chaim.
Rather, one should hear *all* of the opinions expressed in the Beis
ha'Midrash and then come to a conclusion.
This explains why the Talmidim hesitated to say anything to Rebbi Yehoshua
outright -- they did not want to sound audacious by showing him right away
that they think that there was something taught in the Beis Midrash that he
did not know. They first had to have Rebbi Yehoshua insist that they tell him
what was said in the Beis Midrash, so that they should not sound
disrespectful to him. (This might also be why Rebbi Yehoshua emphasized twice
in his request that they tell him what "Chidush" was said in the Beis
Midrash; he was showing that he did not believe that any Chidush said in the
Beis Midrash would be something that he did not already know.)
This approach also explains the next incident in the Gemara. Rebbi Yosi
Durmiskis came to visit Rebbi Eliezer in Lud during the festival. (Although
the text in our Gemara is "Rebbi Elazar," the correct Girsa is "Rebbi
Eliezer," who was the Rav in Lud (Sanhedrin 32b). This is the Girsa in
DIKDUKEI SOFRIM.) When Rebbi Eliezer asked him what was taught in the Beis
Midrash, he told him that the Chachamim concluded that the people in the
lands of Amon and Moav separate Ma'aser Ani during the Shevi'is year for the
sake of the poor people. When Rebbi Eliezer heard this, he became very upset
with Rebbi Yosi and cursed him. Then he cried and said that in the Beis
Midrash they should know that they accurately concluded in accordance with a
very old tradition going back many generations, that those areas separate
Ma'aser Ani during Shevi'is.
If the Halachah was correct, why did Rebbi Eliezer become so upset? Rashi
explains that he was upset because Rebbi Yosi said that the Chachamim in the
Beis Midrash "decided today" that Ma'aser Ani should be separated in the
lands of Amon and Moav.. His error was in saying that it was a new enactment,
when in reality it was an enactment that when back to the Anshei Kneses
ha'Gedolah. That is why Rebbi Eliezer was upset.
In light of the above explanation, we can explain Rashi's words as follows.
Rebbi Eliezer, too, did not go to the Beis Midrash, because he held that he
knew more than Raban Gamliel and the other Chachamim (see Bava Metzia 59b).
Rebbi Yosi, the Talmid, told Rebbi Eliezer the Halachah right away and with
pride, as if to say, "Look at what you missed by not coming to the Beis
Midrash! You certainly could not have been aware of this enactment, because
it was decided just today!"
That is why Rebbi Eliezer became upset -- the enactment was not a Chidush,
and he was well aware of it. Rebbi Yosi was telling Rebbi Eliezer that he
should come to the Beis Midrash because the Chachamim know more than he, and
since he related this in a disrespectful manner, Rebbi Eliezer was upset. (M.