In memory of Zvi Yitzchok ben Yechiel who died on 13 Adar 5757 and in honour of Reuven Rabson of London.
PARASHAT TETZAVEH 5758
CALLING A "HIN" A "HIN"
In this week's Parasha the Torah introduces us to, among other
things, its system of dry and liquid measures. Although an earlier verse
referred to the very large Eifah, the first mention of the more common Hin
appears in this week's Parasha (29:40), with reference to the flour
offering and wine libation that accompanied the daily Tamid offerings. This
is the most common measure of volume in the Torah; smaller amounts are
generally measured in fractions of the Hin; "1/4 Hin," "1/3 Hin," etc. In
one instance (Vayikra 14) the Torah refers to a smaller measure, the Log.
Our Sages describe the relative sizes of the Hin and the other dry and
According the currently accepted estimates of approx. 3-6 litres/Log, a Hin would be equivalent to 36-72 litres. Aside from its pivotal role in the Torah's set of dry and liquid measures, the Hin holds the key to understanding a particularly enigmatic Mishnah in Eduyos.
The Mishnah is discussing the invalidation of a Mikvah (ritual bath). The water filling a Mikvah must flow directly into the Mikvah. It cannot be collected in a container and then poured in. If the Mikvah is even partially filled with water from a container -- or, in the words of the Sages, "drawn water" -- it is invalidated. Exactly how much drawn water must be added in order to invalidate the Mikvah is debated by the sages in this Mishnah.
Hillel said, a full Hin of drawn water invalidates the Mikvah, *but a person must use the words of his teacher*. Shamai said 9 Kav (invalidate the Mikvah). The Chachamim said that neither of them are correct, but rather [they waited] until two weavers from the Dung Gate of Yerushalayim came and testified in the names of Shemayah and Avtalyon that three Log of drawn water invalidate the Mikvah, and the Chachamim endorsed their words. (Eduyos 1:3)
What does "but a person must use the words of his teacher" have anything to do with the invalidation of a Mikvah? To which words is the Mishnah referring, and who is the teacher? As we will see, numerous explanations have been proposed for this statement, each one more ingenious that the last. Here we will examine five of these explanations.
[#1] Rashi (Shabbos 15a DH she'Chayav) reveals to us the meaning of the Mishnah at its simplest level of understanding. The word "Hin," Rashi explains, is never used by the Mishnah to describe a measure. It is a purely biblical expression; the Mishnah measures volume in terms of the Mishnaic measures of Log and Kav instead. Why, then, did Hillel refer to 1 Hin rather than to 12 Log or 3 Kav? Because that is the term that his mentors, Shemaya and Avtalyon used, and a person must say over what he learned using the very words of his teachers.
Of course, that doesn't fully answer why the term Hin is employed here. It just sends us up one rung -- why did Shemaya and Avtalyon themselves choose to describe the Halachah in terms of a Hin rather than using the accepted Mishnaic terminology?
An answer to this question is proposed by the Ra'avad (ad loc.), another early commentator. Shemaya and Avtalyon wanted to reveal to their students the *reason* why less than 12 Log of drawn water does not invalidate a Mikvah. The rule that drawn water invalidates a Mikvah is a Rabbinic institution. Accordingly, it is appropriate to rule leniently with regard to its features. The Rabanan therefore decided that a Mikvah can only be invalidated if an amount of water falls into it that is equivalent to the *largest* measure of liquid described in the Torah. Since the Hin is the largest single measure of liquid described in the Torah (Shemos 30:24; Yechezkel 45:24 and 46:5,7,11), it was chosen as a suitable measure for this Halachah. Since the source of the Halachah is derived from the word "Hin," Shemaya and Avtalyon chose to talk in terms of Hin rather than the usual Log or Kav. Later Hillel, careful to use the exact terminology that his mentors used, recorded the word Hin in the Mishnah.
[#2] The Rambam has an entirely different approach to the Mishnah under discussion, which completely avoids the question we asked on Rashi's interpretation (i.e. why did *Shemaya and Avatalyon* use a strange term). According to the Rambam, the word Hin did not disturb the author of the Mishnah in the least. Rather, the Mishnah states that "a person must use the words of his teacher" with reference to the *pronunciation* of Hillel's statement.
As we have seen, Hillel asserted that a full Hin ("M'lo Hin") of drawn water can invalidate the Mikvah. However, explains the Rambam, he did not pronounce the words "M'lo Hin" correctly. Rather, he said either "M'lo *In*" or "M'lo *Hein*" (or, according to an edition of the Rambam's work corrected from his original manuscript, Hillel said "M'*lah* Hin" or "M'lo *Chin* -- with a guttural 'ch'). Why did Hillel do that? Because his mentors, Shemaya and Avtalyon, were converts (see Eduyot 5:6), and they were not able to properly enunciate the letter "Heh" (or the 'i' and 'o' vowels). Hillel, their loyal student, gave over their teaching exactly as he had heard it from them, right down to their mispronunciation of the word "Hin!"
As many are quick to point out, this is a far cry from the common understanding of the statement that "a person must employ the words of his teacher." This statement is normally understood to mean that one can never know for sure what fine nuances are included in his teacher's words. In order to be sure that one is transmitting the Halachah correctly, he should say it over exactly as he heard it (Tosfos Yom Tov). This reasoning, however, certainly would not justify mispronouncing a word to mimic one's teacher's lisp. Instead, it may be suggested that according to the Rambam, using one's mentor's terminology is a way of letting people know what one's source is. People hearing the statement will immediately recognize the grammatical style and choice of words of the mentor, and will realize that the student who said it was simply quoting the words of his master. Pronouncing the words as the master did is an even surer way of letting people know the statement's source.
[#3] However, the Vilna Gaon (Bi'urei ha'Gra; Kol Eliyahu #238), in order to avoid this peculiarity of the Rambam's explanation, suggests a variation on the Rambam's theme which answers yet another puzzling aspect of the Mishnah as well.
Rav Yehosef Ashkenazi (cited by Meleches Shlomo) wondered, why did Hillel mention *M'lo* Hin (a *full* Hin). Wouldn't the word "Hin" alone have served the purpose? The answer to this question, he explains is that Hillel must have heard the word 'M'lo' from his teachers, and he repeated it in order to be true to the words of his teachers.
But why did his teachers use this seemingly extra word? The reason, explains the Vilna Gaon, was because being converts, they could not pronounce the word 'Hin' properly. Instead of 'Hin,' they would say 'Ein.' This could be interpreted to mean that "drawn water does *not* invalidate a Mikvah" -- no matter how much one pours into the Mikvah! In order to avoid such confusion, Shemaya and Avtalyon were forced to add the word 'M'lo,' meaning a 'full' Hin. Now their statement could can be no longer be misconstrued as "drawn water 'does not' invalidate a Mikvah."
Hillel pronounced the word "Hin" properly -- unlike the Rambam's contention. It was therefore not necessary for him to add the word 'Hin' when repeating the statement of his masters. Nevertheless, out of loyalty to his teachers Hillel, too, added the word "M'lo!
Rav David Cohen of Cong. Gevul Ya'avetz, Brooklyn NY (in "Gevul Ya'avetz"), points out a weakness in this explanation. The word 'Hin' appears rather infrequently in scriptures, but wherever it does appear (Shemos 30:24; Yechezkel 45:24 and 46:5,7,11) the Targum's Aramaic rendering of the word is "*M'lo* Hina!" Apparently it is not at all out of the ordinary to add the word "M'lo" before the word "Hin." Perhaps because measures of volume are usually described in *fractions* of the Hin, when the full Hin is discussed it is called just that -- a "full Hin."
It would therefore seem more likely that the Vilna Gaon meant to say the following. In *Hebrew*, the word Hin is never accompanied by the word "M'lo." Only when translated into a foreign language, such as Aramaic, is the word added. Apparently, this particular usage of the word "M'lo," which was common to other countries and other languages, was not shared by the Land of Israel and the Hebrew language. Shemaya and Avtalyon, who were converts, translated from their native languages literally -- a common slip of people who are trying to master a foreign tongue. Although it was not common to add the word "*M'lo* when speaking Hebrew, Hillel repeated the statement exactly as he had heard it, out of respect for his mentors.
[#4] This is not the end of the literature on this Mishnah's ambiguous statement. A number of other, equally ingenious, explanations for the Mishnah have been suggested -- explanations which address other problems with the Mishnah as well. Rav Yitzchak Isaac Halevy (Doros ha'Rishonim 1:3:22, p.95) points out that according to Rashi, the Rambam and the Vilna Gaon, the Mishnah we are discussing reflects the ultimate in irony. Hillel was so careful not to misquote his teachers, Shemaya and Avatalyon, that he made sure to pass on his teacher's words exactly as he had heard them. Yet when two weavers came from the Dung Gate and quoted Shemaya and Avatalyon's ruling differently, their words were immediately endorsed by the other Sages. This implies that Hillel had indeed misquoted his teachers! (In defense of Rashi, perhaps Shemaya and Avatalyon changed their minds later in life, when Hillel was no longer learning with them.)
Halevy therefore suggests that Hillel's teachers, in this ruling, were not Shemaya and Avatalyon at all. Shemaya and Avatalyon lived in Israel and Hillel, originally from Babylon, came to learn in their school as a young man (Pesachim 66a). However, afterwards Hillel returned to his native Babylon for many years, where he learned from other great scholars before ending up back in Israel and becoming the Jews' temporal leader. It was those *Babylonian* scholars that he is quoting in our Mishnah.
If so, it is clear why Hillel made use of the measure Hin rather than the usual Kav and Log. In Israel, where most of the Mishnayos were compiled, the every-day measures of Kav and Log were often referred to in the Mishnah. In Bavel, however, since those measures were not in common usage, other methods had to be devised to refer to measures of volume. References to the Babylonian system of measures would clearly not serve the purpose, since these would not be familiar to the more numerous scholars of the Mishnah who resided in Israel. Instead, the Babylonian scholars referred to the *Torah's* system for measures of volume, which served as a universal system to scholars of the Torah.
Hillel's Babylonian teachers therefore taught him that a "Hin" of drawn water invalidates a Mikvah, using the biblical, rather than the Mishnaic, term. When Hillel later came to live Israel he ought to have converted it into the more commonly used measures of Log or Kav. He did not do so, however, because "a person must be careful to use the words of his teacher."
[#5] Rav Yakov Shorr (in his introduction to "Sefer ha'Itim," footnote #2, p. V) suggests an explanation that solves Halevy's problem as well as resolving yet *another* one of the riddles of this Mishnah.
As we quoted above, after Hillel and Shamai had their say the Sages still did not accept their rulings -- "until two weavers came..." and their ruling *was* accepted. The implication of the Mishnah is that although the Sages themselves knew of no other ruling to the contrary, nevertheless they refused to accept the rulings of Hillel and Shamai (Rosh and Sefer Keritut, as cited by Meleches Shlomo ad loc.). What prevented them from accepting Hillel's, or Shamai's, words as fact? It must be that even Hillel and Shamai did not claim to know for certain what the Halachah was; they were just offering their own conjectures, which the Sages did not accept. How can that be?
Shemaya and Avatalyon taught that a certain amount of drawn water invalidates a Mikvah. However, they did not *specify* that amount, other than saying that it took "3 measures" of some sort to invalidate the Mikvah. Hillel took their ruling to mean that 3 rather large, *Kav* measures are necessary to invalidate the Mikvah. (As we mentioned above, *3 Kav* = 1 Hin.) Shamai insisted that only 3 even larger *Hin* measures invalidate the Mikvah (9 Kav = *3 Hin*). The Sages did not accept either interpretation of Shemaya and Avatalyon, since it did not seem logical to them that the ruling of Shemaya and Avatalyon should be so lenient. When the weavers testified that they heard directly from Shemaya and Avatalyon that 3 small *Log*-measures of drawn water can invalidate the Mikvah, their ruling was immediately endorsed because (1) it was a more stringent ruling, and (2) it was heard directly from Shemaya and Avatalyon and not derived by conjecture! This answers why the Sages ruled as they did, as well as why the weavers were not directly contradicted by Hillel's testimony.
What does the Mishnah mean by saying that "a person must be careful to always use the words of his teacher?" It means that the author of the Mishnah, Rebbi, would have changed Hillel's words to read "*3 Kav*" instead of "1 Hin," since that would more clearly impart the impression that Hillel was simply guessing at which *3* measures his teachers had meant. However since *Hillel* did not use those words (because of the reason that the Ra'avad gave, cited in the end of section I), therefore Rebbi, author of the Mishnah, did not change the words of *his* Rebbi, namely *Hillel*!
(Note the Vilna Gaon's comments on Maseches Nega'im 1:2 -- where,
instead of the explanation cited above in his name, the Gaon offers a new
explanation for the Mishnah, similar in style to the one suggested by Rav
Shorr. See also footnote 1:315 to Perush Rabeinu Elazar Azkari on
Yerushalmi Beitzah, who cites a list of articles in periodicals that
discuss this Mishnah.)