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Pesachim 53


AGADAH: The Gemara gives signs by which to recognize various Halachic entities: "A sign of mountains is 'Milin' trees; a sign of valleys is palm trees; a sign of rivers is reeds; a sign of lowlands is 'Shikmah' trees."
The CHASAM SOFER sees in this strange list a series of metaphors advising us about proper social conduct:
"A sign of mountains is 'Milin' trees" - Mountains is a metaphor for the arrogant and evil, while "Milin" can mean 'words.' An arrogant person can usually be recognized by his speech -- he talks too much and is not careful about what he says (as in Avos 1:17)

"A sign of valleys is palm trees" - Valleys refer to the humble. The humble produce sweet fruit, like a palm tree -- "Tzadik ka'Tamar Yifrach."

"A sign of rivers is reeds" - Rivers are a metaphor for Torah study (as in Berachos 16a, "k'Nechalim Nitayu..."). Reeds are a metaphor for wisdom (as in Berachos 56b, "One who sees a reed in his dream should expect to become wise"). Those who study in the halls of Torah attain true wisdom.

"A sign of lowlands ('Shefeilah') is 'Shikmah' trees" - The word "Shafel" also is used to refer to laziness (as in the beginning of this Perek, 50b). The lazy person will be like the Shikmah tree, which as Rashi tells us does not produce any fruit (or metaphorically, productive deeds, as in Sotah 46a).

OPINIONS: Our Sugya offers us a way to be sure that an area qualifies for a "Nachal Eisan" (in which a young calf is beheaded to atone for the murder of an intercity traveler) -- just look for reeds. What exactly is the translation of "Nachal Eisan," and where should one expect to find its reeds?

The Gemara in Sotah (46b) tells us what "Eisan" means: "Eisan means strong ('Kasheh'), as in the verse 'Eisan Moshavecha...' (Bamidbar 24)" However, the meaning of Nachal is not as clear:

(a) The RAMBAM (Hil. Rotze'ach 9:2) explains that a Nachal Eisan is a strong and swiftly flowing *river*. This is consistent with our Gemara's statement that a Nachal is a place where reeds grow; reeds grow along rivers, as is clear from experience as well as from many Gemaras (and even verses in the Torah, such as the one describing the "Suf" [=reeds] into which Miriam put her little brother, Shemos 2, see also Melachim I:14). This is also consistent with the verse in Tehilim (74:15, see also Shemos 11:7, "the sea returned l'Eisano") which describes swift rivers as "Neharos Eisan," and with the verse at the end of the section discussing Eglah Arufah which requires that the elders "wash their hands in the Nachal" (Devarim 21:6).

(b) However, most Rishonim offer a different interpretation for Nachal Eisan. From the RASHI, RAMBAN and RABEINU BACHYE on the Torah at the end of Shoftim (MAHARIK #158), as well as the RASH and ROSH in Pe'ah (2:1) and the RASHBAM in Bava Basra 55 (TOSFOS REBBI AKIVA EIGER, Pe'ah ibid.), it is clear that Nachal Eisan means a hard, unplowed *valley*. A source for this interpretation may be found in the Gemara in Sotah, which cites "Eisan Moshavecha v'Sim *ba'Sela* Kinecha" as a source for the meaning of Eisan, implying that Eisan can mean tough soil, and in the requirement of the Torah that the Nachal not be used (in the future, and according to one opinion in Sotah 46b in the past as well) to "work and plant." How can one even consider planting a river? Nevertheless it is difficult to resolve with our Gemara, which defines Nachal Eisan as a place where reeds are abundant (Rebbi Akiva Eiger, ibid.)

The CHACHAM TZVI (#32) cites Rashi (Yeshayah 19:6), whose words offer a possible answer to this question. When rivers (wadis?) dry out, Rashi explains, their reeds dry up and crack, filling the waterless valley with broken, parched reeds. If so, both the Rambam and the other commentaries may understand Nachal to be a riverbed; according to the Rambam it is a riverbed streaming with water, while according to the others it is a dried riverbed, which can be recognized by its dried out reeds.

(c) The RADAK (Sefer ha'Sharoshim, Alef Yud Tav, also cited in Rabeinu Bachye end of Shoftim) cites his father's original interpretation of the verse as "a *productive plot of land*." In order to prompt people to protect passersby that pass through their land, the Torah requires that when a man is found dead between cities, we confiscate a nearby plot of productive land by performing in it Arifas ha'Eglah, and prohibiting it for future use (Devarim 21:4). This certainly has nothing to do with reeds; how does the Radak understand our Gemara?

As is clear from the words of the Radak (and Rabeinu Bachye, who cites them) his interpretation was suggested only according to the opinion of the Amora in Sotah 46b that explains one may not plant the field in which the Eglah was beheaded *after* it has been beheaded. Another Amora argues, asserting that we must be careful to choose a plot of land which never *was* planted in the past (in addition to the prohibition of not planting in it in the *future*). Our Gemara, then, may follow the opinion of the second Amora, who requires land that never was planted in the past. That Amora certainly agrees to explanation (b) above.


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