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Sanhedrin, 19


QUESTION: The Gemara relates the tragedy underlying the reason for why we do not judge a king of Yisrael. Yanai the king was summoned before Beis Din during the trial of one of his servants who was being tried for murder. King Yanai entered the Beis Din and seated himself. The great Tana, Shimon ben Shetach, commanded, "Yanai the king, stand on your feet and let them testify about you. And know that you are not standing before us, but before the Creator of the world!"

King Yanai responded, "I will not do as you say, but only as your colleagues say." The Chachamim were frightened and were not willing to be so bold as Shimon ben Shetach, and so they hid their faces in the ground. Shimon ben Shetach said to them, "Are you masters of thoughts? Let the true Master of thoughts come and exact retribution from you!" Immediately, the angel Gavriel came and beat them against the ground and they died.

As a result of this incident, it was decreed that a king not be involved in judgement, neither being judged nor giving testimony.

Why did Shimon ben Shetach demand that Yanai stand up in the first place? We are taught that a Talmid Chacham is not required to stand in court (Shevuos 30b), and we are also taught that the honor required for a king is considered greater than the honor required for a Talmid Chacham, as a Talmid Chacham is able to forego his honor, while a king is not permitted to forego his honor (Avodah Zarah 19a)! Why, then, did Yanai have to stand? (TOSFOS, DH Yanai ha'Melech)


(a) The RAN answers in the name of RABEINU DAVID that there is an essential difference between the two types of honor, that of a king and that of a Talmid Chacham. The honor due to a Talmid Chacham is because of "Kavod ha'Torah," honor for the Torah. The reason why one must stand in Beis Din is out of honor for the court, which is also "Kavod ha'Torah." Consequently, a Talmid Chacham is not required to stand in court, since his "Kavod ha'Torah" comes before that of the court. The honor of a king, in contrast, is not due to "Kavod ha'Torah," but due to the awe of a king and his authority. A king should still have to stand in Beis Din because to the honor that is due to them, and the Beis Din cannot forego that honor out of awe of the king, because the verse (Devarim 1:17) prohibits the judges from being afraid of anyone who comes to be judged. This also seems to be the answer of TOSFOS.

The NETZIV also follows this line of reasoning. He adds that this is apparently why Shimon ben Shetach added that "you are not standing before us, but before the Creator of the world" -- his obligation to stand in Beis Din was because of the Torah's prohibition that the judges are not to fear anyone.

The Ran adds that when Shimon ben Shetach told Yanai to stand "and let them testify about you," he did not mean that Yanai should stand while testimony was being given, because only the witnesses are required to stand at that time. Rather, he meant that Yanai should stand at the moment that the Beis Din announces its verdict.

(b) The ME'IRI and RABEINU YONAH (and an opinion cited by the Ran) answer that Yanai had seated himself in Beis Din before the Beis Din gave him permission to be seated. Even a Talmid Chacham, who is permitted to sit in Beis Din, must wait until Beis Din gives him permission to sit.

(c) The RAN concludes with a third approach. He says that Shimon ben Shetach simply made a mistake.

The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM says that it is incredulous to say that the Av Beis Din made a mistake, and he doubt that the Ran actually wrote these words.

If this answer indeed is the Ran's, then we might explain it as follows. Even though Shimon ben Shetach's ruling that Yanai must stand was in error, nevertheless the angel Gavriel came and smote the rest of the members of Beis Din. It could be that the Chachamim deserved to be punished for not being willing even to discuss the issue because of their fear of Yanai, and they thereby transgressed the prohibition given to judges, "Do not fear any person" (Devarim 1:17) and caused a Chilul Hashem. It was for that reason that they were punished, and not because they misunderstood the Halachah. (In a letter to the MISHNEH HALACHOS, someone suggests that the Chachamim were punished because Torah law is determined by the ruling of the leading scholar of that generation, even if he is in error. The Mishneh Halachos, however, refutes the proof from this Gemara.) (Y. Montrose)


OPINIONS: The verse in Yeshayah (29:22) states, "Therefore, so has Hashem said to the House of Yakov, who redeemed Avraham; now Yakov will not be ashamed, and now his face will not be whitened. The Gemara asks where do we find that Yakov redeemed Avraham? Rav Yehudah answers that Yakov redeemed Avraham from "Tza'ar Gidul Banim," the pain of raising children. This is why the verse states afterwards that Yakov will not be ashamed. What exactly is this pain of raising children, and what is the embarrassment that Yakov was saved from?
(a) RASHI explains that Yakov "redeemed" Avraham from the pain of having to raise the Shevatim, which Avraham would have had to have done.

(b) TOSFOS asks that it is not a pain to raise twelve sons, as we see from Oved Edom who was rewarded with many sons because he took care of the Aron. If having so many sons would have been troublesome, then it would not have been a reward. Furthermore, Avraham himself did have many children from Keturah.

Tosfos therefore explains that this pain refers not to the general pain of raising children, but to the specific difficult events which occurred such as the episode of Yosef and his brothers, and the way they went down to Mitzrayim.

(c) The MAHARSHA suggests that the pains mentioned here are the pains which Yakov had to endure in order to have his children. He had to run away from Esav, be stripped of all of his possessions, and go work for the conniving Lavan for twenty years in order to have his family which would eventually become the Shevatim. Moreover, he was pursued and his life threatened upon returning from Lavan's house, and he faced the threat of war with the men of Esav. All of these things Yakov endured in order to have the Shevatim.

The IR DAVID adds an important point. He asks why would we think Yakov should be embarrassed? He answers that since Yakov's forebears established the Tefilos of Shacharis and Minchah which are obligatory, while the Tefilah that Yakov himself established, Ma'ariv, is only voluntary (Berachos 26b), their contribution to the future of the Jewish people was greater than Yakov's. Consequently, Yakov could be embarrassed for his minor contribution to the daily life of the Jewish people if not for the fact that he was the one who raised the Shevatim.

(e) The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 63:2, Vayikra Rabah 36:4) gives a different explanation for how Yakov saved Avraham. The Midrash explains that Avraham was saved from the flaming furnace of Nimrod only in the merit of his future descendant, Yakov.

There are different approaches to understanding this Midrash. The accepted approach is that Avraham was much greater than Yakov. However, Hashem would have let him die and create a Kidush Hashem if not for the fact that the Shevatim would issue forth from his descendant, Yakov, and from whom a holy nation would be born. Therefore, Hashem miraculously ensured that Avraham was left unscathed by the fire (YEFEI TO'AR; RAV AVIGDOR MILLER zt'l; see PERASHAS DERACHIM, Derush Sheni, who discusses into this topic at length). (Y. Montrose)

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