THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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SOTAH 17 - This Daf has been dedicated in honor of the engagement of Naomi Katz to
1) WHAT PARTS OF "PARSHAS SOTAH" ARE WRITTEN AND ERASED
QUESTION: The Mishnah cites three opinions of Tana'im regarding which verses of the
Parshah of Sotah are written down and erased in the Mayim ha'Me'orerim, as the Torah
commands (Bamidbar 5:23). The Parshah of Sotah (Bamidbar 5:19-22) consists of two
distinct sections. The first section is a Shevu'ah with an Alah ("Alah" refers to a
description of the punishment that will befall her if she sinned). This section is
comprised of the words "Im Lo Shachav Ish" (second half of verse 19) until the end of
verse 20. The second section is the Shevu'ah and an Alah, wherein the Kohen details
to the woman what will happen to her if she sinned. Both sections begin with
Tzava'os, introductory sentences telling the Kohen to administer the Shevu'ah. At the
conclusion of the Parshah, the Torah tells the woman to answer "Amen, Amen" to the
Rebbi Yosi maintains that the Kohen writes the entire Parshah. The Gemara explains
that he derives from the "Heh" of "ha'Alos" (Bamidbar 5:23) that the first half of
the Parshah is to be written. This first half is referred to as the "Klalos ha'Ba'os
Machmas Berachos" (the Klalah that is implied by the Berachah). From the word "Es" in
the phrase "Es ha'Alos" (ibid.) he derives that the Kohen must write the Tzava'os and
Kabalos as well (the commands to the Kohen to administer the Shevu'ah, and the
command to the woman to answer "Amen, Amen").
It seems that Rebbi Yosi holds that the Kohen starts writing from the beginning of
the Parshah of Sotah, from the beginning of verse 19 ("v'Hishbi'a Osah ha'Kohen"),
the command to the Kohen to administer the first Shevu'ah. However, RASHI on the
Mishnah (DH Lo Hayah Mafsik) tells us that even according to Rebbi Yosi, the Kohen
starts writing from the words "Im Lo Shachav Ish" (the second half of verse 19),
which is the beginning of the actual Shevu'ah. He does not start writing from the
beginning of the Parshah. This is also the opinion of the RAMBAM (in Perush
Why do they not explain that Rebbi Yosi holds that the Kohen starts from the Tzava'ah
of the Shevu'ah? If, like they say, Rebbi Yosi maintains that the first Tzava'ah is
not written down, then what is Rebbi Yosi's source to differentiate between the two
Tzava'os? The word "Es," which teaches that the Tzava'ah is to be written, is an
article subordinate to the word "ha'Alos" which refers to both the Alah and the
Shevu'ah, and therefore "Es" should include both Tzava'os! The "Es" should include
both the Tzava'ah of the Alah (the second Tzava'ah), and the Tzava'ah of the Klalah
(the first Tzava'ah), because the Klalah itself is alluded to by the "Heh" of
ANSWER: Rashi learns from the wording of Rebbi Yosi in the Mishnah that Rebbi Yosi
does not mean to include the Tzava'ah of the Klalah. Rebbi Yosi heard Rebbi Meir say
that the Kohen starts from "Im Lo Shachav" (the beginning of the Klalah) and then
skips the Tzava'ah between the Klalah and the Alah. Rebbi Yosi argues and says "the
Kohen did not skip anything" but wrote everything from the point at which he started.
Rebbi Yosi is not arguing that the Kohen starts *earlier*. Rather, he is arguing that
once the Kohen has started writing the verses (from "Im Lo Shachav"), he continues
without skipping. He agrees with Rebbi Meir that the Tzava'ah of the Klalah is not
written. He argues only about writing the Tzava'ah of the Alah.
How, though, does Rebbi Yosi learn from the verse to differentiate between the two
The answer is that Rebbi Yosi maintains that the "Es" is coming to add something to
what is written *openly* in the verse -- the Alos, but not to something that is only
hinted to in the verse, which is the Klalah (hinted to by the letter "Heh" of
QUESTION: The Gemara asks why Rebbi Meir insists that the verse "Im Lo Shachav" is to
be written and erased. Rebbi Meir holds that we cannot infer the inverse from a
statement, and thus there is no point in writing the verse, "If no man has lain with
you and you have not committed adultery...," because it is not part of the Klalah
that says that she will die if she sinned.
3) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE "TECHELES"
What is the Gemara's question? Rebbi Meir says that the "Heh" of "ha'Alos" teaches
that we write the "Klalos ha'Ba'os Machmas Berachos". Even if, normally, the inverse
cannot be inferred from a statement, here the Torah is saying explicitly that the
verse must be written and erased in the water of the Sotah whether or not the inverse
(a) From the explanation of the NETZIV, it seems that the Gemara's question is that
it is not logical for the inverse to be written and erased in the waters of the sotah
unless it has some connotation of Klalah, curse. Hence, the very fact that the verse
here tells us that it should be erased should teach us that normally the inverse
*can* be inferred from a statement.
(b) The Gemara's question might be as follows. Why does Rebbi Meir learn from the
"Heh" of "ha'Alos" that the verse of "Im Lo Shachav," the first of the verses of
Klalah, is to be written? Perhaps the "Heh" is adding only that the second verse,
"v'At Ki Satis Tachas Ishech" (verse 20), is to be written! The fact that Rebbi Meir
equates the first verse with the second and says that it is just as important to
write "Im Lo Shachav" as it is to write "v'At Ki Satis" shows that Rebbi Meir holds
that logically the inverse can be deduced. That is why the Gemara asks why is this
verse different than all other verses where Rebbi Meir holds that the inverse
*cannot* be deduced.
OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that in the merit of Avraham Avinu's words when he said,
"Im mi'Chut...," the Jewish people were rewarded with the Mitzvah of Techeles. The
Gemara asks what is so special about the Mitzvah of Techeles. The Gemara answers by
citing Rebbi Meir in a Beraisa who says that Techeles is unique from all of the other
colors because the color "Techeles is similar to the sea, the sea is similar to the
sky, and the sky is similar to the Kisei ha'Kavod," the Throne of Hashem's Glory.
What is the significance of this fact?
4) BECOMING CLOSE TO THE SHECHINAH IN THIS WORLD
(a) RASHI in Menachos (43b, DH v'Rakia) explains the Gemara in what seems to be the
simplest way possible. The Techeles reminds its wearer that Hashem is above him by
reminding him of the Throne of Hashem's Glory.
(b) RASHI in Chulin (89a, DH DH Domeh) explains it using the reverse logic. When
*Hashem* looks at the Throne, He is reminded of the Mitzvah of Techeles that *we*
perform. Why does Rashi not explain it here the way he does in Menachos?
It appears that Rashi here wants to explain what physical benefits the Jewish people
derive from Techeles, since the Gemara implies that the Mitzvos of Tefilin and
Techeles bring glory to the Jewish people. If Techeles only *reminds us* of Hashem's
Throne, it does not necessarily lend us prestige.
(c) RASHI in Menachos (ibid.) offers another approach. By wearing the Techeles, it is
as if we are carrying the Holy Throne of Glory on our bodies, which certainly is
(d) RASHI here (DH she'ha'Techeles) suggests yet another interpretation of the Gemara
(based on the Sifri, Parashas Shelach). By wearing Techeles we are considered to have
greeted the Shechinah of Hashem.
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rebbi Meir who says that "Techeles is similar [in color]
to the *sea*, the sea is similar [in color] to the *sky*, and the sky is similar [in
color] to [Hashem's] *Throne of Glory*, as it says (Shemos 24:10), 'They saw the G-d
of Israel, and under His feet was something like a sapphire stone, bright as the
color of the sky.'"
The reason that the *sky* was included in the string of comparisons is easy to
understand. Since we have never actually seen the Throne of Hashem, we must first
bring textual proof to the color of the Throne before we assert that Techeles is
similar to it in color. The verse likens the color of the Throne to that of a much
more familiar object -- the sky ("under His feet was something like... the color of
the sky"). Therefore, it was necessary for Rebbi Meir to point out that Techeles is
sky-colored (like we see for ourselves) before concluding that the Throne of Hashem's
Glory is also sky-colored (like the verse states).
Why, though, does the Gemara mention the sea as an intermediary step in this
comparison? It would have been just as easy for Rebbi Meir to compare the color of
Techeles directly to that of the sky, without mentioning the sea!
(a) RASHI here explains that Techeles is actually not exactly the same color as the
sky -- it is more similar to the color of the sea. In other words, the sea's color is
somewhere between the color of Techeles and the color of the sky (the sky being the
color of the Throne). This is why the Gemara, in demonstrating that the Techeles is
reminiscent of the Throne, needs to describe the similarity in stages. Techeles is
similar to the sea; the sea, in turn, is similar to the sky, which is similar to the
Throne (TOSFOS SHANTZ offers the same explanation.)
This however, leads us to another question. If Techeles is, in fact, not really the
color of the Throne, why was Techeles chosen to be the color by which we remember the
Throne? If the purpose of the Techeles in our Tzitzis is to remind us of Hashem's
closeness to us, why not dye the thread with a dye that is sky-blue, rather than
using a color which is only *reminiscent* of the sky's color through a two-step
RAV HADAR MARGOLIN (of Har Nof, Yerushalayim) suggests the following answer. Rashi
here refers to a Sifri (#115) which tells us that the point of Rebbi Meir's statement
is to prove that when someone performs the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, it is as if he is
having an encounter with the Shechinah. This stands in contrast to the Gemara in
Menachos (43b), which formulates this theme somewhat differently: "Rebbi Shimon bar
Yochai said, 'Whoever is careful to perform the Mitzvah [of Tzitzis] *will, as a
reward*, merit to have an encounter with the Shechinah.'" The encounter with the
Shechinah is referred to in Menachos as an ultimate *reward* for the Mitzvah, that is
-- in the World to Come, while according to the Sifri the performance of the Mitzvah
is *tantamount to* ("Ke'ilu") encountering the Shechinah.
The Sifri's statement might explain why the color of Techeles is not identical to
that of Hashem's Throne. A true encounter with Hashem is not possible in this
physical world. Nevertheless, the Tzitzis strings that hang from our garments -- by
reminding us that the Divine Presence watches over us from every angle -- can elevate
us to *feel as though* ("Ke'ilu") we are in direct contact with the Divine Presence.
This pseudo-encounter with Hashem is what is hinted at by the twice-removed
comparison between the Techeles thread worn on our Tzitzis and Hashem's Throne. The
color of Techeles thus demonstrates that our Tzitzis grant us an appreciation of the
Divine Presence even in the mundane world in which we live, where a glimpse of His
true Presence is distant from our grasp.
(b) In his commentary to Menachos, Rashi seems to offer another approach to the
question of why Rebbi Meir mentions the color of the sea in connection with the
Techeles. Rashi (DH Domeh) comments cryptically, "Techeles is similar [in color] to
the sea" -- where miracles were performed for Israel.
What is Rashi's intention in this comment? What is the connection between the
miracles performed at the Sea and the color of Techeles?
Rabbi Isaac Herzog (in an article on the subject of Techeles) suggests that Rashi may
be hinting at a comment made by the Sifri (ibid.), "Why is [the color used in
Tzitzis] called 'Techeles' (from the root Kaf-Lamed)? -Because the Egyptians were
annihilated ('Kalu,' from the root Kaf-Lamed) in the Sea."
The color, as well as the name, of Techeles is hinting to what happened at the Sea.
Rashi is telling us that the color of the Techeles has a *dual* significance -- it
reminds us of Hashem's Throne on the one hand, and it also recalls the miracles
wrought for us at the Sea on the other hand. This, then, is why Rebbi Meir mentions
two similarities of color when describing Techeles: "Techeles is similar to the sea,
and the sea is similar to the sky (which is the same color as the Throne of Glory)."
Both of these similarities are significant in their own right!
We may add to Rebbi Herzog's insightful comment that the two symbolisms of the color
of Techeles are not unrelated. Chazal tell us that when Hashem led the Jewish people
through the Sea, not only did He split open the waters of the Sea, but "He revealed
himself to them in all His glory, until the people were able to point to Him and say,
'*This* is my G-d...'" (Rashi, Shemos 15:2).
We may suggest that the point of the Techeles is to remind us that as Jews, we are
able to raise ourselves to a spiritual height from which we can perceive the
Shechinah in this world. In order to substantiate this claim, Techeles recalls as
well the events which occurred at the Sea, during which the Jews actually *did*
perceive the Divine Presence. The semblance of Techeles to the color of the sea
serves to reinforce the theme that we are able to perceive the Divine presence while
yet in this world.
It is interesting to note that TOSFOS here (DH Mipnei), quoting the Yerushalmi,
presents yet another version of Rebbi Meir's statement, in which Techeles is first
compared to the sea, the sea is compared to *grass*, and grass is then compared to
the sky, which is the color of Hashem's Throne of Glory (Yerushalmi Berachos 1:2).
Why is the color of grass added in the progression of colors?
In light of the explanation we offered for Rashi in Menachos, the added mention of
grass in Rebbi Meir's statement is especially appropriate. The Gemara earlier (Sotah
11b) relates when the Egyptians came out to the fields to kill the infants there,
Hashem caused the babies to be miraculously swallowed up into the ground, where they
were safe from the Egyptians' evil plottings. The Egyptians, not to be deterred,
proceeded to plow up the ground. After they left, however, Hashem miraculously caused
the babies to sprout up out of the ground like the *grass* of the field, as it says
(Yechezkel 16:7), "I made you as numerous as the grass of the field...." (see
Perhaps, then, the color of Techeles is intended to remind us of this miracle as
well. Techeles is similar in color to grass, which reminds us of the manner in which
Hashem miraculously caused our people to experience a population explosion during the
Egyptian exile. Techeles alludes to that because the Gemara there says that when
Hashem revealed His glory to the Jews at the splitting of the Sea it was these
infants (now grown up) who exclaimed (Shemos 15:2), "*This* is my G-d...." The
infants who "grew as the grass" were the first to recognize Hashem's Divine Presence,
Rashi explains, because they had *already* witnessed His glory on a previous
occasion. That is, these children experienced in Mitzrayim an encounter with the
Shechinah on a level comparable to the one which the Jews experienced at the
splitting of the Sea.
Accordingly, Rebbi Meir (in the Yerushalmi's version of his statement) mentions the
color of grass in his list for the same reason that he mentions the color of the sea.
Recalling the story of the miraculous births in Egypt helps to substantiate for us --
in the same manner as the miracles at the Sea -- that it is possible for a human
being to experience a close encounter with Hashem's Divine Presence in this world!