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Sotah, 31

SOTAH 31-35 - These Dafim have been dedicated by Mrs. Estanne Abraham-Fauer in honor of the first Yahrzeit (18 Teves 5761) of her father, Reb Mordechai ben Eliezer Zvi (Weiner). May the merit of supporting and advancing the study of the Talmud be l'Iluy Nishmaso.


QUESTION: The Mishnah (27b) cites four Halachic discussions that occurred "Bo va'Yom" ("on that [same] day" -- the day on which Raban Gamliel was deposed from his position as Nasi and Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah was appointed in his place). These discussions involve various Halachos and Agados which the Gemara elucidates at length.

The first is a Machlokes regarding whether or not food that is Chulin can become Shelishi l'Tum'ah.

The second is a Machlokes regarding whether or not the Isur of Techumin is mid'Oraisa.

The third is a Machlokes regarding how the Jewish people sang the Shirah at the splitting of the Sea.

The fourth is a Machlokes regarding whether Iyov served Hashem out of love or out of fear.

None of these discussions, though, seem to be related to each other, nor do they seem to have anything to do with the beginning of the Mishnah which discusses the prohibition of the Sotah to both her husband and to the adulterer.

RASHI on the Mishnah (end of DH Bo va'Yom) explains that the arguments regarding the source for the prohibition and the punishment for the adulterer also took place on that day, the day Rebbi Eliezer ben Azaryah replaced Raban Gamliel as Nasi, and that is why the Mishnah digresses to other arguments that were discussed on that day.

Why, though, does the Mishnah choose these specific discussions? There is an entire Masechta that discusses the Halachic discussions which occurred on the day that Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah became Nasi -- Maseches Eduyos, and the Mishnah could have cited any of the Mishnayos in Eduyos simply because the discussions took place on the same day! Apparently, the Mishnah here decided to record only a certain type of Halachah that was discussed on the day -- a Halachah which in some way is similar to the discussion of the prohibition to the adulterer (the subject of Maseches Sotah). In what way are these four specific discussions related to the discussion concerning the Sotah's prohibition to the adulterer?

ANSWER: To understand how these four discussions are related to the main topic of the Mishnah (the Sotah's prohibition to the adulterer), we must first examine why that topic itself was discussed on the day that Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah became Nasi. It seems that the reason why the prohibition to the adulterer was discussed on that day was because of a reaction to the events that occurred: Raban Gamliel harshly reprimanded Rebbi Yehoshua for his dissenting views, the Chachamim objected to Raban Gamliel's treatment of Rebbi Yehoshua and they deposed him from the Nesi'us, and they appointed Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah in his place. Likewise, the other arguments in the Mishnah were also raised as a reaction to the events of that day, and that is why the Mishnah records these specific arguments together. In what way were all of these discussions reacting to the events of the day?

(a) The Machlokes concerning the source for the Sotah's prohibition to the adulterer was discussed on that day in order to strengthen the people's caution in observing the dictum of not coveting another person's wife.

The Gemara in Berachos (35b) says that the expressions "father" and "mother" are appropriate references to the relationship between Hashem ("Father") and Klal Yisrael ("Kneses Yisrael"). We know that the Nasi serves in lieu of a king in times when the Jewish people have no king (like the Gemara in Sanhedrin 5a says regarding the verse, "Lo Yasur Shevet mi'Yehudah" (Bereishis 49:10)). The king, in turn, reflects the power of Hashem's dominion (Berachos 58a). The people's willingness to subject themselves to the Nasi represents their willingness to subjugate themselves to Hashem. There was a fear that when the people saw that the Nasi could simply be deposed and someone else appointed to rule in his place, this might result in an increased frequency of disloyalty to husbands. Therefore, they needed to strengthen the people's awareness of the Isur by impressing upon them the consequences of the sin.

We find a precedent for this reaction in Korach's revolt. The Gemara (Moed Katan 18b) tells us that all the members of Korach's group were Mekanei their wives not to seclude themselves with Moshe Rabeinu. Why should they suspect Moshe Rabeinu of being an adulterer? Their claim was that every member of the Jewish people has a direct relationship with Hashem because of each individual's lofty level (Bamidbar 16:3), and therefore they do not need Moshe Rabeinu to be their leader, their Nasi. They claimed that by trying to rule over the Jewish people, Moshe Rabeinu was committing an act of "adultery," so to speak, by taking Kneses Yisrael away from Hashem to be a wife for himself. That is what they were implying when they told their wives not to seclude themselves with Moshe.

(b) The Mishnah then records Rebbi Akiva's rulings that Chulin can become a Shelishi l'Tum'ah, and that the law of Techumin is mid'Oraisa. Rebbi Akiva always attempted to strengthen the authority of the Chachamim in order to refute the Tzedukim. To this end, we find in Eruvin (21b) that Rebbi Akiva risked his life in order to strengthen the enactments of the Rabanan (such as the Takanah of Netilas Yadayim, which is -- together with the Takanah of Eruvei Techumin -- one of the earliest and most original enactments of the Rabanan, instituted by Shlomo ha'Melech).

Now that the authority of the Rabanan, as represented by the Nasi, was weakened, Rebbi Akiva was afraid that the people would treat lightly the Takanos d'Rabanan that they found difficult to accept. This fear was especially well-founded because of the change of policy in the Beis ha'Midrash (Berachos 28a). In the times of Raban Gamliel, only proven Torah scholars were allowed to enter and rule on Halachic matters. When Raban Gamliel was deposed, the policy was changed to permit anyone to join the discussion in the Beis ha'Midrash (potentially even Tzedukim). As our Mishnah says, Raban Yochanan ben Zakai already announced that he was afraid that a later generation would rescind his ruling that Terumah becomes Pasul as a Shelishi, because it was so difficult for the people to observe and his proof (the Kal v'Chomer) was tenuous. In order to prevent this from occurring, Rebbi Akiva pronounced that not only does Terumah become Tamei as a Shelishi, but even Chulin can become a Shelishi mid'Oraisa. In this way, he assured that no one would have the temerity to argue that a Shelishi is Tahor even with regard to Terumah.

(c) As we learned, Rebbi Akiva saw it necessary to strengthen the authority of the Chachamim regarding Netilas Yadayim (Eruvin 21b). When the Nasi's authority was challenged, rabbinical authority in general was challenged, and Rebbi Akiva was afraid that the people would challenge the Isur of Techumin, and, therefore, in order to strengthen its significance in their eyes, he asserted that the Isur of Techumin is not merely a Takanah d'Rabanan, but rather it is an Isur mid'Oraisa. (According to Rebbi Akiva, when the Gemara in Eruvin says that Shlomo ha'Melech was "Tiken" (instituted) the laws of Techumin, it means that he was "Darash v'Hiskin" the Isur, teaching the Isur d'Oraisa; see Rosh Hashanah 30b.)

(d) Rebbi Akiva was afraid that the ousting of Raban Gamliel would prompt a Korach-type rebellion against the Nesi'us in general, with the people saying that they are great enough to lead themselves and they have no need for a Nasi to rule over them. Therefore, Rebbi Akiva taught that even when Moshe Rabeinu and the Jewish people sang the Shirah at Keri'as Yam Suf, the Jewish people followed Moshe's lead and merely answered after Moshe Rabeinu. They let him lead them even though every one of them was elevated to the level of a Navi; they nevertheless realized the necessity of having a leader. Rebbi Nechemyah went even further and said that although the Jewish people were elevated to the same level of prophecy as Moshe Rabeinu when it came to choosing the words of the Shirah (see Rashi 30b, DH k'Sofer), nevertheless they did not feel that it was proper to begin the Shirah until Moshe Rabeinu led them and started the Shirah. (See YOSEF DA'AS in the name of the SHEM MI'SHMUEL, Parshas Beha'aloscha.)

(e) The goal of Rebbi Yehoshua ben Hurkenos' statement in the Mishnah was to strengthen the attitude of Rebbi Yehoshua and of the new Nasi, Rebbi Elazar ben Azaryah, towards Yir'as Shamayim and Avodas Hashem, in contrast to the attitude of Raban Gamliel towards those things. Why did Raban Gamliel not admit to the Beis ha'Midrash any person who was not a proven Talmid Chacham? The Acharonim explain that Raban Gamliel was a student of Beis Shamai in several matters (see Beitzah 22b). Shamai was of the view that a person should serve Hashem only with pure intentions. For this reason, he refused to accept the potential Gerim who wanted to convert for ulterior motives (Shabbos 31a). Because of this, though, he had less students than Hillel had, who accepted everyone. Nevertheless, Shamai's students, because of their purity, were on a higher level of understanding Torah (see Yevamos 14a and Tosfos there, DH Rebbi Yehoshua). Rebbi Yehoshua, who was the Tana who argued with Raban Gamliel in Berachos, was a follower of Hillel's policy that everyone should be allowed into the Beis ha'Midrash. That is why -- after Raban Gamliel was dismissed -- they allowed everyone in. The difference in attitude towards learning reflected a difference in attitude towards serving Hashem. Shamai's approach was to serve Hashem through Yir'ah, and not to approach Hashem until one is certain that he has purified himself from any impurities. Hillel's attitude was to serve Hashem through love, and because of that he also encouraged an attitude of Ahavah and warmth between the Nasi and the people, as opposed to the approach of Raban Gamliel who encouraged an attitude of distance between the Nasi and the people. (See Avos 1:12, where Hillel says, "Be of the Talmidim of Aharon -- love peace and pursue peace.") Rebbi Yehoshua ben Hurkenos, in the Mishnah, announced that serving Hashem out of love is a much higher level than serving Hashem out of fear, and that the reason why Iyov received such great reward was because he served Hashem out of love in order to show his approval for the new Nesi'us.


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