The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 31 January 2015 / 11 Shevat 5775

Yevamot 118 -Ketubot 3

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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The "Daf" of Survival

"I was once traveling on a ship," recounted Rabban Gamliel, "when I saw another ship that had been wrecked. My heart grieved especially for one of its passengers, the Torah Sage Rabbi Akiva. When I reached land and resumed my studies I suddenly saw him sitting before me and discussing halachic matters with me."

When Rabban Gamliel inquired as to who had rescued him from the sea, Rabbi Akiva replied:

"A daf (plank) from the ship came my way and I clung to it. When each wave came surging towards me I bowed my head and let it pass over me."

From this our Sages concluded, notes the gemara, that when wicked men come against a person he should bow his head until the danger passes.

Maharsha (Bava Batra 73a) explains the connection between the story of Rabbi Akiva and the conclusion of the Sages. The enemies of the Jewish People are compared to the waves of the sea which futilely attempt to overcome the sand of the seashore to which the Children of Israel are compared. Just as each successive wave fails to learn from the failure of its predecessor to go beyond the boundary set for the sea by Heaven, so does each of Jewry's enemies fail to learn from the failures of their predecessors in trying to destroy a people whose eternity is Divinely guaranteed, and who need only bow their heads in submission until Heaven rescues them.

In presenting his concept of Daf Hayomi upon which this column is based, Rabbi Meir Shapiro of Lublin some 80 years ago alluded to the miraculous survival of Rabbi Akiva which is symbolic of the survival of the Jewish People. "Daf" means a plank and also means a page of gemara. It is the "daf" of the gemara studied every day by Jews throughout the world, he declared, which will serve as the life-raft of survival against all the waves of oppression we face in our exile and which will, like in the case of Rabbi Akiva, enable us to safely reach the shore.

  • Yevamot 121a

Heavenly and Human Voices

If a "bat kol" is heard announcing that a certain man has died, says the mishna, we permit his wife to marry another man on the assumption that she is indeed a widow.

This "bat kol" is clearly a sound coming from a mysterious source unknown to us. We encountered such a sound earlier in this mesechta (Yevamot 14a), in which a "bat kol" was interpreted as a Heavenly declaration that we must rule according to Beit Hillel in their disputes with Beit Shammai. Is the "bat kol" in our mishna of the same nature?

Definitely not, says Tosefot Yom Tov in his commentary on Mishnayot. The "bat kol" heard in regard to Beit Hillel, and in the dispute between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages (Bava Metzia 59b), was the Divine communication which was occasionally received in the form of an echo of a Heavenly voice after prophecy came to an end. The "bat kol" in our mishna was the voice of a human whom we failed to locate after hearing his announcement.

As support for this approach, he cites Rambam in his commentary on the mishna, who writes that the "bat kol" is explained in the cases which follow in that mishna. One case is that of a person who stood atop a hill and identified himself, announced that he had been bitten by a snake and died. But when they reached the source of the voice the corpse they found was disfigured beyond recognition. In both cases the wife of the man identified by the voice as having died was permitted to remarry. Rambam is thus suggesting that the "bat kol" in the mishna is not the Heavenly voice we have encountered in the aforementioned disputes of the Sages, but rather the untraced human voice mentioned in the ensuing cases. It is interesting to note that the Shulchan Aruch (Even Haezer 17:10) refers to our case as hearing a "kol" -- a voice -- rather than a "bat kol." This seems to support the approach of the Tosefot Yom Tov.

Another support put forward by the Tosefot Yom Tov -- that we do not heed a "bat kol" in halachic matters -- is challenged by Rashash who points out that Tosefot (Yevamot 14a) states that this is only the view of Rabbi Yehoshua and not of the other Sages.

  • Yevamot 122a

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