Talmud Tips

For the week ending 18 February 2017 / 22 Shevat 5777

Bava Batra 25 - 31

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbi Yitzchak said, “One who wants to have wisdom should turn to the south; and if he wants wealth he should turn to the north.”

In addition to this statement on our daf, our gemara also teaches a “siman”, or “memory device”, in order not to mix up which direction is advised for wisdom and which direction for wealth. The Shulchan (Table; i.e. source of material sustenance and wealth) was in the northern side of the Mishkan and Batei Mikdash, whereas the Menorah (symbolizing the light of wisdom of the Torah) was in the south.

It is interesting to note that despite Rabbi Yitzchak’s statement which offers a choice between praying in a manner either fortuitous for wisdom or for wealth — but not for both simultaneously — Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi teaches otherwise. He states that one should always face the south, and in this way will be better positioned not only for wisdom but also for wealth. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi claims that when one has the wisdom of the Torah he also has great wealth, as the verse teaches: “Long life is on its (the Torah’s) right, while wealth and honor are on its left.” (Proverbs 3:16)

As beautiful as this teaching may sound, this opinion is not codified in Shulchan Aruch, and is also not our minhag (custom).

Rashi explains that the directional words of advice in our gemara refer to “turning one’s head (not body) south or north when praying. And “praying” refers to the “standing prayer” that we often call “the amida”or “the Shmoneh Esrei”. Turning only one’s head south or north is consistent with the gemara elsewhere (Masechet Berachot 30a), which teaches that the main direction for prayer is toward the Land of Israel, Jerusalem and site where the Temples stood, as taught by King Solomon when he dedicated the First Temple (Kings I ch. 8). Therefore, according to Rashi, one would position his body towards the east (towards the Land of Israel), and angle his head to the south or north, depending upon his objective.

The Rema, however, seems to prefer to explain our gemara as speaking about the position of one’s entire body for wisdom or wealth, and not only the head. In Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 94:2 the Rema states: “And one who wants to fulfill the words of our Sages to turn to the south for wisdom and to the north for wealth should do so; however, he should turn his face towards the east.”

The Mishneh Berurah (ibid 94:2:12) writes that this implies that one should stand with his body towards the south or north, and angle only his head toward the east (in the Askenazic countries in Eastern Europe that require prayer towards the east in order to be praying in the direction of the Land of Israel). The Mishneh Berurah, however, points out that Rashi explains our gemara differently: that one’s body should face the Land of Israel and that only the head should be angled to the side — south for wisdom or north for wealth. He concludes that it is correct to pray according to Rashi’s explanation, and that this is in fact our widespread minhag — to position our bodies towards the Land of Israel (in the east when we are west of Israel), and angle our heads sideways, to the south or north, if so desired, in prayer for increased wisdom and wealth.

  • Bava Batra 25b

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