Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 March 2018 / 16 Adar II 5778

Avoda Zara 37 - 43

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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The Metaphor of Fragrant Oil

Rav Nachman the son of Rav Chisda taught: Why is a Torah scholar compared to a flask of fragrant oil? To teach that when he is open his good fragrance is sensed, but when he is closed his good fragrance is not sensed.

This idea is learned from a verse in Song of Songs (1:3, see there), in addition to a number of other inspirational messages. Rashi on our daf explains this statement to mean that only when a Torah scholar actually teaches what he has learned to others does he acquire a special name. Just as the oil’s good fragrance is amplified when it is poured from its flask into another vessel, so too does the greatness of the Torah scholar increase when he teaches Torah to students.

Another teaching made by this Sage from this verse: “Things that are hidden from him become revealed.” Rashi states that this means that when he teaches others he has special help from Heaven to understand things that he did not understand before, without effort. The Maharsha explains this teaching somewhat differently, that he will increase his own Torah wisdom when he interacts with his students. As Rabbi Yossi the son of Rabbi Chanina said (Maccot 10a), “Much have I learned from my rabbis, even more have I learned from my colleagues, but from my students I have learned more than from anyone else.” When teaching Torah, the teacher achieves his maximum understanding, due to the process of intense questioning and reasoning with the various logical viewpoints of his students.

Tosefot explains that the idea of “hidden things will be revealed to him” does not refer to increased Torah knowledge as Rashi and the Maharsha claim. Tosefot interprets this statement to mean that “people will tell him their secrets.” People do so because they feel he will correctly advise them how to succeed, due to his great wisdom gained via Torah study. This attribute of becoming “master of advice” is found in Pirkei Avot (6:1): From him (one who studies Torah without ulterior motive) people enjoy counsel and wisdom, understanding and power.

  • Avoda Zara 35b

A Blessing for the Guardians

Rebbi said, “Blessed is G-d, Who entrusted His world into the hands of guardians.”

Rebbi (Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi) was ailing with intestinal pain and knew that apple wine could be helpful. He asked other rabbis if they knew whether apple wine of non-Jews is permitted to drink or not, unlike their grape wine which is clearly banned. Rabbi Yishmael the son of Rabbi Yossi told him: “One time my father had an intestinal pain and he was offered 70-year-old apple wine of non-Jews. He drank it and was healed.” Subsequently, they checked and found a non-Jew who had a large quantity of 70-year-old apple wine, which Rebbi drank and was restored to health. He then recited a unique blessing to G-d: “Blessed is G-d, Who entrusted His world into the hands of guardians.”

The Maharsha explains the meaning of this blessing in two ways. The “simpler” meaning is that Rebbi praised the Almighty for creating guardians for all contents of His world, even for this type of “esoteric” and unusual wine, which is needed only for medicinal reasons.

A deeper meaning offered by the Maharsha is based on the fact that Adam’s role in Gan Eden was to be a “guardian.” The verse states (Ber. 2:15): “And He (G-d) placed him (Adam) in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it.” Adam was a caretaker in Gan Eden, but not permitted to freely eat from the fruit of the trees there. After the exile from Gan Eden, however, Mankind was given dominion over the entire outside world. Based on this concept, Rebbi’s beracha was one of praise to G-d for making the one-time “guardian” of Gan Eden now the recipient of all benefits of the entire world, with permission to use the bounty of Creation for all his needs. (Commentaries explain that although Adam was indeed allowed to eat in Gan Eden, except for the Tree of Knowledge, he was permitted to do so only while tending to the trees there. This is in accordance with the halacha that permits a worker to eat from the fruit of trees he is picking for the owner. At all other times, however, he was not allowed to eat from those trees — and certainly not to ferment them for wine — and was therefore considered a “guardian” of the trees and their fruits while in Gan Eden.)

  • Avoda Zara 40b

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