Daf Yomi

For the week ending 31 October 2015 / 18 Heshvan 5776

Sotah 4 - 10

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Delayed Action Confession

To encourage the sotah, the suspected adulteress, to admit her guilt -- and thus eliminate the need to obliterate the parchment containing the Holy Name of Hashem in the potion she must drink -- the Sanhedrin told her of the two great people in history who had the courage to publicly confess their wrongdoing: Yehuda and Reuven.

There is a strong connection, says Rabbi Yonatan, between these two. It was the Yehuda's confession that he had relations with his daughter-in-law Tamar -- whom he mistook for a harlot because of her disguise -- which was the catalyst for Reuven to confess to his father that he was the one guilty of slighting him.

After Rachel's death during the return of Yaakov and his family to Eretz Yisrael, the Patriarch transferred his principal residence from Rachel's tent to that of her handmaid Bilha. Reuven, Leah's oldest son, considered this an affront to his mother. If his mother Leah had only a secondary role to Rachel in Rachel's lifetime, Reuven was certainly not ready to tolerate that she should be secondary to Rachel's maid. He therefore took the initiative of secretly moving his father's bed into Leah's tent. In his parting words to his sons, Yaakov rebuked Reuven for this impetuous rebellion against his decision, a rebellion which caused Reuven to lose the privileges of kingdom and kehuna which otherwise would have been his as the oldest.

Tosefot (Bava Kama 92a) makes an interesting observation connected to the timing of Reuven's confession, which the gemara says was made in order to remove any suspicion that one of his brothers was the guilty party. The Midrash explains that the passage (Bereishet 37:29) "Reuven returned to the pit" (in which Yosef had been placed by his other brothers before they sold him into slavery) refers to Reuven returning from his fasting and sackcloth as repentance for his sin towards his father. The selling of Yosef was many years before the incident with Yehuda and Tamar and Yehuda's confession, and although Reuven was already aware of the need for repentance, his public confession,however,did not come until Yehuda's confession years later.

A careful calculation of the chronology of the aforementioned events indicates that about 25 years transpired between Reuven's misdeed and his confession. The intervening repentance came about nine years after that act and commentaries suggest that the catalyst for it was Reuven's reflection on his brothers' fratricidal plot which he at one stage tried to prevent. When he observed that they and he at the outset were prepared to slay Yosef without regard for the anguish this would cause their father, he began to reflect on where he had gone wrong in earlier years that could have been the seed of disrespect which now had grown to such proportions. The Midrash says that when Reuven started his repentance, Hashem praised him for "starting repentance at the beginning" because Reuven taught all future returnees that they must go to the root of their errors and repent for their past sins.

  • Sotah 7b

Patriarchal Outreach

"He established an eishel in Beersheba and there he called out in the Name of Hashem, Lord of the world." (Bereishet 21:33)

What did Avraham establish in Beersheba and what did his calling out consist of?

In regard to the first question there are the two opinions of Rabbi Yehuda and Rabbi Nechemia. One says that he planted an orchard with all sorts of delicacies to entertain wayfarers. The other contends that Avraham's eishel was a hotel in which he could provide his wayfaring guests with food, drink and escort. (The first letters of the Hebrew words for these three features spell out the word eishel.)

The calling out, explains the Sage Reish Lakish, refers to the impact which Avraham's hospitality had upon his guests. The word "vayikra" for calling out should be read "vayakrie" to indicate that Avraham caused others to call out to Hashem. After his guests had enjoyed the hospitality of his orchard or hotel, they wished to thank their host. But Avraham refused to take credit, insisting that whatever he gave them belonged to Hashem and that they must therefore thank and praise Him.

What compelled Reish Lakish to interpret Avraham's calling to Hashem in this manner?

Targum Onkelos translates calling out in the Name of Hashem both here and in Bereishet 12:8 and 26:25 as an act of prayer. This is understandable in those other two places, where the calling out of Avraham and Yitzchak respectively followed the building of an altar which indicates an act of worship. But why should prayer be connected to the setting up of an orchard or a hotel for guests? Maharsha suggests that this is what caused Reish Lakish to look for another meaning, one that would be related to the hospitality of Avraham.

Ramban, in his commentary on Bereishet 12:8, digresses from the approach of Onkelos and supplies this concept of patriarchal outreach to Avraham's calling out by the altar. Up until his entry into Eretz Yisrael Avraham tried reaching out to the idol worshippers in his native land but found an unreceptive audience. Now that he was in the land where Hashem had promised him that He would bless those who blessed Avraham, he gained the confidence to publicly proclaim his monotheistic faith and teach it to others.

In light of Ramban's approach, we understand Reish Lakish's explanation of our opening passage that the eishel was an extension of Avraham's strategy of outreach. Rabbi Zvi Hirsch Chayot suggests that this explanation is the Talmudic source for what Rambam writes (Laws of Idolatry 1:3) that after Avraham was miraculously saved from the fiery furnace he had been cast into for his religious belief, "he began to cry out in a loud voice to the entire world and to each them that there is one G-d." When he describes Avraham's outreach efforts upon reaching Eretz Yisrael, Rambam indeed quotes our opening passage.

  • Sotah 10b

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