Talmud Tips

For the week ending 18 November 2023 / 5 Kislev 5784

Bava Kama 16-22

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Establishing a Yeshiva

“And all of the kingdom of Yehuda, and the inhabitants of Jerusalem, bestowed honor upon him when he passed from this world.” (Divrei Hayamim II 32:33) “This teaches that they established a Yeshiva at his gravesite.”

The verse cited in this beraita on our daf refers to the passing of the righteous King Chizkiyahu, who was shown this great honor because he was extremely diligent and prolific in assuring the teaching Torah to the all of the people — men and women, adults and young children — who were part of his kingdom (Tosefot).

Rashi explains that the “establishment of a Yeshiva” means that the Torah students were gathered there to toil in Torah study. The gemara cites three opinions as to how long this Yeshiva remained at his graveside: three days, seven days and thirty days. Both Rashi and Tosefot note that the Torah study was not exactly adjacent to the grave, but was at a minimum distance of four amot away. This is because we are taught not to perform a mitzvah in close proximity to a person’s grave, as this would show a lack of sensitivity, since that person can no longer fulfill mitzvahs. “One who mocks a poor man blasphemes the One Who made him” states the verse in Mishlei (17:5), which our Sages teach means to not “mock” one who has passed from this world (and is now “poor” in the sense that he can no longer fulfill any mitzvah here), by fulfilling a mitzvah at his burial site. (Berachot 18a)

This honor showed to King Chizkiyahu near his grave takes me back to a day more than 30 years ago. On that day, a very dear student at a Yeshiva I was affiliated with in Israel was killed in battle during the First Lebanon War. The funeral was at Mount Herzl in Jerusalem, and was attended by thousands. The people included all of the students where he was studying Torah until the war erupted, a large number of soldiers in uniform of all ranks from his IDF unit, in addition to a multitude of family members and friends. The head of the Yeshiva spoke at the funeral in English and Hebrew, citing this gemara in Bava Kama about King Chizkiyahu. The Rabbi implored that a Yeshiva be established near the grave in honor of our fallen “brother.” I clearly recall that after this eulogy nearly everyone remained at the cemetery, crying, and not certain how to deal with this great loss. But, after a short while, it became clear to many what should be done. It was necessary to heed the words of the Rabbi who spoke, and begin learning Torah there as much as possible. And so it was. Very many who attended the funeral joined in this act of showing “honor” to the beloved departed Torah student with Torah study, then and there, with soldiers from all religious backgrounds studying together with the students from the Yeshiva.

Bava Kama 16b

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