Talmud Tips

For the week ending 9 April 2016 / 1 Nisan 5776

Kiddushin 30 - 36

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rabbi Chanina said, “A person who is commanded to do a mitzvah and does it is greater than a person who is not commanded to do a mitzvah and does it.”

Tosefot offers an explanation for why a commanded person is “greater” and receives more reward for a mitzvah: Since the commanded person is worried and concerned that he may not properly fulfill that which he was commanded to do, he receives greater reward. One who is not commanded to do the mitzvah does not have this fear, since he may simply not do the mitzvah, without repercussions.

The gemara cites a fascinating statement by Rav Yosef regarding this teaching of Rabbi Chanina. Rav Yosef, said, “At first (before I learned the teaching of Rabbi Chanina) I thought that if I would be taught that the halacha is like Rabbi Yehuda who said that a blind person (like Rav Yosef) is exempt from mitzvot, I would make a festive meal for the Torah students, since I would not be obligated and nevertheless I would be fulfilling the mitzvot. But now that I have learned the teaching of Rabbi Chanina that one who is commanded and fulfills the mitzvah is greater, if I would be taught that the halacha is not like Rabbi Yehuda who said that a blind person is exempt from mitzvot, then I would make a festive meal for the Torah students.”

Tosefot on the daf deduces from Rav Yosef’s statement that women, who are exempt from time-bound positive mitzvot, should still say the beracha for the mitzvah if they choose to fulfill the mitzvah. Otherwise, why would Rav Yosef say that at first he would have celebrated if he would have been exempt from mitzvot, if being exempt would not allow him to say the beracha for the mitzvah when he fulfilled it despite his exemption? There is discussion in the poskim as to whether women may say a beracha for a time-bound mitzvah, such as lulav or succah, and the Ashkenazic custom is that women indeed say the appropriate beracha.

  • Kiddushin 31a

Rabbi Yosi Hagalili said, “The word ‘zaken’ (in the verse) refers to one who has acquired Torah wisdom.”

The Torah states in Vayikra 19:32, “You shall rise before an elderly person and you shall respect the ‘zaken’, and you shall fear your G-d. I am the L-rd.” We see in this verse that there is a mitzvah, a positive command, to show honor by standing up for a “zaken”. Whom does the Torah refer to with the word “zaken”?

According to the explanation of the gemara, Rabbi Yosi Hagalili states that the Torah mitzvah to rise before a “zaken” applies not only to rising for an elderly Torah scholar, but even for a young Torah scholar. This is because even a young Torah scholar is called a “zaken” (although it is usually translated to mean “elderly”), since “zaken” in the verse refers to “one who has acquired Torah wisdom”, regardless of his age. Rashi explains that Rabbi Yosi’s Hagalili understands the word “zaken” in the verse as an acronym for three Hebrew words: “Zeh kana chochma”, meaning “this person acquired (Torah) wisdom”. The halacha is according to the ruling of Rabbi Yosi Hagalili and is cited in Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De’ah 240:1.

A famous question is asked on this explanation. True, I can “see” the words “zeh” and “kana” in the word “zaken”, but where is the hint to the key word for “chochma”, Torah wisdom, in the word “zaken”?

What is the one and only true possession that a person acquires? The wisdom of the Torah. A person who “acquires Torah” turns it into part of his being and owns it for eternity. All other possessions can come and go, and are not truly part of a person’s essence. Therefore, although the word “zaken” appears to contain only the words for “this person acquired”, it obviously means that he has acquired Torah wisdom. “Chochma”, Torah wisdom, is understood to be that which he acquired, since Torah is the only acquisition that is a true and lasting acquisition. (Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Kanievsky, zatzal — “the Steipler Rav”)

  • Kiddushin 32b

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