Talmud Tips

For the week ending 7 January 2017 / 9 Tevet 5777

Bava Metzia 103 - 109

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Rabbi Yochanan maintains that there is a special reward for walking a farther distance to a Beit Knesset (Synagogue).”

Rabbi Yochanan and Rav have differing views regarding the intent of the blessing in the Torah: “Blessed are you in the city…” (Devarim 28:3)

Whereas Rav states that this refers to having a Beit Knesset nearby in the city (the Maharsha points that in the time of the gemara it was the general practice that the Beit Knesset be outside of the city), Rabbi Yochanan does not consider this a blessing. Having a Beit Knesset inside the city is not necessarily better, according to him, since walking to a Beit Knesset that is further away from home awards the walker with special reward called “sachar pesiot” — “reward for steps”. Rashi writes that we find in Masechet Sota (22a) that Rabbi Yochanan was taught this concept by a widow who said to him rhetorically: “Don’t I receive more reward if there is a Beit Knesset in my neighborhood, but I nevertheless walk to your Beit Midrash to pray?”

Two points to ponder: It appears that Rav does not adhere to this concept, although the gemara does not explicitly state that there is a dispute in this matter. In addition, it would appear to be helpful to understand if the concept of “sachar pesiot” is connected in any way to the mishna in Avot (5:21): “L’fum tza’ara agra” — “According to the amount of difficulty is the reward.” It would seem that the mishna in Avot applies to any mitzvah activity, whereas it appears that special reward of “extra steps” is taught only in relationship to walking to a house of prayer.

  • Bava Metzia 107a

Rabbi Chanina said, “Everything is in the hand of Heaven, except for cold and hot.”

The source for this teaching is cited by Rabbi Chanina as a verse in Proverbs (22:5): “Cold and heat is in the troubled path, and one who guards his health will keep distance from them.” From this he sees that it is within a person’s ability to avoid cold and heat, and sicknesses that may result from exposure to extreme temperatures in winter and summer.

This teaching by Rabbi Chanina is quoted on our daf to explain why Rabbi Chanina interpreted another verse as referring to sicknesses caused by cold and heat: “And Gd will remove all illness from you, and all of the evil diseases of Egypt that you knew; He will not put them on you, but He will lay them upon all of your enemies.” (Devarim 7:15)

In this chapter Moshe Rabbeinu relates to the entire Jewish People the numerous ways in which they will be immensely blessed by G-d if they observe the way of the Torah when they enter the Land of Israel very soon. A number of interpretations are offered in the gemara to explain the meaning of “removing all illnesses”. For example, Rav’s interpretation is that the verse refers to Divine removal of the ayin hara (“evil eye”), in accordance with his personal experience (see Rashi) and statement that: “Nine-nine people die from ayin hara, while one dies from the way of the world.” (See Tosefot who asks about the descendants of Yosef, about whom it is taught elsewhere that they are beyond the reach of the ayin hara, and should therefore have had longer life spans, but did not.)

Rabbi Chanina, on the other hand, teaches that the illnesses in the verse refers to G-d’s blessing the nation by removing the maladies caused by exposure to extreme temperatures that normally promote illnesses in a natural manner.

Tosefot quotes another well-known teaching of our Sages: “Everything is in the hands of Heaven, except the fear (awe) of Heaven.” It would seem that this statement does not agree with the teaching of Rabbi Chanina. Tosefot clarifies, however, that Rabbi Chanina is speaking about things that might happen to people, and occur to those who are not careful to dress warmly when the temperature drops, or are not prudent about staying in the shade with plenty of water during a heat-wave. The other statement that everything is controlled and determined by G-d except for “the fear of Heaven” deals with human character traits, and not specific events or circumstances. Regarding “yirat Shamayim” — the fear and awe of G-d — a person has free-will to choose whether to do what is good or what is bad, what is right or what is wrong. A person’s choice to act correctly and “choose life” is free choice, and is not fatefully predetermined.

  • Bava Metzia 107b

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