Talmud Tips

For the week ending 1 April 2017 / 5 Nisan 5777

Bava Batra 67 - 73

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Rav Papa bar Shmuel said, “Had I not been there I would not have believed it!”

What was this “unbelievable” sight that he saw? Our gemara reports on an extraordinary series of events that the Sage Rabbah bar Bar Chana saw in a prophetic vision. He describes something so incredible that it “needed to be seen to be believed”. The commentaries explain the significance of what he saw. (Please note: This area of gemara, which is known as agadata, requires additional discussion as to the manner in which it should be understood — literally, figuratively or both — and is planned to be the topic of a future column, G-d willing.)

The Sage says that he saw a frog that was the size of a sixty-house town. A snake came and swallowed it. Then a (female) raven came, swallowed the snake, and went up to dwell in the tree (on one branch, in the typical manner of birds — Rashbam). The Sage exclaimed rhetorically, “How great is the strength of the tree!” Rav Papa bar Shmuel expressed his amazement by saying, “Had I not been there I would not have believed it!”

The Maharsha explains the symbolic meanings and the message taught here. He explains that the Sage’s vision was in the manner of the vision of the Prophet Daniel. Just as Daniel saw a vision of the evil conquering nations of the world in the form of wild animals, likewise the Sage in our gemara saw the world-ruling kingdoms which would control the world from the time of the destruction of the Second Temple until the arrival of Mashiach.

The giant frog that he saw represents Yavan (ancient Greece). A hint to this is that the word for “frog” in Hebrew is “tzefardeah”, which alludes to the renowned wisdom of ancient Greece (“deah” is Hebrew for knowledge). This was the kingdom of Alexander Mokdon, the famous “Alexander the Great”. Then came the kingdom of Edom (ancient Rome) and conquered the ancient Greek empire of destructive fire (“moked” in Hebrew means fire). The Maharsha explains that the ancient Roman Empire was called a “snake” due to its similarity to the wicked snake in the Garden of Eden, and also due to its great hatred of the Jewish People, which included its completely destroying our Second Temple.

Next came the raven, which symbolizes the kingdom of Yishmael. It was a female, since its strength descended from the prayers of its mother, Hagar. The nation of Yishmael ascended to the Land of Israel and conquered it. Then it “sat in the tree” — the tree being a reference to Avraham, who is described in our sources as a “tree of life”. Finally, the Sage declared, “How great is the strength of the tree!” This refers to the very great merits and strength of Avraham’s influence throughout history — that Avraham’s merits and strength will enable Yishmael to have a non-insignificant role in the life of the Jewish People in the Land of Israel until the arrival of Mashiach, may he come speedily in our days.

Finally, Rav Papa bar Shmuel commented that he would not have believed that it was possible for the Jewish People to survive this “great weight”— the many centuries of the harmful and detrimental ways of Yishmael in the history of the Land of Israel — if he had not seen it for himself. It is certainly due to our help from Above that we are able to survive — and even thrive to some degree — in the Land of Israel prior to Mashiach’s arrival.

  • Bava Batra 73b

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