Talmud Tips

For the week ending 17 June 2017 / 23 Sivan 5777

Bava Batra 144 - 150

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“You’re Getting Hotter!”

Rabbi Chanina said, “Everything is in the hands of Heaven except for sickness from cold and heat, as the verse states, “Cold and heat are traps on the path; one who wants to be safe from them will keep at a distance from them.” (Prov. 22:5)

The verse actually states the dangers are “Tzinim pachim”, which means cold and heat according to one explanation offered by the Rashbam, and is also the explanation stated in Tosefot. Another translation cite by the Rashbam is that the verse mentions only cold (“tzinim”), and pachim refers to the cold being a harmful “trap”. According to all explanations, the verse teaches about the danger to a person posed by adverse climatic conditions.

Rabbi Chanina’s teaching is cited in our sugya to answer what is meant by the expression in the gemara of “illness through negligence”. One might think that a person’s well-being is always decreed from Above, and a person’s negligent conduct will not affect his health and physical condition. The verse in Proverbs, Rabbi Chanina states, is proof that a person has the free-will to choose to be negligent, which can lead to sickness or injury.

Tosefot explains a gemara in Bava Metzia (107b) which elucidates the verse in Deut. 7:15, “And G-d will remove from you all sickness” — “sickness” meaning cold — which seems to imply that G-d, and not the individual, controls whether a person gets sick from the cold. This would mean that if it was not decreed, then a person could walk outside indefinitely in Arctic weather and remain perfectly healthy. Tosefot explains that the accurate meaning of that verse is not that G-d controls whether a person is cold or not, but rather that G-d gives the person wisdom to guard against the cold by choosing to wear warm clothing.

The Talmud Yerushalmi tells a story, as quoted by Tosefot, that the Roman ruler Antoninus was setting out to travel and asked Rebbie (his close friend with whom he studied Torah) to pray for his welfare. Rebbie prayed, “May it be the will of G-d that you be saved from the cold.” “Is that a fitting prayer?” said Antoninus with disappointment. He knew that he could put on a warmer coat if needed. So Rebbie then prayed, “May it be the will of G-d that you be saved from extreme heat.” Antoninus replied, “That is certainly a helpful prayer, as it’s written (in Ps. 19:7) ‘And no one can escape its (the sun’s) heat.'”

Which reminds me. A number of years ago I was in a classroom on a cold day, and a dispute broke out between two students. One said, “Close the window, I’m too cold!” The other argued that he was not cold (even a bit warm, if anything) and needed the fresh air from outside. The teacher settled the matter by quoting a ruling that he had heard from his rabbi about what to do in a case such as theirs: the person who is warm and wants the window open “wins”. The cold student should put on warmer clothing. And the source for this decision? The verse that Tosefot cites, “No one can hide from its heat.” (Ps. 19:7) The cold person can add layers of clothing for warmth, but what can the warm person do to not be hot — step out from his skin?!

  • Bava Batra 144b

A Steady Diet

Shmuel said: “A sharp change in one's eating pattern (All week long he eats dry bread, and on the festive days he eats meat — Rashbam) is the beginning of digestive problems.”

The great Talmudic Sage and medical doctor named Shmuel made this statement as a means to explain what appears to be a difficulty in the following verse in the Book of Proverbs:

“All of the days of the impoverished person are bad ones.” (Prov. 15:15)

While it may certainly be unpleasant to be financially impoverished, Rabbi Yehoshua Ben Levi questions the meaning of this verse. How can King Solomon state in the verse that all of the poor person’sdaysare bad due to a lack of food? Some days are Shabbats and Festivals, when impoverished people are provided with charity funds in order to enjoy extremely delicious meals. Aren’t these “days of plenty” considered good days for a poor person?

Shmuel explains that the verse is teaching that “A sharp change in one’s eating pattern is the beginning of digestive problems.” Therefore, even those days of “good food” are also “bad” in a sense for a poor person who is not accustomed to such feasts. He should keep in mind that a “yo-yo” change in his eating pattern is actually a detrimental health factor.

  • Bava Batra 146a

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