Monday, January 29, 2007

Daf Yomi - Taanis 21 - Highlights

Ilfa and R' Yochanan learned Torah in great poverty and deprivation. At a certain point, their hunger became too much for the. They therefore, decided to leave the yeshiva and engage in business. Let us fulfill the verse that says, "There shall be no poor amongst you," which instructs us not to be poor.
They left. Later, as they sat under an old wall eating, R' Yochanan overheard two angels speaking.
"Let us knock over this wall, and bury them here," said one angel to the other, "for they have abandoned their Torah study, which ensures eternal life, to pursue mundane material pursuits."
"No, leave them alone," the other angel answered. "One of them is destined for greatness, and we may not kill him."
R' Yochanan overheard this conversation. Ilfa did not.
"Did you hear anything?" R' Yochanan asked Ilfa.
"No, nothing," Ilfa answered.
"If so," R' Yochanan said to himself, "the angels must have been talking of me. Let me hurry back to the yeshiva, and fulfill there the verse, "There will not cease to be paupers amongst you."
R' Yochanan returned. Ilfa did not return. When eventually Ilfa did return, he found that R' Yochanan had been appointed Rosh Yeshiva.
"Had you remained learning here," the students told Ilfa, "you would have been appointed Rosh Yeshiva."
On hearing this, Ilfa climbed to the top of a tall ship's mast.
"If anyone here can challenge me on a teaching of R' Chiya or R' Oshiya that I cannot resolve, I will throw myself from this mast and drown."
An old man came, and asked a question. Ilfa answered it correctly. (20a)

Nachum Ish Gamzu was blind in both eyes, without hands or legs, and boils covered his entire body. He lay in shaky house, the legs of his bed in buckets of water that ants should not climb over him. His students wanted to move him to a better house. They came to carry him out.
"Children," he told them, "first take out all the furnishings and utensils, then take out my bed. For, as long as I am in this house, it will not collapse."
They took out the furnishings and utensils. Then, they took out Nachum Ish Gamzu in his bed. As they completed this, the house collapsed.
"Rebbi," his students asked him, "if you are such a tzaddik, why do we see you so badly off?"
"I did it to myself," he told them. "Once, I traveled to my father-in-law's house. With me, I had three donkey loads, one of food, one of drink, and one with fruits and sweets. A pauper approached me, standing on the road.
"Rebbi, feed me," he cried.
"Wait until I unload the donkey," I answered him. However, before I could remove anything from the donkey, he died. Seeing this I fell on his face and prayed, "May my eyes that felt no compassion for your eyes, be blinded. May my hands that showed no compassion for your hands, be cut off. May my legs that had no compassion for your legs, be amputated. Still, I could not calm down until I had added, and may my whole body be covered in boils."
"Woe to us, that we see you this way," the students lamented.
"Woe, were you not to see me in such a way," Nachum Ish Gamzu responded.
Why was Nachum Ish Gamzu so called? For, about everything that happened to him, even that which was not good, he would say, "This too, "Gam zu", is for the good," as we see in the next story:
The Jewish people needed to buy Caesar's goodwill by sending him a gift. "Who should go as our representative," they wondered. "Surely, no one is better suited for this mission than Nachum Ish Gamzu, for whom the heavens perform miracles." They sent him with a chest of precious gems and pearls.
On the way, he spent a night at a hotel. While he slept, the owners stole the gems from his chest, replacing them with dust. In the morning, he noticed the sand in the chest.
"This too is for the good," he said to himself, and continued on his mission.
He presented the chest to Caesar who opened it. Seeing the dust, he assumed that the Jews were mocking him. He was so angry, he decided to execute the entire Jewish people.
"This too is for the good," Nachum Ish Gamzu said to himself.
At that moment, Eliyahu HaNavi miraculously appeared in the guise of an important officer.
"Maybe," he said to Caesar, "this is the sand their ancestor Avraham used to fight and conquer the kings. When he threw sand at them, they died as though slaughtered by swords. When he threw straw at them, they died as though pierced by arrows."
Caesar had a particular enemy state that had resisted all his attempts to conquer it. He therefore, took the dust and tested it in the next battle. He was victorious.
He then brought Nachum Ish Gamzu into his treasure house, filled his chest with precious gems, and sent him home in honor.
Going home, Nachum Ish Gamzu again stopped at the same hotel. Eagerly, the hotel owners asked him what important gift he had brought to the Caesar that he should return in such honor.
"What I took from here," he told them, "is what I brought to Caesar."
On hearing his story, they tore their hotel apart that they might bring all of its dust to Caesar. "We have brought you the same dust that Nachum Ish Gamzu brought you," they proudly reported. "That dust came from our hotel!"
The Romans tested the dust, but it failed to produce the same results. They then executed those hotel owners. (21a)
The Mishna had stated that a city in which there is a plague should fast and cry out. The Mishna clarified this case by stating that the city must have at least five hundred foot soldiers and three people die naturally on three consecutive days.

The Gemora cites a braisa offering the city of Kfar Akko as an example of a city that contains one thousand and five hundred foot soldiers. Nine people died on three consecutive days and it was regarded as a plague. If these nine deaths occurred on one day or in the span of four days, it would not be considered a plague. A city such as Kfar Amiko, which had three deaths on three consecutive days, it is regarded as a plague. If those deaths occurred on one day or in the span of three days, it is not considered a plague.

Derokart was a city that consisted of five hundred foot soldiers and it once happened that three people died on one day. Rav Nachman bar Rav Chisda declared a fast day different than the ruling of the braisa. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak explained that this fast must be in accordance with the view of Rabbi Meir who maintains that an ox which gored three times in one day is considered a muad and is liable to pay full damages.

The Gemora records an incident which indicates Rav Nachman bar Rav Chisda’s admiration for Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak. Rav Nachman bar Rav Chisda invited Rav Nachman bar Rav Yitzchak to come live in his town amongst illustrious people. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak responded by citing a braisa which states that a person provides honor to the place in which he resides and it is not the place which deals him the honor.

The Gemora cites two Scriptural sources proving that a location does not have inherent sanctity, but rather it is due to the presence of the Shechina of the Mishkan.

Rav Nachman bar Rav Chisda said that he will go live by Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak answered him that it is better that a hundred dinar, the son of a fifty dinar (his father was referred to as Yitzchak and not Rav Yitzchak) should go to the hundred dinar, son of the hundred dinar (since he was referred to as Rav Nachman bar Rav Chisda) and not the other way around. (21a – 21b)

A plague went through the town of Sura. However, it skipped the neighborhood of Rav. People said that since Rav has many merits, he had protected them. The heavens however, showed them through a dream that this was too small matter to require any of Rav's merits. Rather, the plague stayed away in the merit of a man who lent out tools to dig graves in the local cemetery (21b)

A fire spread through the town of Derokart. However, it skipped over the neighborhood of Rav Huna. People said that since Rav Huna has many merits, he had protected them. The heavens therefore, showed them through a dream that this was too small matter to require any of Rav Huna's merits. Rather, the fire stayed away in the merit of a woman who kept her oven alight and hot, that her neighbors could use it freely. (21b)
Swarms of locusts entered the district of Rav Yehuda. People came to tell him. He decreed a fast day.
"But they're not eating any of our grain," the people protested.
"Did they bring food with them that they shouldn't touch your grain?" Rav Yehuda asked them. (21b)
They once told Rabbi Yehuda that there is a deadly plague amongst the pigs. He thereby declared a fast. The Gemora explains that the digestive system of pigs resembles those of humans and therefore the plague can affect the people as well. (21b)
They told Shmuel that in a distant place, Bei Chuzai, there was a plague. He decreed a fast day.
"Surely this place is far from us?" the people asked, "We have nothing to worry about."
"Is there a river crossing here, stopping it from coming here?" Shmuel asked them. (21b)
A plague has hit Eretz Yisrael," people told Rav Nachman [who lived in Bavel]. Rav Nachman decreed a fast day.
"If the mistress [i.e. Eretz Yisrael] has been struck, how much the more so the maidservant [Bavel] stands to suffer! Therefore, we must take precautions."
In the Gemora mentioned before, Shmuel declared a fast in one city in Bavel because of a plague in another city in Bavel even though they are both considered maidservants. The Gemora explains that this was only due to the close proximity of the two cities. (21b)

A heavenly voice would greet Abba Umana each day. "Shalom Alecha," it wished him. This was a tremendous honor. Abaye, on the other hand, only merited hearing this heavenly voice once a week on Erev Shabbos. Rava would hear this heavenly voice once a year on Yom Kippur.
Abaye felt bad that the heavens regarded him so much less than Abba Umana.
"Don't feel bad about this," the heavens told him, "your good deeds do not match his good deeds."
What would Abba Umana do? He would let blood, a common form of healing in those days, and was careful to keep his male patients separate from his female patients for reasons of modesty. Also, he had a special garment to cover his female patients. It hid their entire body except for one small hole through which he would treat them. In this way, he avoided looking at them, and indulging in improper thoughts.
Outside, in a discreet place his patients would leave money to pay for his service. Those who could afford it would pay. Those who could not afford it could leave without feeling any embarrassment. Abba Umana himself did not know who paid him and who did not. Moreover, when he saw that his patient was poor he would give him money to buy food and revive himself after the operation. If his patient was a Torah scholar, he would refuse all payment.
Abaye sent to Torah scholars to test him. He brought them into his house, gave them food and drink, and made up beds for them to rest on. He folded special woolen cloaks under the sheets that they should sleep more comfortably. In the morning, the scholars took these cloaks with them, and set out to the market. There they met Abba Umana.
"Tell us," they said to him, "how much of these cloaks worth?" They wanted check him if he would accuse them of being thieves, or under evaluate them that he might buy them back cheaply.
"Such and such is their worth," he told him
"Maybe they are worth more?" the scholars asked him.
"This is what I paid for them," Abba Umana told them.
"They are yours," the scholars told him, "we only took them from you to test you. Tell us what you thought of us when you realized we had taken them?"
"I thought," he said, "you needed to redeem captives and for this you needed money, but you were embarrassed to ask me for the money. Therefore, you took these cloaks."
"Now, please take them back," the scholars said to him.
"I don't want to take them back," he told them, "the moment I realized you had taken them, I said they should be for charity. I will take nothing back from charity."
Rava felt bad that he received heavenly greetings only once a year, whereas Abaye received them once a week.
"Don't feel bad," the heavens told him, "be glad that your merits protect the entire city." (21b – 22a)