Thursday, September 18, 2008

Child Prodigy

The Gemora (Gittin 58) related the following incident: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah once happened to go to the great city in Rome, and he was told there that there was in the prison a child with beautiful eyes and face and his curly hair was arranged in locks. He went and stood at the doorway of the prison and said, “Who gave Yaakov over for spoil and Israel to the plunderers?” The child answered (by continuing the verse mentioned by Rabbi Yehoshua), “Is it not Hashem? It is on account of this; we have sinned against Him, and our fathers did not want to go in His ways, neither did they listen to His Torah.” Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah said: I feel sure that this child will be a teacher in Israel. I swear by the Temple service that I will not move from here before I ransom him with whatever price that they demand for him. They said that he did not leave the spot before he had ransomed him with a huge amount of money, and it was not too long afterwards before he became a teacher in Israel. Who was he? He was Rabbi Yishmael ben Elisha.

The question is asked: What was so exceptional about the boy’s answer that Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananiah declared that he was certain that this child will grow up to be a tremendous Torah scholar?

The Vilna Gaon explains based on the following Gemora in Brochos (4a): It is written: “Ad ya’avor amecha Hashem; ad ya’avor am zu kanisa.” Until your people pass through, Hashem; until this people that You have acquired pass through. Until your people pass through, Hashem is in reference to the first time that the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisroel (in the times of Yehoshua). Until this people that You have acquired pass through is in reference to the second time that the Jewish people entered Eretz Yisroel (in the times of Ezra). From here, the Chachamim have said: The Jewish people deserved that a miracle should be performed for them at the time of Ezra (when they were crossing the Jordan River into Eretz Yisroel) in the same manner that happened to them in the times of Yehoshua. However, due to their sins, they lost this reward.

Accordingly, it can be said that this is what Rabbi Yehoshua was asking: Who gave Yaakov over for spoil and Israel to the plunderers? Although the Jewish people were on a low level when they entered Bavel (as the name Yaakov connotes), but why weren’t they redeemed with a complete redemption (when they were on a higher level, as the name Israel connotes)?

The child answered: It is on account of this (zu); we have sinned against Him. By the second redemption, it is written zu, this; and since we have sinned, we lost the reward that we originally deserved.

Read more!

Haman's Descendants

The Gemora (Gittin 57) had stated that some of Haman’s grandchildren (his son’s sons) taught Torah in Bnei Brak.

There are those who ask the following: How is this possible? Why, behold, we do not accept converts from Amalek!?

Reb Yosef Engel answers that it is possible in the following scenario: An Amaleki woman got married to an idolater from a different nation. She gave birth to a son. That son is not regarded as an Amaleki, for the law regarding idolaters is that a child’s heritage is based upon his father, not his mother. A child from this son could be accepted as a convert. It emerges that the Gemora did not mean that Haman’s son’s sons converted; rather, there were descendants from Haman who converted and taught Torah in Bnei Brak.

Read more!

Kamtza and Bar Kamtza

The Gemora (Daf Yomi: Gittin 55b - 56a) had stated: The destruction of Yerushalayim came about through Kamtza and Bar Kamtza in the following way: A certain man had a friend Kamtza and an enemy Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his attendant, “Go and bring Kamtza.” The man went and brought Bar Kamtza. When the host found him there, he exclaimed, See, you are my enemy, what are you doing here? Get out!” Bar Kamtza said to him, “Since I am here, let me stay and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.” The host refused. Bar Kamtza said, “Then let me give you half the cost of the party.” “No,” said the host. “Then let me pay for the whole party,” Bar Kamtza said. He still refused and he took him by the hand and threw him out. Bar Kamtza said, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not rebuke him, this shows that they agreed with him. I will go and slander them to the Government.” He went and said to Caesar, “The Jews are rebelling against you.” Caesar asked him, “Who says so?” He replied, “Send them an animal as a sacrifice and see whether they will offer it on the Altar. So he sent with him a fine calf. While on the way, Bar Kamtza made a blemish on its upper lip, or as some say, he cause a cataract in the eye, in a place where we consider it a blemish, but they do not. The Rabbis were inclined to offer it in order not to offend the Government. Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, “People will then say that blemished animals are offered on the Altar!” They then proposed to kill Bar Kamtza so that he should not go and inform against them, but Rabbi Zechariah ben Avkulas said to them, People will then say that one who makes a blemish on consecrated animals is to be put to death!”

There is a well known question: It is understandable why the Gemora lays the blame of the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash on Bar Kamtza, for he was the one who slandered the Jews to Caesar; however, what did Kamtza do wrong? Why does the Gemora introduce the incident by saying that it was on account of both of them?

The Ben Yehoyada answers that anyone who has the ability to protest when a sin is being committed and does not do so; the sin is called upon his name as well. Chazal understood that Kamtza, being a friend of the host, had the ability to prevent the host from evicting Bar Kamtza from the banquet. Since he did not do so, he became a partner in all the events that resulted from the eviction.

The Yalkut HaGershuni answers, based upon the premise that Kamtza was not at the banquet; he did not attend, for he did not receive an invitation. It was very possible that if he would have been there, the host would not have gotten so angry, for he would have seen that his friend joined him at the banquet. Kamtza, out of haughtiness, did not attend the party. He said to himself, “If he didn’t send me an invitation, I am not attending!” It emerges that Kamtza, due to his evil attribute, also had a share in Bar Kamtza’s actions.

The Chida answers that in truth, Kamtza did nothing wrong. The meaning of the Gemora is as follows: It was because the attendant was not careful regarding his master’s words that brought about this destruction. He did not distinguish between Kamtza and Bar Kamtza. This is as the Chachamim say: One must be extremely careful in the words he speaks, and one who listens to another person talking must pay careful attention, for sometimes, due to one mistaken word, there can be deadly consequences.

Read more!