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Avodah Zarah, 17


QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rebbi Chanina and Rebbi Yonasan were once traveling and they came to a crossroads of evil places. One street would take them past the opening to a house of Avodah Zarah, while the other street contained an entranceway to a brothel. They discussed which route they should take. One recommended that they travel down the street which had the house of Avodah Zarah, since the Yetzer ha'Ra for Avodah Zarah had already been annulled (see RASHI DH d'Nachis). The other suggested that they take the path that passed the brothel, because doing so would give them the opportunity to subdue their evil impulses and gain Heavenly reward for refraining from temptation. They followed this second suggestion.

TOSFOS (17b, DH Nezil) states that we can see from the fact that they acted upon the second suggestion that one should stay as far away as possible from an entranceway to Avodah Zarah, as the verse says, "Do not approach the doorway of her house" (Mishlei 5:8), which the Gemara earlier teaches is referring to Avodah Zarah.

The words of Tosfos are difficult to understand. The Gemara says that the reason they decided to go the route of the brothel was in order to give themselves the opportunity to hold back their evil impulses and thereby gain Heavenly reward for refraining from temptation. They did not choose that route because of the intrinsic evil of Avodah Zarah! How, then, can Tosfos prove from here that one should always stay far away from a house of Avodah Zarah?


(a) The MAHARAM answers that it was obvious to Tosfos that Rebbi Chanina and Rebbi Yonasan did not want to put themselves in a situation of temptation merely to test their impulses. The only reason such a suggestion was made must only have been because of the extremely strong aversion one should have for approaching places of Avodah Zarah.

This opinion is reiterated by the CHAZON ISH (in EMUNAH U'VITACHON 4:9). He adds that even though the Gemara relates that these Chachamim had a tremendous merit of Torah which protected them from sinning, we see that one should never test himself in such a fashion.

(b) The IYUN YAKOV offers a different answer to explain the words of Tosfos. The first suggestion was that they limit their potential to sin and take the route of the house of Avodah Zarah. The second suggestion was that, on the contrary, they should maximize their potential to sin and refrain from doing so, thereby earning Heavenly reward. Tosfos realized that this is obviously not the proper explanation of the Gemara, because if this was indeed the intent of the second suggestion, then it would have been prefaced with the phrase, "On the contrary." The absence of this phrase indicates that their remarks were not exactly opposite. Therefore, the logic of the second suggestion must have been that since one should always stay far away from Avodah Zarah, we should travel towards the entranceway of the brothel and get reward for refraining from sinning. This is the proof of Tosfos that one should avoid Avodah Zarah as much as possible. (Y. Montrose)


QUESTION: The Gemara records a conversation between Rebbi Elazar ben Perata and Rebbi Chanina ben Teradyon, who were both awaiting trial by the Romans. Rebbi Elazar said, "Fortunate are you that you were arrested on only one accusation (and can more easily evade the charge); woe unto me that I have been arrested with five accusations!" Rebbi Chanina responded, "Fortunate are you that you are accused of five things and will be saved; woe unto me that I have been arrested for only one thing and I will not be saved!"

Rebbi Chanina's statement seems difficult to understand. We find that Rebbi Akiva (Berachos 61b) was eagerly anticipating the moment when he could express his love for Hashem with all of his soul by being killed for the sake of Kidush Hashem. Similarly, RAV ELCHANAN WASSERMAN zt'l, Hy'd, writes in the beginning of KOVETZ SHI'URIM how he was preparing all of his students to be killed by the evil Germans, and he mentions that they were preparing to fulfill the greatest possible Mitzvah -- death Al Kidush Hashem.

Why, then, did Rebbi Chanina lament the fact that he was going to be killed Al Kidush Hashem?

ANSWER: The SEDER YAKOV prefaces his answer by quoting the REMA and the MISHNAH BERURAH (OC 1:1). The Rema states that a person should never be embarrassed of people when he is involved in serving Hashem. The Mishnah Berurah writes that when an average person is in the presence of men much greater than he, he should perform his good deeds without them knowing, if possible. However, when he is in the presence of other average people,. it is better for him to perform his good deeds publicly, so that the other people will learn from him and follow his example. He must be careful, though, to have in mind that he is doing the good deed for the sake of Hashem and not for the sake of enhancing his own reputation.

The Seder Yakov writes that this idea helps us understand the different approaches of Rebbi Chanina and Rebbi Akiva. Rebbi Chanina was with Rebbi Elazar, who was also a great Tzadik. Since Rebbi Elazar did not need to learn from Rebbi Chanina, Rebbi Chanina hid his desire to eagerly fulfill the Mitzvah of Kidush Hashem. On the other hand, Rebbi Akiva was in the presence of his students when he said that he had been anticipating, for his entire life, the opportunity to express his love for Hashem with his entire being. He expressed this desire openly in order for his students to learn from him. (Y. Montrose)

OPINIONS: The Gemara states that Rebbi Chanina said he once "mixed up the money of Purim with the money of Tzedakah" which he was supposed to dispense to poor people, and thus he gave all of it to the poor. In what way were his two collections of money different, and why did he give it all to the poor when they became mixed together?

(a) RASHI (DH Ma'os, DH Nis'chalfu) explains that Rebbi Chanina had collected money to give to the poor for the purpose of making a meal on Purim. Later, he forgot that the money was designated for that specific purpose, and he distributed it to the poor as regular charity. After noticing his mistake, he paid an equal amount of money (from his own funds) towards the original purpose of the money -- for the Se'udas Purim of the poor.

(b) Rashi suggests another approach. Rebbi Chanina had set aside money for his own Purim meal. He mistakenly thought that this money was money for the poor, and he proceeded to distribute it to them. After noticing his error, he did not seek compensation from the monies of Tzedakah.

TOSFOS (DH Ma'os) has difficulty with both explanations of Rashi. First, Tosfos comments that we never find the expression of "Purim money" referring to money designated for the Se'udas Purim. Second, according to both explanations, the main point of Rebbi Chanina's virtuous act is missing from the words of the Gemara; the Gemara should have mentioned that he either paid for the Purim meals of the poor, or that he did not seek compensation from Tzedakah funds.

(c) Tosfos quotes the explanation of the RI. On an ordinary day, Rebbi Chanina took a purse of money, assuming that it was the purse containing the regular Tzedakah funds, and was going to distribute the money to the poor. However, immediately before he began to distribute it, he realized that the purse he had taken contained the money of the special collection made for distribution to the poor on Purim. Nevertheless, he proceeded to distribute the money to the poor, knowing that there was no money in the regular Tzedakah purse to cover this expense. He did not want to embarrass the poor people who had gathered at his request in order to receive the regular Tzedakah funds. The Gemara is describing the virtuous deed that he did of distributing the money to the poor even though he knew that he had taken the wrong purse, and that, obviously, he must have reimbursed the funds designated for Purim from his own money. The Gemara is praising his conscious decision to distribute the money when he knew that he would have to reimburse it from his own pocket.

It is important to note that according to the explanation of the Ri, the motivating factor behind Rebbi Chanina's act was in order to avoid causing embarrassment to the poor. We see from here how important it is not to cause embarrassment to another Jew, even if the action which might cause the embarrassment is an accident.

The importance of preventing others from being embarrassed even through an accident is also apparent from the Gemara in Bava Basra (22a). The Gemara relates how Rav Ada bar Aba was delayed from going to his usual learning session with Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak (learning together helped Rav Nachman with preparing for his lecture; see RABEINU GERSHOM there). When Rav Ada did not arrive, Rav Nachman refrained from giving the Shi'ur since he did not feel sufficiently prepared, and as a result he suffered embarrassment. When asked why he was not giving the Shi'ur, he said, "I am waiting for the coffin of Rebbi Ada;" he assumed that Rav Ada had died because of the embarrassment that Rav Ada caused him by not helping him prepare the Shi'ur. Indeed, an announcement was heard shortly thereafter that Rav Ada had died. Why did Rav Ada not come on time? The Gemara relates that Rav Ada had been talking in learning with Rav Papa and Rav Huna brei d'Rav Yehoshua. Even though Rav Ada was learning Torah and that is why he did not come, he was held accountable for the inadvertent embarrassment that he caused to Rav Nachman. (See SEFER L'RE'ACHA KAMOCHA, vol. 3, p. 108.) (Y. Montrose)

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