THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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CHAGIGAH 16 - Dedicated by the Fogel family (California) as a Zechus towards
the Refu'ah Shelemah of Chava Rivka Bas Hendal Falck.
1) THE PROBLEM WITH INVESTIGATING PRE-CREATION
QUESTION: The Gemara says that one may not inquire what existed before the
world was created. The Gemara compares it to a king who built his palace on
top of a garbage heap; the king does not want people mentioning what was
there before the palace.
2) THE PROHIBITION TO INQUIRE INTO FOUR THINGS
What disgrace is there by mentioning what existed before the world was
created? There was nothing there! Why should it be disgraceful? In what way
can it be compared to a king who built his palace on a garbage heap?
(a) The MAHARSHA answers that the disgrace is the very suggestion that there
was something else that existed before Hashem created the world. In that
respect, the analogy is not entirely accurate, because here, the disgrace is
the thought that something existed before the world was created, and not
that there was actually something disgraceful there.
(b) The Maharsha quotes the YEFEH MAR'EH on the Yerushalmi who explains this
Gemara based on the words of the RAMBAN in the beginning of Parshas
Bereishis. The Ramban says that when Hashem created the world, He first
created a form of matter or energy called "Hiyuli" (from the Greek "hyle,"
which means "matter"). Hashem created the world only after creating this
matter or energy and forming the world from it. The "Ashpah" in the analogy
was this "Hiyuli," which was the unfinished, unformed matter or energy.
Since it lacked form, it is a disgrace to delve into it.
(c) The YA'AVETZ says that our Gemara is alluding to the Midrash (Bereishis
Rabah 3:7) that states that Hashem created a number of worlds before this
one and destroyed them all until He created this world and decided to keep
it. The earlier worlds that did not satisfy Him are like the "Ashpah" on
which the king built his palace.
(d) RAV MOSHE FEINSTEIN in DARASH MOSHE (cited by the Yosef Da'as) explains
that it is a disgrace to Hashem when a person wants to go searching into the
primordial and pre-creation facets of existence in order to discover
evidence for the hand of Hashem in the design of the world, when that
evidence is readily available in everything that exists in the natural world
today. The fact Hashem created the world is evident in the infinitely
brilliant design of every object that exists in the natural world today. The
Gemara compares it to praising a king for what he built his palace on, when
there are many greater things in the day-to-day life of the kingdom for
which the king prefers to be praised.
QUESTION: The Mishnah (11b) states that "anyone who looks into four things
is better off having not been created: what is above, what is below, what is
before, and what is after."
RASHI there explains these four things to be spatial: "what is above" refers
to what is above the heads of the heavenly beings; "what is below" refers to
what is below the heavenly beings; "what is before" refers to what is to the
east of the "heavenly separation" outside of the world, and "what is after"
refers to what is to the west.
Why does Rashi explain all four of these things to be referring to spatial
elements? The Gemara here clearly understands "what is before" and "what is
after" to be referring to temporal elements -- what existed before the world
was created, and what will be after the world is no longer! Why does Rashi
on the Mishnah give a different explanation than the Gemara? (TOSFOS)
ANSWER: RAV YAKOV D. HOMNICK (in Marbeh Nedavah) proposes the following
explanation for the words of Rashi. The Mishnah begins by listing the topics
of Torah that may not be taught in certain sized groups. Arayos may not be
expounded with three, Ma'aseh Bereishis with two, and Ma'aseh Merkavah with
one. The second topic of the Mishnah are the four things which a person may
not look into. The third topic is "one who does not have mercy on the honor
of His Creator, is better off having not been created."
The Gemara (11b) originally thought that the Mishnah is describing a
prohibition in the laws of *learning* Torah. Thus, it thought that when the
Mishnah says that Arayos may not be expounded with three people, that it
means three people learning together, with one expounding together with the
other two. The Gemara concluded that the Mishnah is describing a prohibition
in the laws of *teaching* Torah -- what the Rebbi may not teach and what the
Talmid may not ask. Thus, the Mishnah means that one may not expound the
laws of Arayos *to* three people.
Rashi on the Mishnah, therefore, explained the Mishnah according to the
Gemara's original assumption, that it is discussing the laws of *learning*
(and not teaching) Torah; that is, it is discussing what topics one may
learn or may not learn. According to this Havah Amina, when the Mishnah
teaches that one may not look into four things (what is above, what is
below, etc.), it means that there are certain topics of information which
one may not learn. The information about those topics exists in the world,
but it is prohibited to study it. Hence, Rashi explains that information to
be the things which are above or below the world, or to the east or to the
west of the world.
According to the Gemara's conclusion, though, the Mishnah is discussing the
laws of *teaching* and not the laws of *learning*. The Mishnah is teaching
the topics which one may not even inquire about from one's teacher -- the
inquiry itself is prohibited, and not just the learning. By asking for
information about things outside of the realm of this world which have not
been revealed to man, a person shows a lack of honor to Hashem. According to
this understanding of the Mishnah, the Mishnah is saying that the
information about which may not inquire *does not* exist in the world; it is
not known at all, and thus it is prohibited to question about it, in
contrast to the Havah Amina of the Gemara, which understood that the
information does exist in the world but that it is not permitted to delve
According to this understanding, we can explain why Rashi on the Mishnah (DH
Arba'ah Devarim) writes, "[the four things] which are about to be
explained." What is the point of Rashi telling us that the Mishnah is about
to explain these four things, when all we have to do is read the next word
in the Mishnah and see it for ourselves? The answer is that Rashi is
alluding to the Havah Amina of the Gemara's understanding of the Mishnah.
The Gemara initially thought that the Mishnah was listing the topics of
information which exist in the world, but which may not be studied, and thus
Rashi says that the Mishnah is going to list those topics of information.
According to the Gemara's conclusion, though, the Mishnah is not listing any
known topics of information, but rather it is listing questions -- one may
not inquire into these four unknowns ("What is above?", "What is below?",
3) WHO WAS THE NASI AND WHO WAS THE AV BEIS DIN
QUESTION: Rebbi Meir and the Chachamim argue whether, generations earlier,
Yehudah ben Tabai was the Nasi and Shimon ben Shetach the Av Beis Din, or
vice versa. The Gemara cites a Beraisa as proof for the opinion that says th
at Yehudah ben Tabai was the Nasi. A certain case came before Yehudah ben
Tabai, who ruled that an "Ed Zomem" must be killed, and his ruling was
indeed carried out. Shimon ben Shetach pointed out to him his tragic
mistake -- that Edim Zomemim are only killed when *both* witnesses are
proven to be scheming, but not when only one of them was found to be an Ed
Zomem. Yehudah ben Tabai had so much remorse that he killed a single Ed
Zomem that he accepted upon himself never again to rule a Halachah except in
the presence of Shimon ben Shetach.
The Gemara says that from here we see that Yehudah ben Tabai must have been
the Nasi, with more authority than Shimon ben Shetach, for otherwise how was
he able to rule on his own, until now, without Shimon ben Shetach's consent?
It must be that Yehudah ben Tabai was the Nasi and Shimon ben Shetach the Av
The Gemara refutes this proof and says that it is possible that Yehudah ben
Tabai was only the Av Beis Din and had *less* authority that Shimon ben
Shetach. As such, he never ruled in the presence of Shimon ben Shetach even
before his oath. Rather, before the incident with the Ed Zomem, Yehudah ben
Tabai "joined others" in ruling without Shimon ben Shetach's consent, and
now he accepted upon himself never even "to join with others" to rule
without Shimon ben Shetach.
(a) The Gemara's refutation of the proof is problematic. First, what
difference did it make if Yehudah ben Tabai (as Av Beis Din) would join
others? He still was not entitled to rule in the presence of the Nasi,
Shimon ben Shetach, without permission! When the Gemara earlier said that if
he had less authority he could not rule without Shimon ben Shetach, it meant
that he could not even join a Beis Din to rule without Shimon ben Shetach.
What, then, is Yehudah ben Tabai gaining by accepting upon himself not to
join with others to rule without Shimon ben Shetach, if he could never rule
against him in the first place?
(a) There are several ways of understanding how Yehudah ben Tabai would have
judged before his Kabalah without Shimon ben Shetach and without joining
(b) Second, Rashi says that according to the Gemara's refutation of the
proof, when Yehudah ben Tabai killed the Ed Zomem, Shimon ben Shetach was
not present (i.e. in the city), because otherwise Yehudah ben Tabai would
not have been allowed to rule since he had less authority. Why, then, did
the Gemara not answer simply that his oath was that he would not rule when
Shimon ben Shetach was out of town, so that he would no longer commit such a
tragic error in ruling? By accepting that upon himself, he would correct the
mistake that he made by ruling while Shimon ben Shetach was out of town!
1. Even though Yehudah ben Tabai had less authority than Shimon ben Shetach
and could not rule without Shimon ben Shetach, before his Kabalah he would
have judged with *another* Nasi other than Shimon ben Shetach (in the event
that Shimon ben Shetach died or a new Nasi took his place). Alternatively,
he would have ruled whenever he receives Shimon ben Shetach's permission.
After the incident with the Ed Zomem, he accepted upon himself not to rule
without Shimon ben Shetach, meaning if there would arise a new Nasi he would
not pass any rulings with that Nasi; alternatively, he would not rule even
if he had permission from Shimon ben Shetach to rule without him.
(b) There are several ways of explaining why the Gemara does not say simply
that Yehudah ben Tabai accepted upon himself to judge only when Shimon ben
Shetach was in town.
2. TOSFOS explains that his Kabalah was that even when the Nasi is present,
Yehudah ben Tabai would not join the majority of Rabanan if their opinion
differs from that of the Nasi. Even when he judged in the presence of Shimon
ben Shetach, he accepted upon himself never to join a majority against
Shimon ben Shetach.
1. The NETZIV explains that it could not be that Yehudah ben Tabai accepted
upon himself not to judge when Shimon ben Shetach was out of town, because
it does not make sense that the Beis Din would be closed just because the
Nasi is out of town. (This answer is difficult to understand, because it
seems obvious that other arrangements would be made for the head of the Beis
Din was out of town, such as deferring to another judge. After all, what did
they do when Yehudah ben Tabai himself was out of town?)
2. The Gemara is saying a "Kol she'Ken:" not only did Yehudah ben Tabai
accept upon himself not to judge even when Shimon ben Shetach is not
present, but he *even* accepted upon himself that when Shimon ben Shetach is
present, that he would not join others (such as to join a majority against
Shimon ben Shetach, as in the previous answer).
This answer is difficult, because how did the Gemara know that he accepted
upon himself this additional oath not to join with others, when it would
have sufficed for the Gemara to say that he accepted not to rule when Shimon
ben Shetach was out of town, in order to refute the proof that Yehudah ben
Tabai was the Nasi?
Perhaps the Gemara understood that this was Yehudah ben Tabai's intention
because he said that "I will only judge with Shimon ben Shetach." If he
meant that he would not judge when Shimon ben Shetach was out of town, then
he should have said, "I will *not* judge *without* Shimon ben Shetach." By
saying that "I will only judge *with* Shimon ben Shetach," he implied that
even when Shimon ben Shetach is in town, he will only judge in Shimon ben
Shetach's presence. (M. Kornfeld)
3. The ME'IRI offers an entirely different approach to the Gemara's
refutation of the proof that Yehudah ben Tabai was a Nasi, and his approach
will answer both of our questions. The Gemara is not inferring from Yehudah
ben Tabai's words that he *used* to judge when Shimon ben Shetach was in
town. Rather, it infers from his words what he *accepted* to do; he accepted
to judge only when Shimon ben Shetach is present (in town), so that if he
makes a mistake Shimon ben Shetach will correct him. On that, the Gemara
asks that if Shimon ben Shetach is in town, Yehudah ben Tabai may not judge
at all, because it is not permitted to pass a ruling in front of one's
The Gemara answers that his Kabalah was that he would only judge if Shimon
ben Shetach is not only in town, but is also sitting on the court (in which
case it is permitted for the Talmid to pass a ruling). Apparently, the
Me'iri had the Girsa of the DIKDUKEI SOFRIM who adds a few words to the
Gemara, that Yehudah ben Tabai accepted upon himself that he "will not join
others [to judge] *except with Shimon ben Shetach*." That is, he would only
judge when joined by Shimon ben Shetach. His Kabalah was that he would not
convene a court when the Nasi is out of town. (Thus, the Gemara indeed uses
the answer that we suggested would be the best answer.)
(RASHI DH u'Mai Kibel clearly does not explain the Gemara this way, because
he says that the proof is from what Yehudah ben Tabai *used* to do before
his oath. However, the Dikdukei Sofrim points out that from the text of
Rashi in the Ein Yakov it appears that these words were not written by
Rashi, and thus Rashi might have indeed learned like the Me'iri.)