THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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1) A SURE SIGN
AGADAH: The Gemara gives signs by which to recognize various Halachic
entities: "A sign of mountains is 'Milin' trees; a sign of valleys is palm
trees; a sign of rivers is reeds; a sign of lowlands is 'Shikmah' trees."
2) REEDS IN THE "NACHAL"
The CHASAM SOFER sees in this strange list a series of metaphors advising us
about proper social conduct:
"A sign of mountains is 'Milin' trees" - Mountains is a metaphor for the
arrogant and evil, while "Milin" can mean 'words.' An arrogant person can
usually be recognized by his speech -- he talks too much and is not careful
about what he says (as in Avos 1:17)
"A sign of valleys is palm trees" - Valleys refer to the humble. The humble
produce sweet fruit, like a palm tree -- "Tzadik ka'Tamar Yifrach."
"A sign of rivers is reeds" - Rivers are a metaphor for Torah study (as in
Berachos 16a, "k'Nechalim Nitayu..."). Reeds are a metaphor for wisdom (as
in Berachos 56b, "One who sees a reed in his dream should expect to become
wise"). Those who study in the halls of Torah attain true wisdom.
"A sign of lowlands ('Shefeilah') is 'Shikmah' trees" - The word "Shafel"
also is used to refer to laziness (as in the beginning of this Perek, 50b).
The lazy person will be like the Shikmah tree, which as Rashi tells us does
not produce any fruit (or metaphorically, productive deeds, as in Sotah
OPINIONS: Our Sugya offers us a way to be sure that an area qualifies for a
"Nachal Eisan" (in which a young calf is beheaded to atone for the murder of
an intercity traveler) -- just look for reeds. What exactly is the
translation of "Nachal Eisan," and where should one expect to find its
The Gemara in Sotah (46b) tells us what "Eisan" means: "Eisan means strong
('Kasheh'), as in the verse 'Eisan Moshavecha...' (Bamidbar 24)" However,
the meaning of Nachal is not as clear:
(a) The RAMBAM (Hil. Rotze'ach 9:2) explains that a Nachal Eisan is a strong
and swiftly flowing *river*. This is consistent with our Gemara's statement
that a Nachal is a place where reeds grow; reeds grow along rivers, as is
clear from experience as well as from many Gemaras (and even verses in the
Torah, such as the one describing the "Suf" [=reeds] into which Miriam put
her little brother, Shemos 2, see also Melachim I:14). This is also
consistent with the verse in Tehilim (74:15, see also Shemos 11:7, "the sea
returned l'Eisano") which describes swift rivers as "Neharos Eisan," and
with the verse at the end of the section discussing Eglah Arufah which
requires that the elders "wash their hands in the Nachal" (Devarim 21:6).
(b) However, most Rishonim offer a different interpretation for Nachal
Eisan. From the RASHI, RAMBAN and RABEINU BACHYE on the Torah at the end of
Shoftim (MAHARIK #158), as well as the RASH and ROSH in Pe'ah (2:1) and the
RASHBAM in Bava Basra 55 (TOSFOS REBBI AKIVA EIGER, Pe'ah ibid.), it is
clear that Nachal Eisan means a hard, unplowed *valley*. A source for this
interpretation may be found in the Gemara in Sotah, which cites "Eisan
Moshavecha v'Sim *ba'Sela* Kinecha" as a source for the meaning of Eisan,
implying that Eisan can mean tough soil, and in the requirement of the Torah
that the Nachal not be used (in the future, and according to one opinion in
Sotah 46b in the past as well) to "work and plant." How can one even
consider planting a river? Nevertheless it is difficult to resolve with our
Gemara, which defines Nachal Eisan as a place where reeds are abundant
(Rebbi Akiva Eiger, ibid.)
The CHACHAM TZVI (#32) cites Rashi (Yeshayah 19:6), whose words offer a
possible answer to this question. When rivers (wadis?) dry out, Rashi
explains, their reeds dry up and crack, filling the waterless valley with
broken, parched reeds. If so, both the Rambam and the other commentaries may
understand Nachal to be a riverbed; according to the Rambam it is a riverbed
streaming with water, while according to the others it is a dried riverbed,
which can be recognized by its dried out reeds.
(c) The RADAK (Sefer ha'Sharoshim, Alef Yud Tav, also cited in Rabeinu
Bachye end of Shoftim) cites his father's original interpretation of the
verse as "a *productive plot of land*." In order to prompt people to protect
passersby that pass through their land, the Torah requires that when a man
is found dead between cities, we confiscate a nearby plot of productive land
by performing in it Arifas ha'Eglah, and prohibiting it for future use
(Devarim 21:4). This certainly has nothing to do with reeds; how does the
Radak understand our Gemara?
As is clear from the words of the Radak (and Rabeinu Bachye, who cites them)
his interpretation was suggested only according to the opinion of the Amora
in Sotah 46b that explains one may not plant the field in which the Eglah
was beheaded *after* it has been beheaded. Another Amora argues, asserting
that we must be careful to choose a plot of land which never *was* planted
in the past (in addition to the prohibition of not planting in it in the
*future*). Our Gemara, then, may follow the opinion of the second Amora,
who requires land that never was planted in the past. That Amora certainly
agrees to explanation (b) above.