1) AGADAH: WOE, THE CURSES OF FLESH AND BLOOD!
QUESTIONS: Rebbi Levi (88b-89a) contrasts the ways of man to the ways of Hash-m: When Hash-m blessed the Jewish people (Vayikra 26:3-13), He blessed them with twenty-two letters, from Alef to Tav (i.e. the blessings began with the letter Alef and ended with the letter Tav), and He cursed them with only eight (Vayikra 26:8-43), from Vav to Mem. Moshe Rabeinu, on the other hand, blessed them with eight letters (Devarim 28:1-14) and cursed them with twenty-two (Devarim 28:15-68).
There are a number of difficulties with this Gemara.
(a) Why would Moshe Rabeinu want to curse the Jewish people? Is it not clear that he loved them, and he was prepared to give up his life for them on many occasions?
Moreover, the curses he delivered were not his own. Moshe Rabeinu was only a Shali'ach for the Shechinah; his words came only from Hash-m!
(b) What is the significance of Hash-m's curses with "eight letters," and why, specifically, were the eight letters from Vav to Nun chosen to be used?
When Moshe Rabeinu "cursed them with twenty-two letters," why did he not start from Alef and proceed to Tav, like the blessings of Parshas Bechukosai? Why did he start from Vav and return to Heh?
(a) Moshe Rabeinu's intention was to clarify the purpose of the rebuke of Parshas Bechukosai. He "blessed with eight letters" in order to point out that these blessings were the result of the curses that incorporated those letters in Bechukosai. That is, the purpose of the Tochechah was not to punish the Jewish people, but rather to turn them in the proper direction. (See Berachos 5a: "Just as salt sweetens the meat, so, too, the afflictions described in the Tochechah cleanse a person's sins," and Chagigah 9b: "Poverty is as fitting for Yisrael as red reins for a white horse.")
It is for the same reason that Moshe Rabeinu said the Tochechah "from Vav to Heh," and not from Alef to Tav. The MAHARSHA cites a Midrash (Vayikra Rabah 35:1) which explains that the curses in Parshas Ki Savo work backwards, from Vav to Heh, in order to show that they will be "reversed" and made into blessings when the Jewish people [repent and] follow the Torah. Moshe Rabeinu was pointing out that the curses were not an end in their own right, but a means to bringing about blessing by causing the Jewish people to repent (see Maharsha).
What, then, does the Gemara mean when it says that we see from the Tochechah that "the ways of man cannot compare to the ways of Hash-m"?
A set of verses that span from Alef to Tav alludes to the fact that these verses describe a natural process, a process that progresses in an anticipated fashion and is built into the structure of the world. As the MESHECH CHOCHMAH writes (beginning of Bechukosai), this is the reason why the verses of "Ashrei" (Tehilim 155) progress according to the Alef Beis; the Psalm illustrates that Hash-m built into the nature of the world that the needs of each and every creature are provided for in a natural way ("Pose'ach Es Yadecha...," see Berachos 4b).
Likewise, the blessings of Bechukosai progress from Alef to Tav in order to show that Hash-m built into the world the mechanism that those who perform the will of Hash-m will be blessed with plenty. This is the way the world should naturally operate.
Moshe Rabeinu, however, realized that mankind has a tendency not to live up to Hash-m's expectations. Adam ha'Rishon ate from the Etz ha'Da'as; the Jewish people sinned with the Egel ha'Zahav after they received the Torah. Moshe Rabeinu saw that the Jewish people would attain their ultimate goal only after they would suffer the afflictions of "Vav to Mem." That is why his blessings were given in the format of Vav to Mem and his curses from Vav to Heh, as explained above. In this sense, the expectations of man do not live up to those of his Creator. This is the lesson learned from the Gemara's comparison of the blessings of Moshe to those of Hash-m.
(b) The MAHARSHA points out that the letters between Vav and Mem are those that separate between Heh and Nun, the only two letters that "have no pair." (Alef, the value of which is 1, can be paired with Tes, which equals 9, to make a full 10; Beis, 2, can be paired with Ches, 8, to make a full 10, etc.; Yud, 10, can be paired with Tzadi, 90, to make a full 100, etc. However, there is no different letter that can be combined with Heh, 5, to make 10, or with Nun, 50, to make 100.)
This theme may be developed further by suggesting that these two unique letters, Heh and Nun, represent Hash-m and Yisrael, the two "unique ones" (Berachos 6a). Heh represents Hash-m, as the Gemara says in Shabbos (104a), while Nun stands for "Ne'eman," or "the man of faith" (ibid.). (Nun might also allude to the 50 "gates of wisdom" that Hash-m opens to the faithful (as in Rosh Hashanah 21b), and to the value, or "Erech," that the Torah ascribes to an adult Jewish male, in Vayikra 27:3.) As the Midrash says, a Jew has no other "partner"; Hash-m is his partner (Yalkut Shir ha'Shirim #985; see also Bereishis Rabah 11:18: "Yisrael has no partner; Shabbos is the partner of Yisrael").
When the Jew cleaves to his Creator, the Heh and Nun come together, forming the word "Hen," as in the verse, "Hen Yir'as Hash-m Hi Chochmah" -- "Behold, fear of G-d is the only true wisdom" (Iyov 28:28). It is when the other eight letters, from the Vav to the Mem (which may correspond to the eight Sheratzim that spread Tum'ah by distancing a person from Hash-m; see Insights to Eruvin 13:3), come between Heh and Nun and separate them from each other that the Tochechah comes into effect. That is why the Tochechah was given "from Vav to Mem," measure for measure.
When Moshe Rabeinu reversed the usage of the letters for the Tochechah, he again started from Vav. However he did not stop at Mem and separate the Heh from the Nun. He went on until he returned to Heh, symbolizing that the purpose of the Tochechah is to bring the Jewish people back to Hash-m. The Vav then joins with the letter Heh to make it a letter of Hash-m's name (as in Shabbos 104a).
According to the Yerushalmi (cited by TOSFOS to Rosh Hashanah 18a), although the verses state that during the period of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, Yerushalayim was conquered on the ninth of Tamuz (Yirmeyahu 39:2), in truth it was only conquered on the seventeenth of the month (as in the times of the second Beis ha'Mikdash). Hash-m caused the prophet to "confuse the calculations" and had him write that it occurred on the wrong date.
Perhaps the eight-day miscalculation was meant to show that the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash was brought about by the "eight letters" that the Jewish people allowed to separate between the Heh and the Nun through their sins, bringing about the Tochechah. (M. KORNFELD)
2) TIPPING THE SCALES BY A "TEFACH"
QUESTION: According to the Beraisa, the goldsmith's scale needs to be held only three Etzba'os off of the ground when weighing merchandise.
However, the Mishnah (88b) teaches that when one weighs merchandise to sell, he must allow the scales to tilt a Tefach in favor of the buyer. If the scale is held only three Etzba'os off the ground, how can it be tipped a Tefach, which is four Etzba'os? (RASHBAM)
(a) The RASHBAM (DH Shalosh) explains that it is not necessary to tip the scale an entire Tefach unless one is selling food products. When one is selling gold or silver, it suffices to tilt the scale even a small amount. (The Rashbam does not specify exactly how much the scale must be tipped.)
(b) The PNEI SHLOMO suggests that even when the scale is held three Etzba'os above the ground, the scales still can be tipped a Tefach, or four Etzba'os. When one side of the scale is raised two Etzba'os, the other sinks two Etzba'os, making a total separation of four Etzba'os, or a Tefach, between the two pans hanging from the two ends of the rod.
Apparently, the Rashbam, who does not accept this explanation, understands that "tipping a Tefach" means that each side of the scale must be tipped an entire Tefach from its level state.