1) AGADAH: THE POSITION OF THE "KERUVIM"
QUESTION: Rebbi Yochanan and Rebbi Elazar disagree about how the Keruvim were situated atop the Aron ha'Kodesh. One says that they faced each other, and the other one says that they faced the walls, away from each other. The Gemara asks that according to the one who says that they faced each other, what does the verse mean when it says, "And their faces were to the house (i.e. the walls of the sanctuary)" (Divrei ha'Yamim II 3:13)? The Gemara answers that when the Jewish people fulfilled the will of Hash-m, the Keruvim faced each other. When the Jewish people did not fulfill the will of Hash-m, the Keruvim faced the walls.
The Gemara asks a similar question according to the opinion that the Keruvim faced the walls. The verse says, "And their faces were as a man to his brother" (Shemos 25:20), which clearly implies that they faced each other. The Gemara answers that according to the opinion that the Keruvim faced the walls, they did not face in opposite directions. Rather, they faced slightly away from each other, as though each one was turning to the side.
The NEFESH HA'CHAYIM (1:8) understands that that according to this opinion, the Keruvim in the Mishkan indeed faced each other, as the verse (Shemos 25:20) says. However, when Shlomo ha'Melech built the Beis ha'Mikdash, he positioned the Keruvim in a manner in which they appeared to face slightly away from each other. The RASHBAM (DH d'Metzaded) points out that according to this opinion, the position of the Keruvim was not an indication of the Jewish people's loyalty to Hash-m, because certainly Shlomo ha'Melech would not have situated them in a manner which implies the Jews' disloyalty. Nevertheless, the question remains: why did Shlomo ha'Melech position the Keruvim in such a manner? If the Keruvim are supposed to represent the relationship between Hash-m and the Jewish people (see Yoma 54a), why did he not build them so that they faced each other?
(a) The NEFESH HA'CHAYIM (1:8-9) explains that the relationship between Hash-m and the Jewish people in the desert differed from their relationship during the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash. In the desert, Hash-m constantly provided the Jewish people with all of their basic needs in a miraculous manner. He sent the Man, the well of Miriam, and the Ananei ha'Kavod. The Jewish people were expected to conduct themselves in the manner described by Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai in Berachos (34b) -- to totally commit themselves to learning Hash-m's Torah, and to rely on Hash-m to take care of their material needs. This was signified in the positioning of the Keruvim, which faced directly towards each other. The Jewish people were supposed to direct their attention and reliance directly to Hash-m at all times, and Hash-m would supply them with all of their needs.
In the times of Shlomo ha'Melech, when the Jewish people no longer received the Man or drank from the well of Miriam, Hash-m's relationship with them had changed. Most people were unable to commit all hours of the day exclusively to learning Torah; they had to use part of the day to work the fields and earn a livelihood. Since this system of "Derech Eretz" was the way Hash-m intended for most people to act (with the exception of the generation of the Midbar, and certain unique individuals throughout history), there was nothing wrong with portraying this in the positioning of the Keruvim. Hence, although the Jewish people still had to focus on having a relationship with Hash-m, they were not expected to be exclusively focused on that relationship at all times, as they had done in the Midbar. This was reflected in the way Shlomo ha'Melech positioned the Keruvim. They faced each other but looked slightly away to the side. This position symbolized the type of Avodas Hash-m required for that generation.
The Nefesh ha'Chayim asks that although it makes sense that the Keruv which represents the Jewish people should be positioned to look slightly away, why should the Keruv which represents Hash-m look slightly away? Hash-m's attention to the Jewish people is constant and absolute! The Nefesh ha'Chayim answers that the Keruv which represents Hash-m looked slightly away because the amount of blessing bestowed upon the world is commensurate to the level of Avodas Hash-m (particularly Torah learning) achieved by the Jewish people. Since the Jewish people were not able to focus exclusively on Avodas Hash-m in the same manner as their forebears in the Midbar, the amount of blessing which Hash-m would send them would be limited accordingly.
(b) The ANAF YOSEF asks a similar question. His answer is based on an entirely different way of understanding the Gemara. He prefaces his words by saying that there is a tradition that if the Jewish people will be worthy when the final redemption is destined to occur, Hash-m will return the exiles to the land first and only afterwards build the Beis ha'Mikdash. If the Jewish people are not worthy at that time, Hash-m will build the Beis ha'Mikdash first and only afterwards return the exiles to the land.
The Anaf Yosef says that this is the intention of the Gemara here. The Gemara is alluding to the order of events at the time of the final redemption when it describes the relationship between Hash-m and the Jewish people in terms of the positioning of the Keruvim. The opinion that the Keruvim faced each other represents the opinion that Hash-m first will reunite the Jewish people with their exiled brethren, and only afterwards will He rebuild the Beis ha'Mikdash. The opinion that the Keruvim faced the "house" maintains that Hash-m first will build the Beis ha'Mikdash (the "house").
The Gemara asks, according to the opinion that the ingathering of the exiles will occur first, what is the meaning of the verse in Divrei ha'Yamim, "And their faces were to the house"? The Gemara answers that the positioning of the Keruvim -- i.e. the order in which the events of the final redemption will transpire --depends on whether the Jewish people are doing the will of Hash-m at the time of the redemption. If the Jewish people are doing the will of Hash-m, the ingathering of the exiles will occur first. If they are not doing His will, the Beis ha'Mikdash will be built first.
The Gemara then asks, according to the opinion that the Beis ha'Mikdash will be built first, what is the meaning of the verse in Shemos, "And their faces were as a man to his brother"? The Gemara answers that the Keruvim faced each other but turned slightly to the side. This alludes to the fact that some people indeed will be returned from the exile first, before the Beis ha'Mikdash will be rebuilt. The rest of the exiles will be returned after the rebuilding of the Beis ha'Mikdash. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) A PUBLIC PATH THROUGH ONE'S FIELD
QUESTION: The Mishnah discusses a case in which the public has the right to use part of a person's field as a path. The RASHBAM (DH Mi she'Haisah) explains how the public obtained the right to the path: either the public always used the area as a path, or an owner of the field gave the public explicit permission to the public to use it as a path. However, the present owner now wants his field back. To that end, he designates a different area at the side of the field as a path for the public's use, and he takes back the land used as the path in the middle of his field. The Mishnah states that the public has the right to the new path, and the public still may use the old path as well.
The Gemara points out that if the public is considered the owner of the new path (as implied by the wording, "Mah she'Nasan Nasan"), then the owner's exchange apparently was effective. Accordingly, the owner should receive the old path back and the public should have no right to it. It must be that the reason why he does not receive the old path is not because the public still legally owns it, but because practically he cannot stop the public from using it (as is implied by the wording, "v'Shelo Lo Higi'o" -- "and his, he did not receive"). The Gemara asks that if this is the reason why the public may still use the old path, the owner should sit there with a stick and ward off anyone who tries to pass. Since the Mishnah does not allow him sit there and hit anyone who attempts to pass through his field on the former path, it must be that the Mishnah maintains that "a person may not enforce the law by himself, even when he will lose as a result" ("Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei Afilu b'Makom Peseida"). The Gemara answers that the Mishnah does not necessarily maintain "Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei." Rather, the Rabanan made a Gezeirah that the original path remain open for public usage, in order to thwart a fieldowner from giving the public an inconvenient path as an alternate route.
The CHIDUSHEI HA'RAN asks that the Gemara apparently could have asked the question in the opposite manner, based on the assumption that the exchange was not effective. The Mishnah says, "v'Shelo Lo Higi'o," which implies that the intended exchange was not effective, and that is why he does not acquire the rights to the old path. It must be that the reason why the fieldowner must allow the public to use the new path is that the Mishnah maintains that a person may not enforce the law by himself ("Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei"). Why does the Gemara assume that since the public obtains the right to the new path the exchange was effective, instead of assuming that since the public retains the right to the old path the exchange was not effective?
(a) The RAN quotes the RAMBAN who answers that if the exchange is not considered effective, once the fieldowner realizes his mistake he should be able to legally stop the public from using the new path, since they are not accustomed to using it yet.
(b) The RAN himself gives a different answer. The rule of "Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei" states only that one may not enter another person's domain in order to take what rightfully belongs to him, and that one may not forcibly take an object from another person (which that person used to own) even though he is the new owner of the object. However, if a person attempts to trespass on one's property, the owner is allowed to stop the trespasser, even according to the opinion that "Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei."
Accordingly, the Gemara could not have asked the question on the basis of the assumption that the exchange was not effective, and that the fieldowner was trying to guard the new path he had designated for public use. Even according to the opinion that "Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei," the fieldowner would be permitted to block the new path, since anyone who uses that path is considered a trespasser. The Gemara therefore assumed that the exchange was effective, and the fieldowner was not allowed to block the old path. Based on this assumption, the Gemara asks that the Mishnah must follow the opinion of "Lo Avid Inish Dina l'Nafshei." (Y. MONTROSE)