Discussions for this daf
1. The Satan and Mal'ach ha'Maves 2. Mal'ach ha'Maves 3. Wall of the Bor
4. Sid
DAF DISCUSSIONS - BAVA BASRA 17

Randy Lazarus asked:

the gemara says the Avos were unaffected by the Malach Ha Maveis.

Why did this level of protection not extend to the Imahos (cf: Sarah's death by being tricked by the Malach ha Maveis)

Furthermore, we know that Avrahom and Yitzchak were both confronted by a raging river on the way to the Akeidah - and this WAS a test for them. It seems that the Satan did have some power. And we learn that the Satan and the Yetzer ha Ra and the Malach Ha Maveis are the same.

How do we resolve these?

Randy Lazarus, baltimore, md

Rav Joseph Pearlman:

See the response that I wrote to the question on Kesuvos 77b regarding the Mal'ach ha'Maves, which is very relevant here, too. (Copied below)

The Gemara here in Bava Basra includes Miriam among those who were not affected by the Mal'ach ha'Maves, and thus it is clear that lists are also including females. As to why the Imahos are not included, you could ask equally about the twelve sons of Yakov, in particular Binyamin, who never sinned, or about Amram, Yishai, Kil'av, who also never sinned.

Obviously, however, the statements in the Gemaras need a much deeper level of understanding. How can we possible fully appreciate the nuances of meaning of "three tasted a bit of Olam ha'Ba," "three were unaffected by the Yetzer ha'Ra" (See TOSFOS DH Sheloshah Lo Shalat, who asks that this is an impossibility), "six were unaffected by the Angel of Death" "seven were unaffected by worms," "four died by the bite of the snake" and so on?

These are not "levels of protection" as you refer to them, rather they are the result of the levels of spirituality to which these elevated souls managed to reach, so that figuratively they are described as being beyond the reach of these divine agencies. In this context, each of the expressions used describes a slightly different level of achievement, each one of them way beyond our mundane grasp.

In Berachos (8a) we are taught that there are 903 forms of death. The worst is "Askarah" (diphtheria) and the most pleasant is "Neshikah" (which Rashi in Bava Basra 17a says is death by the direct agency of Hash-m without the intervention of the Mal'ach ha'Maves). (See ETZ YOSEF to the Midrash Tanchuma, end of Parshas va'Eschanan, who writes in the name of Rabeinu Bachye that "the word 'Neshikah' refers to the clinging of the devoted to the devotee, and through that the soul separates from this world without experiencing the feeling of death, and without being a result of the power of the divine agent of destruction, which is the Mal'ach ha'Maves. There is Tum'ah of death only when one dies at the hands of the Mal'ach ha'Maves, but one whose death is through Neshikah dies at the hands of the Shechinah and his body is Tahor and his soul is Tahor.")

Why these particular people were chosen and singled out by the Gemara, I cannot answer. They were obviously extremely great and undoubtedly there is some deeper explanation.

There are, however, some mysteries of life which are insoluble, such as long/short life, healthy or sick, etc. (See also RABEINU BACHYE to Devarim 34:5, regarding why Chanoch and Eliyahu did not die but Moshe did.)

As to your second point, the Satan is obviously just another anthropomorphism. The whole concept of "l'Arvev Es ha'Satan" on Rosh Hashanah is metaphorical. Is he really confused by a Shofar? Did he not realize he was tricked last year and the year before and the year before that? Do the six verses with the initials, "Kera Satan" really destroy him? Do the "Teki'os d'Meyushav" really confuse him by catching him off guard? I dealt with this and various other question in "HaMeir" for Rosh Hashanah 5759 (#401) which hopefully will be a a chapter in the new book when it eventual gets published (the latest estimate is now Chanukah (I hope they mean Chanukah of 5763!)). Here is what I wrote in answer to this:

"It is obvious that the Satan with which we are dealing is not some external angel appointed by Hash-m at Creation. It is the Satan within each of us. It is our own Yetzer ha'Ra which is as wily as can be. It changes its tactics... new and fresh every year to deflect us from our task. The reference to its destruction and constant attempt to confuse it are merely aids to create an awareness in our consciousness of the awesomeness of the day spent in the Divine presence. We realize that we must remain one step ahead of our personal internal Satan by maintaining the respect of Hash-m who is visiting us temporarily, so to speak, and thereby perfecting our thoughts, plans, and resolutions for the year's activities ahead of us."

As to the raging river in the way to the Akeidah, this is probably also metaphorical. I do not have it here with me, but I believe that the ArtScroll Overview on Tashlich deals with this very well, if I am not mistaken, and thus I refer you to that work.

I also dealt with the custom of Tashlich in that issue of "HaMeir" and why the Rema puts it in OC 583:2, with the Simanim of Rosh Hashanah, which is apparently the wrong place, since it should have been placed in OC 596 (where the Levush, Eliyahu Rabah, and Mateh Efraim put it) or in OC 598 dealing with Minchah of Rosh Hashanah.

In brief, the answer is that Tashlich is not simply to reenact the Akeidah or to dump our sins in the river, but to bring home to us an awareness of the awesome nature of the day, so that we are alerted to the necessity for us to overcome our own personal Yetzer ha'Ra, Satan, lethargy, bad Midos, etc.

The Mal'ach ha'Maves is the extension and ultimate consequence resulting from these latter elements. A true Tzadik such as one of the Avos overcomes his Yetzer ha'Ra, Satan, bad Midos, etc., and therefore spiritually wards off the ultimate Mal'ach ha'Maves, as did Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi in Kesuvos (77b) as we explained there.

Yet Rebbi Yehoshua ben Levi is not mentioned in Bava Basra (17a) as one of those over whom the Mal'ach ha'Maves had no dominion. So clearly there is something deeper going on. Perhaps the Ba'alei Kabalah can help!

Kol Tuv,

Joseph Pearlman

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Kesuvos 077b: RYBL and the Mal'ach Hamaves

Ralph Fagelston asked:

I am very puzzled by the Aggatata on this page. the text and the general thread are relatively simple, but I can't help thinking that ther is some deep underlying lesson to be learnt from these descriptions of 'brain surgery',mastery over the Malach hamoves etc.

My questions are:

(a) What are we to learn from all the above

(b) To what extent may (must?) we believe that these are "Ma'ssim Shehayu"

The mentor of our group of talmidim, was a little put out by these questions -a bit "Apikorkeshka" maybe; we look forward to your answers!

Ralph Fagelston, Netanya, Israel

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Rabbi Joseph Pearlman replies:

I believe you once kept up with my "HaMeir" publications; if you still have them you are referred to vol. 4 no. 26 (Emor 5745), where the subject of interpretation of Agadot is discussed. I attach copies of pages 5, 6 and 7 of that volume of HaMeir and refer you to the sections marked "O" to "Q" there, which include selected quotations from the English translation of Maharatzs Chayes's "Mevo ha'Talmud," from which you should find a fairly complete answer to your second question (b).

I also refer you to the Ma'amar Al Odos Derashos Chazal of Rav Avraham ben ha'Rambam, published in the introductory pages of the standard edition of the Ein Yakov.

In the light of the foregoing, you should not have much trouble with the specific Agadah in Kesuvos 77b, and your first question (a). Clearly, that Agadah is intended to show the greatness of RYBL resulting from his Torah supremacy, but even more so from his self-sacrificing and amazingly altruistic Midas ha'Chesed. As Toldos Tana'im ve'Amora'im, (Heiman) writes of this Agadah (vol II p. 645, translated from the Hebrew), "Although without a doubt Chazal spoke in metaphors, nevertheless we can see [from this story] the greatness of RYBL in the eyes of his peers, who saw with their own eyes how holy and nonphysical RYBL had become, until they said of him that he entered the Garden of Eden while living."

The knife of the Angel of Death is obviously not a physical weapon but a spiritual force, used to draw out the human being's last breath of life in this world. RYBL's achievements and Madregah in this physical world extended way beyond it into the spiritual realms, whereby he was attributed with control over these higher forces. So when the time comes for his departure from the world, it was as if he made a voluntary exit transcending the powers of the Mal'ach ha'Maves, whose efforts to do his normal job were thwarted by RYBL's own majestic overriding merit. The Gemara then continues that his was only a temporary suspension for his particular case, but not for anyone else - "A heavenly voice rang out and said, 'Give back the sword; it is needed for the rest of the world!'"

The whole of this Agadah is dealt with at length in the Peirush of the Maharal l'Agados ha'Shas, but in essence it is just an amplification of the above. He is at pains to point out that there was nothing physical taking place: no knife, no speech, no tugging at garments etc. In his words (loosely translated):

"When the Gemara says 'He went and showed him the Garden of Eden,' do not think that this is referring to a physical seeing. The same applies to the entire dialogue recorded here; none of it is physical. When the Gemara says 'He showed him,' it means only that Hash-m drew him close to [understanding] the force known as "Mal'ach ha'Maves." Similarly, the term "He [the Mal'ach ha'Maves] said" is not referring to physical speech, but rather it is comparable to the Agados that attribute speech to the moon and other non-physical beings."

The Maharal adds, "When RYBL tells the Mal'ach 'Give me your sword ,' he is referring to the active force of the destructive power known as 'Mal'ach ha'Maves.' This force is dubbed 'a sword,' for a sword exists solely to cut and destroy, just like the destructive force of the Mal'ach ha'Maves. The Tzadik has it in his ability to counteract this destructive force...."

The Maharal continues to develop this theme at length; have a look at his comments in their entirety.

Best wishes and regards,

Rabbi Joseph Pearlman