1) AGADAH: REBBI MEIR'S PARABLES
OPINIONS: Rebbi Yochanan (end of 38b) says that Rebbi Meir taught three hundred parables involving foxes, and we have only three of them. These three parables are based on three verses: "Fathers will eat unripe grapes and the teeth of the sons will be blunted" Yechezkel (18:2); "Just balances, just weights, [a just Efah, and a just Hin, shall you have; I am Hash-m your G-d, Who brought you out of the land of Mitzrayim]" (Vayikra 19:36); "The righteous one is removed from trouble, and the wicked one comes in his place" (Mishlei 11:8).
What, though, are the three parables?
(a) RASHI explains that the three parables involve a fox who tricked a wolf. The fox told the wolf to enter the courtyard of a Jewish home and help the Jews prepare for Shabbos, and in return they would let him join them for the Shabbos meals. The wolf was persuaded and he entered the courtyard to help the Jews prepare for Shabbos. However, upon seeing the wolf, the Jews immediately beat him and chased him away with sticks. The wolf wanted to kill the fox, but the fox told the wolf, "They have nothing against you. Rather, they hit you because of what your father did. He once helped the Jews prepare a meal, but he ate all of the fine meat himself." When the wolf commented how it was unfair that he should be punished for the deeds of his father, the fox quoted the verse, "Fathers will eat unripe grapes and the teeth of the sons will be blunted," which means that sons must suffer for the sins of their fathers.
The fox then advised the wolf to come with him to a place that has lots of food to eat. The fox took him to a well. Extended across the top of the well was a wooden rod with two buckets attached to opposite ends of a rope that was wrapped around the wood. The fox jumped into one of the buckets and descended down into the well, as the other bucket rose to the top. The wolf asked the fox, "Why did you go into the well?"
The fox replied, "There is meat and cheese to eat," and he showed him in the water the reflection of the moon, telling him that it was actually a piece of cheese. "How can I come down?" asked the wolf. The fox told him to jump into the other bucket. The wolf followed the advice of the fox, and his heavy weight caused him to descend into the well while it caused the other bucket in which the fox was sitting to rise. At the top of the well, the fox jumped out of the bucket. "How can I get back up?" asked the wolf. The fox replied with the verse in Mishlei, "The righteous one is removed from trouble, and the wicked one comes in his place!" The fox added, "Does it not say, 'Just balances, just weights?'"
The MAHARSHA asks that according to Rashi, there are only two parables, and not three, but the Gemara mentions three parables.
Also, what is the point of the wolf's quotation of the verse about "just balances"?
The Maharsha writes that he heard an explanation according to which there was more to the story.
How could the fox risk his life and jump into the well with no way of getting out, other than by relying on the wolf's foolishness to jump into the second bucket? What would the fox have done had the wolf not followed him into the well by jumping into the second bucket? Moreover, when the fox showed the "cheese" in the well to the wolf, what would the fox have done had the wolf asked to see the meat as well?
The answer is that the sly fox had already taken care of all of these problems. The fox had placed a stone weighing more than himself in the other bucket. In order to counter the weight of that stone and descend into the well, the fox took another stone with him in his bucket. The weight of that stone, combined with his own weight, enabled him to descend into the well. At the bottom of the well, he pretended that he had a piece of meat in his hand (which was really the stone that he took with him). If the wolf would not believe him that there was food at the bottom of the well, then he simply would have thrown his stone away, causing himself to be lifted back up to the top of the well by the weight of the stone in the other bucket.
What is the moral of these parables? The Maharsha explains that a wolf who wants merely to fulfill his desires is compared to a Rasha, while the smart fox is compared to a Tzadik. When the wolf went to help the Jews prepare for Shabbos, he did so only for his own pleasure (to be able to share the meals). This alludes to a Rasha who pretends that he wants to do a Mitzvah and prepare for Olam ha'Ba, when in reality he just wants to fulfill his desires, as his Rasha father had done (like the wolf's father). The Jews chased away this idea with force, showing that this is not a proper attitude.
After having done the good deeds and received reward in this world for them, the Rasha then seeks to kill the righteous, as the wolf wanted to kill the fox. The Tzadik placates him by explaining that, indeed, the pleasures of this world are for him just as they were for his father. This is symbolized by the unripe grapes eaten by his father, indicating the incomplete pleasure of this world. This is further symbolized by the cheese which was actually the moon. The moon, the brightness of which is fully visible only during the dark of night, symbolizes the dark and fleeting pleasures of this world. The Tzadik temporarily ventures into this world with a stone, which symbolizes the Yetzer ha'Ra, only to eventually discard it and ride to Olam ha'Ba on his merits for overcoming the temptation for worldly pleasures. The other bucket contains the wolf, the Rasha, and the stone, the Yetzer ha'Ra, which helps sink him.
The BEN YEHOYADA explains the first parable in a different context. He says that if Adam ha'Rishon would have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge *after* Shabbos started and with the right intentions, he would have done a tremendous deed. By eating before the fruit was "ripe" and ready to be eaten, he brought upon himself and his descendants the curse of difficulty in obtaining food. The wolf was trying to get his food easily before Shabbos, which is compared to this world. He was driven away as his father was, alluding to Adam ha'Rishon who ate the unripe fruit and thereby caused his descendants to have to endure great difficulty (symbolized by being chased with sticks) in obtaining their food.
(b) A different parable is cited in various Teshuvos of the GE'ONIM. After being attacked by a lion, the fox exclaimed that he could show the lion a large human to eat in his stead. The fox lead him to a man who was in the middle of his prayers. Immediately in front of the man was a pit that was covered over and not visible. The lion said to the fox, "I am afraid of his prayers!" The fox persuaded the lion that the man's prayers would harm neither him nor his son, but they would affect only the lion's grandson many years later.
Persuaded by the fox and by his own hunger, the lion leaped towards the man and fell right into the pit. The fox looked down at the lion. The lion said, "You told me that only my grandson would get in trouble for my deed!"
The fox replied, "But your grandfather also sinned."
At that point the lion declared, "Fathers will eat unripe grapes and the teeth of the sons will be blunted" (implying that it is unfair that the sons should suffer the consequences of the fathers' actions)."
The fox said back to the lion, "Why did you not think of that logic before you sinned?" (Y. MONTROSE)
2) OVADYAH BECOMES A PROPHET
QUESTION: Rebbi Yitzchak asks why Ovadyah merited prophecy. He answers that it was a reward for hiding one hundred prophets in a cave when Izevel sought to kill all of the prophets.
Why does the Gemara ask why Ovadyah merited prophecy? This is not a question normally asked about prophets. In those times, if someone prepared himself to attain a high spiritual level, he could reach the level of prophecy. Why does the Gemara assume that there was something that should have prevented Ovadyah from becoming a prophet?
(a) RASHI addresses this question by explaining that Ovadyah was a convert. Hash-m said to Avraham, "I will uphold My covenant... to be a G-d for you and for your offspring after you" (Bereishis 17:7). The Gemara in Yevamos (42a) derives from this verse that the Shechinah rests only on a person from a family of Jewish lineage, and not on a Ger. Therefore, the Gemara here wonders how Ovadyah, a Ger from Edom, could have merited to have the Shechinah rest upon him and be a prophet.
The MAHARSHA questions Rashi's explanation. Rebbi Yitzchak makes no indication that he is asking his question on the basis of the assumption that Ovadyah was a convert. The Maharsha supports this assertion from the Gemara later which asks why Ovadyah was sent to Edom to prophesy. While Rebbi Meir explains that it was appropriate since Ovadyah himself was from Edom, Rebbi Yitzchak gives an entirely different reason. This implies that Rebbi Yitzchak does *not* maintain that Ovadyah was an Edomite convert, for otherwise he would not give a different reason than that of Rebbi Meir.
The Maharsha answers that perhaps it was an accepted tradition passed down from teacher to student that Ovadyah was indeed a convert.
(b) The ARUCH LA'NER offers a different explanation of the question. Ovadyah was obviously not someone who had prepared himself from youth for prophecy. This is evident from the fact that Izevel let him live and did not pursue him. Hence, his achievement of prophecy without extensive preparation must have been through a great merit, and thus the Gemara is asking what that merit was.
(c) Alternatively, the Aruch la'Ner explains that the question is based on the words of the Midrash Tanchuma. The Midrash states that "the wife of one of the sons of the Nevi'im" who told Elisha that her husband died was the wife of Ovadyah. In no other place is a prophet referred to as a student ("sons of the Nevi'im") even after his death. How did Ovadyah merit prophecy even while he was considered only a student? That is the Gemara's question. (Y. MONTROSE)