1) AGADAH: LETTING PEOPLE MISTAKENLY BELIEVE IN "AVODAH ZARAH"
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that during certain times, when the world needed rain, a certain Avodah Zarah would appear to his followers in a dream and tell them, "Slaughter a person for me and then there will be rain." They would slaughter that person, and rain would fall. Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav said that this is the meaning of the verse, "[Lest you lift up your eyes towards the heavens and you see the sun, and the moon, and the stars, all of the heavenly legion, and you go wayward and bow to them and worship them,] which Hash-m, your G-d, has apportioned (Chalak) to all of the nations" (Devarim 4:19). Rav explains that the word "Chalak" means "He made them slip"; Hash-m gave to people who want to follow Avodah Zarah the opportunity to believe in it by providing them reasons to slip into that belief.
How exactly does Hash-m "make them slip"?
(a) TOSFOS earlier (27b, DH Shani Minus) explains that this means that Hash-m gave to Shedim ("demons," or forces that inflict harm) the ability to perform acts in this world which cause people to believe in Avodah Zarah. Tosfos says that the specific incident mentioned in the Gemara here was one such act perpetuated by Shedim.
(b) RABEINU CHANANEL, who does not mention Shedim, implies that Hash-m sent rain in order to give them the opportunity to believe in Avodah Zarah.
(c) The AVODAH BERURAH quotes the MAHARAL who says that Hash-m does not actually change anything in the natural order of the world in order to cause idolaters to err. Rather, He merely allows them to slip without stopping them, similar to a person who sees an obstacle in someone else's path and does not warn him. The YA'AVETZ here similarly explains that when Rav says "she'Hechelikan bi'Devarim" -- "He caused them to [have the opportunity to] slip (err) with words," this means that He lets them have a dream with words of Avodah Zarah. However, He does not make it rain in order to mislead them. It rains only because it was decreed that it should rain for other reasons, not to mislead idolaters. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) A "NACHTOM" AND A "PALTAR"
OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that a person may not knead or form bread with a Nachtom (baker) who is making his dough when he is Tamei. This Tana maintains that causing Tum'ah to Chulin in Eretz Yisrael is forbidden. Therefore, no one may help the baker make the bread because he thereby assists the efforts of a transgressor ("Mesayei'a Yedei Ovrei Aveirah"). However, one is permitted to help the baker bringing his bread to a Paltar (a wholesale bread dealer).
Why is a person allowed to help a Nachtom bring his bread to a Paltar? Why does this not constitute assisting the efforts of a transgressor?
(a) RASHI (DH l'Paltar) explains that the Nachtom is the one who forms the bread, and the Paltar is the one who bakes the bread. Rashi understands that the Tana maintains that only helping with the actual forming of the dough is forbidden, because one thereby helps the baker make the Chulin Tamei. However, once the bread is formed, one may help the baker bring the dough to where it will be baked.
The LECHEM SESARIM gives a logical support for Rashi's explanation. Had the Tana of Mishnah maintained that one may not help the Nachtom bake the bread, the Mishnah would have added the words, "v'Lo Ofin" -- "and not bake." The omission of these words implies that when the Mishnah says that one may take the bread to a Paltar, it means to take the bread to be baked.
(b) TOSFOS (DH Aval) disagrees with Rashi's explanation. He argues that if one is permitted to help bring the formed dough to the oven, then the Mishnah should say that one may bring the bread "to an oven (Tanur)," and not "to a Paltar." Tosfos quotes the Tosefta which states explicitly that one is not allowed to help the Nachtom by bringing formed dough to the oven for baking.
Tosfos explains that the baking is considered the "end of the kneading" of the bread, and therefore one is forbidden to help someone cause Tum'ah to Chulin in Eretz Yisrael by kneading dough and bringing the dough to the oven. He therefore explains that a Paltar is a "small Nachtom." The Mishnah is teaching that a person may bring bread which is already baked to the Paltar, who then sells the bread to his customers. Tosfos proves his definition of "Nachtom" and "Paltar" from the Gemara in Bava Metzia (56a), which says that "a Nachtom buys from one person, and a Paltar from two or three." Tosfos apparently understands the Gemara in Bava Metzia as the ROSH there explains. The Rosh explains that a Nachtom buys his grain or flour from one person, while a Paltar offers customers baked goods from different bakers which are not baked by the Paltar himself.
This is also the opinion of the RAN, although the Ran's objection to Rashi's explanation seems difficult to understand. The Ran writes that it is not logical to explain that the Mishnah refers to bringing dough to a Paltar, according to Rashi's explanation that a Paltar is a baker. If a Paltar is a baker, he makes his own dough and bakes his own bread! Perhaps Rashi maintains that although a Paltar bakes the bread on his premises, he does not necessarily make the dough himself.
However, Rashi in Bava Metzia (56a, DH Paltar) seems to contradict his definition of Paltar here. Rashi there says that a Paltar is one who buys many loaves and sells them to merchants and Nachtomim. In other words, a Paltar is a businessman, not a baker.
The answer to this question may be found in the ME'IRI to Bava Metzia, who explains the Gemara in a way similar to that of Rashi. The Me'iri says that a Paltar is either a wholesaler who sells large amounts of bread to different people (as Rashi says "to merchants and Nachtomim") or one who bakes in large quantities in many different forms in order to sell a large variety of goods to different people. A Nachtom, in contrast, bakes small amounts of bread and sells them, or he buys from another person and sells. This explanation seems to answer all of the questions on Rashi's explanation. However, one must say that Rashi learns that the Tosefta quoted by Tosfos, which says that one may not help bring dough to the oven, argues with the Mishnah here. (Y. MONTROSE)