1) THE VOICE OF REBBI
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi was ill, his cries of pain could be heard from a distance of more than three Mil, and they could be heard even by seafarers at sea. How, though, is it possible for a person's voice to be heard so far away?
ANSWER: The BEN YEHOYADA writes that Rebbi's voice could not have traveled so far naturally. Rather, Hash-m caused a miracle to happen so that the entire world would know of the afflictions that Rebbi was suffering (in the sense described in Yeshayah 53:4). (I. Alsheich)
2) THE CALF THAT CRIED
QUESTION: The Gemara relates the incident in which Rebbi became subject to immense suffering. A young calf was being led to be slaughtered, and it placed its head beneath the coattails of Rebbi and cried. Rebbi said to it, "Go! It was for this that you were created." Rebbi was punished with great suffering because he should have shown greater mercy to the animal.
How can an animal have the sense to attempt to flee its fate by placing its head beneath the coattails of Rebbi and crying?
ANSWER: RAV YAKOV EMDEN and the BEN YEHOYADA write that this calf had a reincarnated Neshamah (which, the Ben Yehoyada adds, was the Neshamah of a G-d-fearing Jew) which had been reincarnated in the form of a calf in order to effect a certain rectification (Tikun) of the soul. Hence, when the Neshamah within this calf saw that Rebbi was passing by, it cried before him in a plea to Rebbi to remove it from the calf through holy Kavanos (similar to the way that Rav Chaim Vital was able to extract Neshamos, the Ben Yehoyada points out) so that it would not have to be removed through Shechitah. (The Ben Yehoyada adds that perhaps the reason why the Neshamah did not want to be removed from the calf through Shechitah was not that Shechitah might cause pain, but that the animal might be fed to unfitting people who would not recite a proper blessing before eating, and thus the required Tikun of the Neshamah would not be achieved.)
Rav Yakov Emden says that this is why Rebbi was punished. He should have prayed for the Neshamah to be taken out of the animal and experience its necessary Tikun without Shechitah.
(The Ben Yehoyada writes that Rebbi's reason for not helping to extract the Neshamah was that if Hash-m had put the Neshamah into the animal that was being led to be slaughtered, that must have been part of the Tikun of the Neshamah, and Rebbi did not want to interfere. RAV ELIYAHU DESSLER in Michtav me'Eliyahu (3:103) writes that Rebbi saw with Ru'ach ha'Kodesh that the calf would fulfill its purpose by eventually being consumed by a righteous Talmid Chacham, and it would thereby be an instrument for that Talmid Chacham's Avodas Hash-m. Rav Dessler adds that if, indeed, the calf's purpose in being created was to be slaughtered and eaten by a Talmid Chacham, even though Rebbi was absolutely correct from a logical and intellectual standpoint, he nevertheless demonstrated a slight lack in the attribute of Chesed which is demanded from someone of his stature, and that is why he was punished.) (I. Alsheich)
3) AGADAH: REBBI ZEIRA'S FASTS
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Zeira came to Eretz Yisrael from Bavel, he fasted for 100 days (or 40 days, according to the Girsa of the Maharshal and others) days in order to forget the Talmud ha'Bavli that he had learned so that he would be able to learn the Yerushalmi. He fasted an equal number of fasts in order that Rebbi Elazar not die and the communal responsibilities be passed to him. He fasted a third set of such fasts in order to be saved from the fire of Gehinom.
The conduct of Rebbi Zeira sheds light on a cryptic Gemara in Megilah (7b). The Gemara there relates that Rabah invited Rebbi Zeira to join him in his Purim Se'udah. During the Se'udah, "Rabah arose and slaughtered Rebbi Zeira." The next day, Rabah prayed to Hash-m to bring Rebbi Zeira back to life.
What is the meaning of this narrative? How could the great and righteous Rabah kill another Amora?
The Acharonim point out that the Gemara in Shabbos (156a) says that Rabah was born in the constellation (Mazal) of Ma'adim, and people born in that Mazal tend to have a violent nature. As long as Rabah was learning Torah, his violent nature was channeled for holy purposes. On Purim, however, while he was not learning, his violent nature manifested itself in the slaughter of his comrade. This does not suffice to explain, however, how a holy Amora could commit such a terrible act. (See Insights to Megilah 7:3.)
ANSWER: The MAHARSHA (in Megilah) writes that the Gemara does not mean that Rabah actually slaughtered Rebbi Zeira with a knife. Rather, the quantity of food and drink which Rabah gave to Rebbi Zeira was so great that he became deathly ill. Rabah wanted him to experience a sublime degree of Simchah and thus he encouraged Rebbi Zeira to continue drinking, until Rebbi Zeira's life was actually endangered. The next day Rabah prayed for Rebbi Zeira and he recovered.
The CHAVOS YA'IR (#152, cited at the end of Sefer Chafetz Chaim) suggests that different Amora'im had different approaches to serving Hash-m. He cites the Gemara in Berachos (30a) which relates an incident wherein Rebbi Yirmeyah looked too jovial, and Rebbi Zeira tried to sober him by mentioning the virtues of melancholy. Although this seems like a minor incident, it actually reflects two different approaches to life. Rebbi Zeira and Rebbi Yirmeyah each had a very different path in Avodas Hash-m.
Rebbi Zeira maintained that fasting and self-affliction is the correct way to serve Hash-m and to achieve holiness, as is evidenced by the Gemara here in Bava Metzia which relates that Rebbi Zeira would fast for long periods of time, and he would test himself with various forms of self-affliction to assess his total devotion to Hash-m. In contrast, Rebbi Yirmeyah maintained a jolly and cheerful attitude. He ruled that a person may not afflict himself beyond what the Torah requires. Indeed, Rebbi Yirmeyah says that a Nazir is considered a "sinner" (Nedarim 9b) for accepting upon himself excessive suffering. The Gemara in Nidah (23a) relates how Rebbi Yirmeyah -- in accordance with his path in Avodas Hash-m -- would attempt to break Rebbi Zeira's somberness and get him to laugh, because he maintained that Rebbi Zeira's somber attitude was not the correct way to serve Hash-m. Conversely, the Gemara in Berachos (ibid.) relates how Rebbi Zeira tried (unsuccessfully) to temper Rebbi Yirmeyah's joyousness.
Similarly, Rabah served Hash-m through the attribute of Simchah. The Gemara relates that he would open his lecture with a "Milsa di'Bedichusa" (Shabbos 30b), a humorous statement. Rebbi Zeira, as mentioned above, disagreed with Rabah's approach and maintained that one should serve Hash-m with solemnity. At his Purim Se'udah, Rabah saw that Rebbi Zeira was too solemn and was not experiencing the Simchah of Purim sufficiently, and thus he insisted that Rebbi Zeira eat and drink more. Rebbi Zeira could not refuse Rabah's request, because the Gemara in Pesachim (86b) teaches that "whatever the host tells you to do, you must do" (see Insights there), and thus he continued to eat and drink. However, since he was accustomed to fasting (Bava Metzia 85a), it was unhealthy for him to eat so much and as a result he became deathly ill. Hence, Rabah needed to pray for Rebbi Zeira's recovery. (M. Kornfeld)
4) "BECAUSE THEY ABANDONED MY TORAH"
QUESTIONS: The Gemara relates that at the time of the Churban of the first Beis ha'Mikdash, none of the Chachamim or Nevi'im could explain why "the land had been destroyed" ("Avdah ha'Aretz," Yirmeyahu 9:11) and had suffered the catastrophe of the Churban, until Hash-m Himself explained it, as the verse says, "Hash-m said, 'It is because they abandoned My Torah'" (Yirmeyahu 9:12). Rav Yehudah in the name of Rav explains that this means that they did not recite the blessing for learning Torah before they learned Torah.
(a) Why is the failure to recite the blessing for learning Torah such a severe sin that it warrants the most tragic punishment? Moreover, the Gemara implies that the people were learning Torah, and that they merely did not recite the blessing before learning. Why, then, did the merit of their learning not protect them?
(b) What is the connection between the transgression of failing to recite the blessing for learning Torah and the punishment of the destruction of the land? Why should the land be destroyed because the people did not recite the blessing before learning Torah?
(a) RASHI here, and the RAN in Nedarim (81a) in the name of RABEINU YONAH HA'CHASID, write that the people's failure to recite the blessing for learning Torah demonstrated that they did not feel that the Torah was a precious gift. Since they failed to appreciate the Torah, the Torah "failed," so to speak, to protect them. Rabeinu Yonah adds that their learning of Torah was not Lishmah, with pure motives, and as a result they scorned the blessing. For their sin of scorning the holiness of the Torah, they were punished with the Churban.
(b) The SHITAH MEKUBETZES cites the TESHUVOS HA'RAMBAM who says that the blessing which the people failed to recite was the blessing recited before Keri'as ha'Torah, the reading of the Torah. The Rambam explains that many of the people indeed were Talmidei Chachamim, but when they were called to read from the Torah they refrained because it was difficult for them to walk to the Torah. They were punished for their lack of respect for the Torah. (See Berachos 55a, where the Gemara says that a person's life is shortened as a punishment for not going to read from the Torah when he is called to read from the Torah.)
(c) The Rambam gives another explanation (see also MAHARSHA to Nedarim 81a). He says that although they did recite the blessings for Keri'as ha'Torah, they did not give the honor of reciting the first blessing to Talmidei Chachamim. Rather, they would call upon a Kohen who was an Am ha'Aretz to recite the first blessing, even though there were Talmidei Chachamim present. They were punished for this disgrace to the honor of the Torah.
The Rambam adds that this explanation is supported by the fact that it was Rav who made this statement. The Gemara in Megilah (22a) states that Rav maintained that a Talmid Chacham who is a Yisrael takes precedence over a Kohen who is an Am ha'Aretz for reciting the blessings of Keri'as ha'Torah.
(d) The TAZ (OC 47) writes that the people learned Torah solely for their enjoyment. They did not toil in Torah or involve themselves in the arduous process of in-depth analysis of their Torah learning. Since "Torah is acquired only by one who kills himself over it," their learning was essentially meaningless. This is what the Gemara means when it says that they did not recite the blessing for learning Torah, for the blessing says, "Asher Kideshanu b'Mitzvosav v'Tzivano la'Asok b'Divrei Torah"; the term "la'Asok" refers to toiling in Torah learning.
(e) The BEN YEHOYADA writes that the people learned Torah with the goal of becoming wise, and not with the goal of making themselves holy through the Kedushah of the Torah. They did not recite the blessing because the blessing -- "Asher Kideshanu" -- implies that one learns in order to make himself holy with the Kedushah of Torah.
(f) The MAHARAL (Nesivos Olam, Nesiv ha'Torah 10) writes that when the Gemara says that the people did not recite the blessing for learning Torah, it means that they learned Torah out of love of the Torah's wisdom, and not out of love of Hash-m, the Giver of the Torah. They did not acknowledge the great kindness that Hash-m granted them by giving the Torah to the Jewish people. (I. Alsheich)