Question: On 39a, one of Bar Kappara's disciples mocks the other for making an incorrect beracha. How could a sage act like this? Also, what is the point of the baraisa that tells us that neither disciple lived past the year? Was it a punishment for their actions? If it was, why was the one who made an incorrect beracha deserving of such a punishment?
Also, previously in this Gemora, Rav Idi bar Ahava (I think it was him) ripped a red garment off of a woman in the street. How do we justify this behaviour?
1) Good question. First of all, it could be that Bar Kapara's student was not a sage. Second, even if he was a sage, we have to understand what it means to "mock" the other. It does not mean that he made fun of him for making an incorrect blessing. Rather, it means that he used disrespectful terms to express his own opinion about what blessing should have been recited first.
The questions which bother the commentators here include how could Bar Kapara -- who, according to everyone, was a great sage -- become angry, if anger is such a terrible trait (as the Gemara elsewhere likens it to idolatry)? Some answer (see Semichus Chachamim, cited in Sefer Beis Yosef) that he did not really become angry. Rather, he only acted with anger, so that the students would be aroused to repent for their lack of respect (toward each other and towards him). He desperately wanted them to repent so that they would not be punished; he was not really angry at either one (which is why he said, "I am not angry at the one who made the blessing..." and then, "I am not angry at the one who mocked..."). However, they did not repent and ask forgiveness from each other nor from their teacher, and therefore they were punished. This answers your question concerning whether their untimely deaths was a punishment for their actions. (We indeed find that early death was punishment for lack of respect, such as the students of Rebbi Akiva who died as a result of not acting with the proper respect towards each other.)
The one who made an incorrect blessing was deserving of such punishment because he displayed a lack of respect towards his teacher by quickly making a blessing before inquiring from his teacher what blessing to make (regardless of whether he knew the correct blessing, he should have displayed the respect and deference to his teacher by asking him). Perhaps because this student was so great, he was held so seriously liable for what we might view as minor infractions.
2) When Rav Ada Bar Ahavah ripped the red garment off a woman in the street, the question that we must really ask is, how could we justify not behaving like that. Let me explain.
The Gemara there (20a) is giving an example of how the earlier generations were totally comitted to the service of Hash-m, beyond any consideration for themselves. As an example, the Gemara brings this story. Obviously, then, Rav Ada's actions were motivated solely by his selfless commitment to G-d. When he saw a woman -- whom he thought was Jewish (indeed, he admitted to his mistake) -- wearing an enticing garment, herself sinning and causing others to sin, his automatic response was to do something to stop this desecration of G-d's name. It can be compared to one who sees a child running across the street without looking to see if cars are coming; one would certainly run to push the child out of the way of an oncoming car, despite the scratches and bruises that the child may suffer as a result of your pushing him. So, too, Rav Ada could not bear to see a Jewish woman killing herself and others (that is, killing their eternal lives in the World to Come), and therefore he did what had to be done. Later generations fell to a level where they would first calculate the effects of such action upon their personal reputations, and so on, before acting for the sake of G-d, even though somebody's spiritual life was being ruined at that very moment.
I hope this was helpful. If you have more questions, please do not hesitate to send them.
Question: Thanks for your response to my question regarding the behavior of Bar Kappara's disciples and also of Rav Ada Bar Ahavah.
You said that the disciple who made the incorrect beracha displayed a lack of respect for his teacher by not asking him which beracha to make. What is different about this situation that requires the disciple to ask before making a beracha? There must be many other examples where disciples recite berachas without first asking there teacher. So why is it a lack of respect in this case and not in other cases?
With regard to Rav Ada Bar Ahvah, you said that it would have been inappropriate had he NOT acted the way he did. But, what were the circumstances? If the garment that he ripped off the woman was a dress, surely it is better for her to wear an immodest dress than nothing at all. Also, regardless of the circumstances, wouldn't it have been better if he put another garment over the woman and quietly and politely tell her that her garment is not appropriate?
I also have general question on a different topic. What is the source for chazal's information regarding the benefits and/or danger of certain foods? Was this revealed by H' to Moshe and passed on orally? If it was, then why don't we follow it today?
Also, what is source of the gemara's earlier teaching that one's bed should be positioned from north to south? It says that this will help reduce the chance of miscarriage and increase the likelihood of having male children. Is this followed today? If not, why not?
1) One must always act with deference when in the presence of one's teacher. (We see, for example, that "Bar Kapara gave permission to one of the students to make a blessing." He could not simply start eating on his own. He had to wait for permission from his teacher.) Part of this respect includes being sensitive to when one should ask questions how to conduct oneself, even if one knows (or thinks he knows) the answer.
In the case of the student of Bar Kapara, there was a genuine Halachic doubt about which blessing to recite first (as we see from the two opinions in the Gemara). The student of Bar Kapara "jumped" ("v'Kafatz") and recited a blessing too hastily before his teacher told him what blessing to recite.
2) It seems that the woman was more immodestly dressed with the item of clothing that was ripped off than without it. This is evident from the comment that is cited in the margin of our Gemaras in the name of the Aruch. (Perhaps there were certain types of provocative garments which everyone knew were a sign of a harlot.)
Regarding the way he acted, it seems that Rav Ada Bar Ahavah saw that it was necessary, in the age that he lived, to act the way he did. If he acted calmly, quietly, and politely, people would not get the message of how terrible promiscuous behavior is. He had to act with zeal so that people would get the message.
3) The source is not clear. It could be as you suggest, although I have heard other suggestions (for example, they consulted with the doctors and scientists of their day [heard cited from Rav Hai Gaon!], or they were the doctors and scientists of their day).
We do not follow all of it today because the physical nature of human beings, as well as of the foods, has changed, as the Rishonim point out (see Tosfos in Moed Katan 11a, DH Kavra). (There was a booklet published of essays by Rav Samson Rafael Hirsch which included an explanation of this. If I can find the essay in the Collected Writings, I will send you the reference.)
4) The source is from the verse cited there. The practice is brought in the Halachic sources, and one should follow it, although it is only good advice and not obligatory. There is actually an argument which way the bed should face, because the Kabalah says that it should be positioned from east to west, the opposite of our Gemara. (See Einayim la'Mishpat. Rav Abba Shaul Ben-Tzion also discusses the two opinions at length, and concludes that one may rely on either opinion, in Ohr le'Tzion, Orach Chaim II:1.)
All the best,
1. Regarding Rav Ada bar Ahava (Berachos 20a), you said that it seems that he had to act the way he did so that he would have the appropriate effect on the people of his generation. What is the source for this?
2. If the physical nature of people and food has changed, why does the Gemara provide us with such information?
3. Regarding the positioning of the bed (Berachos 5b), you said that it is 'good advice' but not 'obligatory'. Can you help me to better understand what determines whether something is just 'good advice' or 'obligatory'?
1. The source for the general concept of acting in an unconventional way for the sake of teaching the people a lesson is the Gemara in Sanhedrin 46a, which says that Beis Din has the power to give punishments that are not ordained in the Torah in order to make a safeguard for the laws of the Torah.
2. When the Gemara was recorded in writing, that was the way the nature of things was. Furthermore, the knowledge is important even for us, because by understanding how they understood the different roles of foods and other natural elements, we are then able to understand Chazal's often cryptic statements of Aggadah in which they use foods and such as allusions to important concepts.
In addition, by providing us with such information, the Gemara is teaching us that food and health are closely related, and that we can find the cures (and preventions) for many ailments in different foods.
3. One can usually determine whether the Sages intended something to be good advice or an obligation based on the language which they used to express it. Of course, in order to know the precise subtleties of language in order to conclude whether the Gemara means to give good advice or an obligation requires mastery of all of Shas. That is why we rely on the Poskim to tell us whether something is obligatory or just good advice.