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
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