OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes a number of teachings that Rav Mesharsheya told to his son. One of these teachings was that it is better to dwell in the garbage heaps of Masa Mechasya than in the mansions of Pumbedisa. What was Rav Mesharsheya's intention?
(a) RASHI (DH d'Masa) explains that in Masa Mechasya there were Talmidei Chachamim who were fit to answer Halachic questions and who excelled in their Midos. The Talmidei Chachamim in Pumbedisa, however, did not have good Midos, and therefore Rav Mesharsheya told his son not to learn with them.
The YA'AVETZ seems to understand that, according to Rashi, the primary difference between the Talmidei Chachamim of Masa Mechasya and those of Pumbedisa is the contrast in their Midos. The Ya'avetz points out that the Gemara mentions that the Jewish population of Pumbedisa was known to be plagued with swindlers and frauds (Kesuvos 82a, Rashi to Shabbos 153a, DH d'Sanu; see Background to Avodah Zarah 70:26). Rashi himself, when commenting on the same Gemara in Kerisus (6a, DH v'Lo), says that the people of Pumbedisa were thieves.
Why, though, does Rashi mention first that the Talmidei Chachamim of Masa Mechasya were fit to answer Halachic questions? If the point of Rashi is that the difference between the people in these two places was their Midos, then why does Rashi need to mention that the people of Masa Mechasya were Talmidei Chachamim who were fit to answer Halachic questions? If Rashi means to teach simply that Talmidei Chachamim lived there and it was not a place of unlearned people (see Avos 6:9), he does not need to elucidate that they were fit to answer Halachic questions (since stating that they were Talmidei Chachamim should suffice).
Moreover, according to Rashi, what advice was Rav Mesharsheya giving to his son? Certainly his son knew -- even without his father's advice -- that one should dwell in a place of Torah scholars and not in a place of thieves!
Perhaps the words of Rashi here may be understood based on the Midrash (Vayikra Rabah 1:15). The Midrash says that "a Talmid Chacham who does not have De'ah is worse than a Neveilah." What is the connection between such a Talmid Chacham and a Neveilah? It is said in the name of the previous GERRER REBBE (the LEV SIMCHAH) that "De'ah" refers to good Midos. The word "Neveilah" is often used to connote not only an improperly slaughtered animal, but also meat which is rotten (see Insights to 11a). The Gerrer Rebbe said that no Jew would ever eat the meat of Neveilah and transgress the Isur associated with it, because its foul odor deters anyone who comes near it. A Talmid Chacham, however, is looked upon as a model from whom to learn, and people are attracted to him because of his great scholarship in Torah. If he has bad Midos, there is nothing to deter anyone from learning from him, and thus people will also learn his bad Midos and imitate them. This is why he is worse than a Neveilah, which will never ensnare or tempt anyone. (See also YEFEI TO'AR to the Midrash there.)
This might also be the intention of Rashi. The people of Pumbedisa were also very learned (as there was a well-known Torah academy there). Although the scholars in the academy of Pumbedisa were certainly on a very high level of learning, the average person in Pumbedisa was of a very coarse character, and it was difficult for the scholars not to be affected by the ills of society around them in some way. It is possible that Rav Mesharsheya thought that even the Midos of some of the Talmidei Chachamim in Pumbedisa were wanting. This is why he felt the need to instruct his son to go only to Masa Mechasya and not to Pumbedisa.
(b) The MAHARSHA (DH Girsu) explains that Rav Mesharsheya was emphasizing to his son two qualities that existed in Masa Mechasya, the quality of humility and the quality of Torah. He stressed the importance of being in Masa Mechasya, a humble city of Torah, in contrast to the materially lavish setting of Pumbedisa which was not a leading center of Torah.
(c) The BENAYAHU writes that Masa Mechasya was a very clean city; all of its streets, courtyards, and houses were kept clean and orderly. Cleanliness is very healthy for spiritual and physical growth. In contrast, the residents of Pumbedisa did not consider cleanliness a priority. Rav Mesharsheya was teaching that the garbage dumps of Masa Mechasya were more sanitary places that the mansions of Pumbedisa.
(d) The BEN YEHOYADA explains that even the ordinary people of Masa Mechasya were respected and esteemed Talmidei Chachamim, unlike the people of Pumbedisa. Apparently, he understands that "garbage" refers to the lower class of people in Masa Mechasya, while the "mansions" of Pumbedisa refer to the higher class of people there.
(e) Alternatively, the Ben Yehoyada says that the price of meat in Masa Mechasya was very low, since cattle was raised there (see Bava Kama 119b). It is known that the consumption of meat strengthens the body. Therefore, Rav Mesharsheya told his son to live in Masa Mechasya where everyone could afford to buy meat every day, so that he would have the ability to be strong to toil in learning Torah. In contrast, if he would live in Pumbedisa he would eat only vegetables most of the time. (Y. MONTROSE)


OPINIONS: The Gemara quotes Rebbi Yishmael who derives from the verse, "v'Kidashto" -- "and you shall sanctify him (the Kohen)" (Vayikra 21:8), that we must give honor to a Kohen by giving him precedence in any matter of holiness. He should be called first to the Torah, he should be given the honor of leading Birkas ha'Mazon, and he should be given the first portion at a meal.
Is this requirement a Mitzvah d'Oraisa, or is it an enactment of the Rabanan (and the verse is merley an Asmachta)?
(a) The Gemara in Chulin (87a) discusses a case in which one person "stole" a Mitzvah from another, and Raban Gamliel obligated him to pay the victim ten gold coins. TOSFOS there (DH v'Chayevo) writes that this is not the Halachah in practice anymore, since Beis Din is not able to judge laws of penalties in cases in which the plaintiff lost no money (see Bava Kama 84b). Tosfos adds that the same law applies to a case in which one person steals another person's Aliyah, and it even applies to a case in which one person steals the Kohen's Aliyah, because the obligation to give him precedence "is [based on] an Asmachta." Tosfos apparently maintains that the requirement to give precedence to the Kohen is an enactment of the Rabanan. This opinion is expressed by the TUR (YD 28) as well. The PRI CHADASH (OC 135:12) writes that this is also the opinion of the ROSH and MORDECHAI.
This view, however, is difficult to understand. The Mishnah in Gitin (59a) states that a Kohen receives the first Aliyah to the Torah, followed by the Levi, and then the Yisrael, because of "Darchei Shalom" ("the ways of peace"). The Gemara there (59b) quotes the teaching of Rebbi Yishmael from the verse of "v'Kidashto." Rav Yosef asks Abaye, "Why does the Mishnah say that the reason is 'Darchei Shalom'? The requirement to give precedence to the Kohen is mid'Oraisa." The Gemara does not refute Rav Yosef's statement that "v'Kidashto" is a Torah law. Why, then, do Tosfos and the Tur say that the law is mid'Rabanan and the verse an Asmachta?
The NESIV CHAYIM (OC 201) answers this question. The Gemara in Gitin there cites other opinions which give other verses as the source for the order of Aliyos. Those verses teach that a Kohen is called up first, and then a Levi. Rav Yosef's question is that according to the other verses, the Mishnah has no need to mention the reason of Darchei Shalom, since the order of precedence is taught by a verse and is a Torah law. According to the teaching of Rebbi Yishmael, it is obvious why the Mishnah mentions Darchei Shalom; that reasoning does not provide a source for calling up a Levi before a Yisrael. Since Rav Yosef's question does not address Rebbi Yishmael's teaching, there is no proof from that teaching that giving precedence to a Kohen is a Torah law.
The question remains, however: what compelled these Rishonim to say that this law is mid'Rabanan and the verse an Asmachta? The TORAH TEMIMAH (Vayikra 21:8) explains that the Gemara in Yevamos (88b) derives another law from the verse of "v'Kidashto." The Gemara derives from that verse that Beis Din must force a Kohen to divorce a woman whom he was not permitted to marry. If that Derashah is mid'Oraisa, then "v'Kidashto" already teaches a Torah law and cannot be used to teach the law of precedence for a Kohen (see BE'ER SHEVA). For this reason, these Rishonim understood that the obligation to give precedence to a Kohen is mid'Rabanan.
(b) The RAMBAM in SEFER HA'MITZVOS (Mitzvos Aseh #32) counts this law in his list of Mitzvos d'Oraisa. This is also the view of the RIVASH (#94) in the name of the SEMAG, the TESHUVOS MAHARAM (#107), and others. This also seems to be the conclusion of the MAGEN AVRAHAM (OC 201:4).
The Torah Temimah discusses why these Poskim say that the requirement to give precedence to a Kohen is a Torah law, when the Gemara in Yevamos (88b) derives a different law from the word ""v'Kidashto." He explains that the answer to this question may be found in the words of Rashi in Gitin (59b). Rashi (DH v'Kidashto) comments merely, "Ki Es 'v'Gomer'" -- he emphasizes that the verse of "v'Kidashto" continues. Why does Rashi need to mention the continuation of the verse? Apparently, Rashi's intention is to teach that the obligation to give precedence to the Kohen is not derived from the word "v'Kidashto," but it is derived from the continuation of the verse. This is also apparent from the fact that Rashi on the verse in Vayikra does not begin his comment with the word "v'Kidashto," but with the words, "Kodesh Yiheyeh Lach." Accordingly, Rashi is refuting the proof of Tosfos. (Y. MONTROSE)