QUESTION: The Gemara relates that on the day that Rebbi died, his students declared, "Whoever says that Rebbi has died will be stabbed by a sword."
What was the intent behind this declaration? Why should one be liable for death for relating the bad news about Rebbi's death? While it is true that the Gemara (Pesachim 3b) derives from the verse (Mishlei 10:18) that one who relates bad news is a fool, it does not say that he is liable for death for doing so.
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that Rebbi reached such a high level of holiness that his body became completely pure. (Indeed, he is referred to as "Rabeinu ha'Kodesh.") A person who reaches such a level -- a completely pure body in this world -- is actually ready for Olam ha'Ba even without death. Therefore, "whoever says that Rebbi has died" belittles Rebbi's level of holiness. Rebbi indeed did not leave this world with an ordinary death. As Rebbi himself said (103a), after his death he would continue to come to this world on the holy day of Shabbos.
Rebbi, or Rabeinu ha'Kodesh, emulated Yakov Avinu's great degree of holiness. The Gemara (Ta'anis 5b) states that "Yakov Avinu did not die," for his body, too, was so holy that he was able to experience Olam ha'Ba without death. Yakov Avinu was the symbol of Kedushah in this world. (Indeed, the third blessing in the Shemoneh Esreh, the blessing of "Atah Kadosh," corresponds to Yakov Avinu. See SEFER HA'KADISH.) This attribute of Yakov Avinu is reflected in Rebbi's full title, Rebbi Yehudah ha'Nasi. The word "Nasi" is an acronym for the phrase, "Neshamah Shel Yakov Avinu."
Based on this approach, the Maharsha explains the cryptic words of Rebbi's maidservant who shouted from the roof, "The higher beings and the lower beings both want Rebbi. May it be Hash-m's will that the lower beings' request is fulfilled!" After she saw how often Rebbi had to relieve himself due to his stomach ailment and how painful it was for him to remove his Tefilin and put them on again, she said, "It should be His will that the higher beings' request is fulfilled." The "higher beings" ("Elyonim") refer to the soul of Rebbi which sought to be separated from his body in order to achieve an even loftier level of holiness, a level which cannot be reached while it is still restricted by the body. The "lower beings" ("Tachtonim") refers the body which wanted Rebbi to stay alive so that he could perform more Mitzvos and purify his body even more. When she saw that he could not reach the ultimate level of holiness in his body through Mitzvos (he had to remove his Tefilin repeatedly), she asked that his soul's request be granted.
(b) THE DIVREI TORAH (Munkatcz) cited by the SEFER HA'KADISH explains the words of Rebbi's students as follows. Rebbi was the redactor of the Mishnah, which he composed in order to prevent Torah she'Ba'al Peh from being forgotten. All of the Gemara and Torah she'Ba'al Peh is based on the Mishnah. Anyone who learns Torah she'Ba'al Peh, therefore, learns the teachings of Rebbi. The Gemara (Yevamos 97a) teaches that when one learns the teachings of the deceased, the lips of the deceased "quiver in the grave." Accordingly, one who says that Rebbi has died implies that he has no more life at all and that his teachings are no longer being learned. One who says Rebbi has died denies the truth of Torah she'Ba'al Peh and thus is deserving of death.
(c) The MAHARIVATZ explains that Rebbi's students did not want anyone to know about Rebbi's death. When Hash-m would see that his death would not be known and no one would know that his body needed to be cared for, He certainly would not allow him to die. Only when it was absolutely necessary that he die did his maidservant cause them to allow Rav Sheshes to discover that he had died. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)


QUESTION: The Mishnah (104a) teaches that a widow who does not claim her Kesuvah for twenty-five years loses the right to claim her Kesuvah. Rebbi Meir and the Chachamim disagree about the reason for this twenty-five-year limit. Rebbi Meir maintains that since the widow lived with the Yesomim and gave charity to poor people from their property, she presumably used up the amount of her Kesuvah. The Chachamim maintain that since she did not ask for her Kesuvah for twenty-five years, she presumably did not want to collect it and was Mochel it.
Rav Nachman asks whether the argument between Rebbi Meir and the Chachamim applies when the widow has a Shtar Kesuvah or when she has no such Shtar. He asks further whether the Halachah follows the view of Rebbi Meir or the Chachamim. The Gemara explains that their argument applies only when she is holding no Shtar Kesuvah, and the Halachah follows the view of the Chachamim.
The SHITAH MEKUBETZES asks two questions on the Gemara's explanation. According to the Chachamim who maintain that the twenty-five-year limit is because of Mechilah, whether or not she is holding a Shtar Kesuvah makes a difference: her possession of the Kesuvah shows that she was not Mochel it. However, according to Rebbi Meir's reasoning (that the widow presumably gave away -- from the property of the Yesomim -- the value of her Kesuvah to poor people), there is no basis for differentiating between when she is holding the Shtar Kesuvah and when she is not holding it. Why, then, does Rav Nachman not ask his question specifically on the view of the Chachamim?
Moreover, why does Rav Nachman ask whom the Halachah follows? The Halachah always follows the majority opinion, and thus it should be obvious that the Halachah follows the view of the Chachamim and not Rebbi Meir.
ANSWER: The SHITAH MEKUBETZES answers that although Rav Nachman's first question applies only to the view of the Chachamim, it nevertheless is relevant to whether the Halachah follows their view or the view of Rebbi Meir. The Halachah that a widow loses her Kesuvah after twenty-five years have passed is based on a Kabalah, a tradition, from earlier generations. According to Rebbi Meir, the Halachah applies under all circumstances, both when she is holding a Shtar Kesuvah and when she is not. According to the Chachamim, however, there may be a situation in which this Halachah does not apply, such as when she is holding the Kesuvah, which shows that she was never Mochel it.
Since the Halachah does not apply under all circumstances according to the Chachamim but it does apply under all circumstances according to Rebbi Meir, one might have thought that the Halachah follows the view of Rebbi Meir. The logic that the Halachah should apply unconditionally may even override the general principle that the Halachah follows the majority. However, if the Chachamim do not differentiate and apply the Halachah even when she is holding the Kesuvah, then the Halachah certainly should follow the view of the Chachamim.
When Rav Nachman asks whom the Halachah follows, his question refers to the possibility that the Chachamim differentiate between when she is holding the Kesuvah and when she is not holding it, in which case there is reason to say that the Halachah follows the view of Rebbi Meir. The Gemara answers that although the Chachamim indeed differentiate between when she is holding the Kesuvah and when she is not holding it, the Halachah nevertheless follows their view. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)