1) TEVERYA -- THE CITY WHOSE RESIDENTS ARE FULL OF MITZVOS
QUESTIONS: Rava (or Rabah) explains that Teverya is called "Rekes" because even the empty ones ("Rekanin") who live there are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate.
This statement is problematic. The city was already called "Rekes" at the time Yehoshua brought the Jewish people into Eretz Yisrael (see Yehoshua 19:35). At that time, however, the inhabitants of Rekes were not Jews, and they certainly were not "full of Mitzvos."
Apparently, Yehoshua understood from the name "Rekes" that Teverya contained some sort of power to grant its Jewish inhabitants the propensity to be committed to serving Hash-m, so that they should be "full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate." Accordingly, the name of the city, Rekes, was granted to it prophetically, based on its future destiny.
Why, though, should Teverya be more unique than any other city in Eretz Yisrael in its ability to endow its inhabitants with the propensity to serve Hash-m? (TUREI EVEN)
Moreover, the Gemara elsewhere (Sanhedrin 37a, Chagigah 27a) says that all of the "empty ones" among the Jewish people are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate. In what way, then, is Teverya unique? (Ibid.)
(a) The CHIDA (in PESACH EINAYIM) answers that Teverya is unique for the following reason. The Gemara in Shabbos (118b) says that the people in Teverya are Mekabel Shabbos in the most preferable way. RASHI there explains that Teverya sits deep in the valley and is surrounded by mountains. Late in the afternoon the mountains hide the sun and it appears to be dark in Teverya before the sun actually sets. Therefore, the residents of Teverya accept the sanctity of Shabbos upon themselves early. The Gemara there continues and says that one who observes Shabbos properly merits that Hash-m forgives him for all of his sins -- even if he has served Avodah Zarah like those in the generation of Enosh. Accordingly, the residents of Teverya, who observed Shabbos properly, merited to have forgiveness for all of their sins, and thus they were left full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate!
With regard to why the Gemara here mentions that only the people of Teverya are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate while the Gemara elsewhere says the same thing with regard to all of the Jewish people, the Chida answers that when the Gemara there (in Sanhedrin and Chagigah) says that even the sinners of Yisrael are full of Mitzvos, it does not mean that all of them are full of Mitzvos, but rather that most of them are. In Teverya, however, they are all full of Mitzvos.
(b) The Gemara here says that Teverya sits in the center of Eretz Yisrael. When Teverya is called "Rekes," the name alludes not only to the attribute of Teverya, but to the attribute of all of Eretz Yisrael of which Teverya is the center. Teverya is singled out because, as the center, it represents all of Eretz Yisrael.
The Gemara here does not contradict the Gemara elsewhere that says that all of the Jewish people are full of Mitzvos like a pomegranate, because the Gemara here also refers to the residents of all of Eretz Yisrael, in the center of which sits Teverya. (M. Kornfeld)
2) AGADAH: "YAGATI U'MATZASI -- TA'AMIN"
Rebbi Yitzchak states, "[When] a person says, 'I have worked hard but I have not found [success],' or 'I have not worked hard but I have found [success],' do not believe him. But when a person says, 'I have worked hard and I have found [success],' believe him." ("Yagati u'Matzasi -- Ta'amin.")
RABEINU BACHYE shows an allusion to Rebbi Yitzchak's statement in a verse in Tehilim. The verse says, "He'emanti Ki Adaber, Ani Anisi Me'od, Ani Amarti b'Chofzi, Kol ha'Adam Kozev" (Tehilim 116:10-11). The accepted translation of the verse is, "I have been faithful, even when I say, 'I suffer greatly.' I said in my haste, 'All mankind is deceitful.'"
Rabeinu Bachye suggests that the verse can be read as follows: "I can be trusted (He'emanti) when I say (Ki Adaber) that I worked very hard (Ani Anisi Me'od), but if I said something quickly (i.e. I claimed success) without working hard (Ani Amarti b'Chofzi), then anyone who says such a thing is lying (Kol ha'Adam Kozev)."
3) AGADAH: "ITALYA"
QUESTION: The Gemara describes "Italya Shel Yavan" as the great metropolis of Rome. It contained 365 markets, corresponding to the days of the solar year, and the smallest was a market which sold birds. The king ate in a different market each day. Italya also contained 3,000 bathhouses. The entire metropolis was surrounded by protective barriers: on one side was the sea, on a second side mountains, a third side had an iron wall, and on a fourth side was a deep ravine filled with gravel and sand.
What does the Gemara intend to teach by describing this large city?
ANSWER: The MAHARAL (in NETZACH YISRAEL ch. 17) explains as follows:
(a) "There were 365 market places." The Midrash (Bereishis Rabah 6:3) says that Esav follows the solar year, which contains 365 days. The power of Edom, the descendant of Esav, is represented by the sun. The descendants of Yakov Avinu, in contrast, follow the lunar year, and their power is represented by the moon. (See Insights to Yoma 20:1.)
The Midrash elsewhere (Bereishis Rabah 63:12) demonstrates from a number of verses that everything about Esav, the progenitor of Edom, is "red." His name is "Edom," which means "red." His land is red. His food is red. His clothing is red. In this respect, his power reflects the power of the sun, which the Gemara in Bava Basra (84a) says is red. One who looks at the sun gets the impression that it is red because it is fiery. Similarly, metal becomes red when heated in a fire.
The descendants of Yakov Avinu, in contrast, are represented by the moon. The Hebrew word for moon is "Levanah," from the word "Lavan," white. While the power of the sun is expressed in fire, the power of the moon is expressed in water (as the tides of the sea are affected by the position of the moon), the opposite of fire. Edom has 365 markets which correspond to the days of the solar year, because Edom's power is related to the sun.
(b) "The smallest of the markets sold birds." The Gemara in Chulin (27b) relates that birds were created from muddy earth. Since they were created with water, they are antithetical to Edom's red, fiery, sun-like nature. Since water opposes fire, the power of Edom, the market where birds were sold was smaller than all of the other markets.
Why does the Gemara not say that the fish market was the smallest, since fish live in the water? Apparently, since fish live only in water, Edom had no fish market at all. Perhaps this is part of the source for the practice to eat large meals of fish and chicken (instead of meat) on Erev Yom Kippur, as the Midrash mentions (cited by TOSFOS in Kesuvos 5a). The Jews eat fish and chicken to show that Yom Kippur is the one day of the year that is removed from the power of Esav, as the Gemara in Yoma (20a) says.
(c) "The king ate in a different market each day." The king's visit to each market demonstrated how lavish were the meals in each market, a manifestation of the hedonism in which Rome excelled.
(d) "There were 3,000 bathhouses." Edom expresses his power through building marketplaces and bathhouses (Avodah Zarah 2b). This is because his power dominates in this world, where the enjoyment of food, drink, and other pleasures is man's primary pursuit.
(e) "The city was surrounded on four sides." The four barriers around the city of Edom show that Edom's influence in this world extends to all four directions.
On the western side was the sea. The Torah always uses the word "Yam" (sea) to refer to the west. The Gemara means that Edom's influence reaches all the way to the western edge of civilization.
On the southern side were mountains. "Darom" ("south") is a contraction of the words "Da Rom" ("it is high up"), which refer to the area of the sky in which the sun is seen to travel when it reaches its highest point in the sky (the south). The influence of Edom reaches the southern edge of civilization.
The iron wall indicates that the power of Edom reaches the northernmost edge of civilization. Iron is the material of destruction (see Rashi to Shemos 20:22). The verse in Yirmeyahu (1:14) relates that destruction originates in the north: "From the north the evil will be unleashed." Moreover, magnets draw metal (such as iron) towards the north, and thus iron is related to the north.
The gravel-filled ravine to the east indicates that Edom's power reaches eastward. The east is the direction from which the sun and stars are seen to rise. It is related to "Omek," a deep valley or ravine, because it is the lowest part of the sky from which everything rises. Low areas, therefore, are allegories for the east.