1) DROWNED IN SALIVA
QUESTION: After mentioning that Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah emerged unscathed from the flames of the furnace, no further mention of them is made in Tanach. The Gemara asks what happened to them, and it answers that either they died as a result of an Ayin ha'Ra, or they "drowned in saliva," or they left Bavel to live in Eretz Yisrael.
RASHI explains that the expression "they drowned in saliva" refers to the Gemara earlier which relates that when Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah emerged from the furnace, the nations spat at the Jewish people, saying, "Your G-d is so marvelous, and yet you still bow to idols!" Rashi's comment is based on the Tanchuma (Parshas Re'eh, #16) which says, "The nations spat in front of Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah when they emerged from the furnace, and they said, 'If you knew that you had such a G-d, then how could you bow down to the idol and cause your G-d to destroy your Beis ha'Mikdash!' And they turned into a clod of spittle."
The Gemara is difficult to understand. How is it possible for a person to drown to death in saliva? Moreover, why should the spit have been directed towards Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah? It should have been directed towards all of the other Jews who did bow down and did not defy Nebuchadnetzar!
(a) The YAD RAMAH explains that this expression is to be understood allegorically to mean that they died of embarrassment.
Still, why should they have died? It was the other Jews who should have died of embarrassment, and not the three Tzadikim.
Perhaps the Yad Ramah means that they died because of the knowledge that their presence caused tremendous disgrace to the rest of the nation. Consequently, their death was similar to the death of the animal with which a person sinned carnally. The animal is put to death because of the disgrace it causes to the person who was executed because of the sin he did with it (Sanhedrin 54a).
(b) The MAHARAL explains that drowning in spit is a metaphor for becoming an item of disgust in the eyes of the nations (and also in the eyes of Hash-m). The Maharal explains why it was that these Tzadikim were killed for this reason when it was the rest of the nation that should have been killed. He answers that it was because the Tzadik is punished due to the sins of the generation. (The Gemara in Shabbos (55a) explains that this principle applies when the Tzadikim neglect to rebuke the generation and to teach them to change their ways. This might be part of the intention of the Maharal. The Maharal adds that since they brought about the miracle, they deserved to die. His intent might be the same as the explanation given above in the Yad Ramah.)
2) THE SIX BARLEY KERNELS OF RUTH
QUESTIONS: The verse relates Boaz gave to Ruth six kernels of barley (Ruth 3:15). The Gemara explains that these six kernels of barley alluded to the progeny that she was destined to bear -- six righteous descendants, each of whom would be blessed with six unique qualities: David, Mashi'ach, Daniel, Chananyah, Misha'el, and Azaryah.
(a) In what way does the giving of six barley kernels allude to six righteous descendants?
(b) Why was Ruth destined to have specifically six righteous descendants, each with six unique qualities? What is the significance of the number six?
(c) From where in Boaz's act does the Gemara infer two references to the number six, one reference to the six descendants and one reference to the six blessings that each one will have?
(a) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM explains that barley is an allusion to the exceptionally righteous, as the Gemara in Chulin mentions (92a; see Insights there), and as cited by Rashi later in Sanhedrin (96b, DH Kesef; see also Berachos 57a, where the Gemara says that seeing barley, "Se'orim," in a dream is a sign that one is free of sin, "Saru Avonosav").
(b) The MAHARAL (Netzach Yisrael, end of Perek 31) explains that the qualities of the number six are represented by the shape of the letter "Vav" (the value of which is six), which is a straight, vertical line. This vertical straightness is a sign of perfect truth, of one who does not stray from the truth to either side. It represents those who are true and loyal to their Creator and fit to be the leaders of the Jewish people. A vertical line may also be viewed as a pillar that supports others. The descendants of Ruth were like pillars of the world. (See Margoliyos ha'Yam #5, who cites a Midrash which indeed refers to these descendants of Ruth as "Amudei Olam," the "pillars of the world.")
Boaz was showing Ruth that because of her loyalty to Hash-m, she was fit to have children who would be outstanding members of Hash-m's nation.
The Maharal adds that the members of each Jewish family correspond to the four letters of the Name of Hash-m. The father of the family corresponds to the letter Yud. The mother corresponds to the letter Heh (as the Gemara says in Sotah 17a). The male offspring correspond to the letter Vav, like the outstanding progeny of Ruth (the letter Vav is used, in Hebrew, as a masculine suffix, just as the Yud is used as a masculine prefix). The female offspring correspond to the last letter Heh in the Name of Hash-m.
(c) The TORAS CHAIM explains that Boaz indeed gave two sets of six kernels to Ruth. The verse (Ruth 3:15) states that "he measured six barley kernels and set it on her." How does one "measure" six single kernels of barley? Six kernels are counted, not measured! It must be that he gave her six Se'ah of barley, large quantities which indeed needed to be measured. The Derashah of the Gemara -- which says that he gave her six single kernels -- is based on the later verse (which the Gemara quotes) in which Ruth repeats that Boaz "gave me these six kernels of barley" (and not that he "measured" six kernels). Boaz gave her six Se'ah, plus six kernels, to hint to her that she would have six descendants who would have six special qualities.
The BEN YEHOYADA finds an allusion in the Gemara to the fact that there was a double hint involving six. The Gemara says that "Remez Ramaz Lah" ("he hinted a hint to her"), implying that Boaz made two hints to Ruth.
3) ASKING FOR REWARD FOR FULFILLING MITZVOS
QUESTION: The Gemara points out that the Sefer which Nechemyah wrote is named after Ezra and not after Nechemyah. This is because Nechemyah erred by publicly giving credit to himself for his accomplishments when he said, "May my G-d remember me for good, for all that I did for this nation" (Nechemyah 5:19). The Gemara concludes that one is not supposed to make such statements unless it is part of a prayer during a time of need.
This theme is repeated in numerous places. The Mishnah in Avos (2:8) says, "If you have learned a lot of Torah, do not attribute worthiness to yourself." The Midrash (Shemos Rabah 44) says, "If you have performed a Mitzvah, do not seek a reward." Similarly, the Mishnah in Avos (1:3) says, "Do not be like servants who serve their master in order to receive compensation."
However, the Gemara elsewhere seems to contradict this principle. In a number of places, the Gemara relates that Amora'im publicly prided themselves in the Mitzvos that they performed by saying "Teisi Li" -- "I will be rewarded" for doing a certain Mitzvah (see Rashi to Shabbos 119a and Bechoros 30a, DH Teisi Li). For example, the Gemara in Shabbos (118b) quotes Amora'im who said, "I will be rewarded" for doing such Mitzvos as eating three meals on Shabbos, praying with Kavanah, and performing the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Tzitzis properly. The Gemara later in Shabbos (119a) quotes Rava who said, "I will be rewarded (Teisi Li) because I love Talmidei Chachamim so much that when a Talmid Chacham is involved in litigation, I do not go to sleep until I research whether there is a way to exonerate him."
Similar expressions are found in the Gemara in Megilah (28b-29a), Moed Katan (17a), and Erchin (16a).
How were the Amora'im justified in requesting reward for their deeds?
(a) The RIF in the EIN YAKOV (Shabbos 118b) explains that when an Amora said "Teisi Li," he meant that "although I might not have served Hash-m in the best possible way, at least I did this Mitzvah and therefore I should not be punished for what I failed to do." He explains that when Rav Nachman (in Shabbos) said that he should be rewarded because he fulfilled the Mitzvah of having three meals on Shabbos, he meant that even though he did not eat the fourth meal that Rebbi Chidka there requires, he should not be punished but rather he should be rewarded for what he did fulfill. When Rav Yehudah there said that he prayed with Kavanah, he meant that "while failure to concentrate during prayer is one of the three sins which every person commits every day (Bava Basra 164b), and I certainly erred regarding two of them like everyone else, nevertheless since I did not err with regard to the third -- praying with Kavanah -- I should at least be rewarded for that."
Support for this approach may be found in TOSFOS in Ta'anis (7a). Tosfos quotes a Midrash in which the Amora Shmuel scorns those who waste their time studying astronomy instead of learning Torah. When his students asked him how he himself became an expert in astronomy, he replied "Teisi Li, that I studied astronomy only when I was in the bathroom." He was saying that even though he spent time studying astronomy, it was done in a way that did not take him away from his Torah learning.
However, this approach does not seem to explain the other occasions of "Teisi Li," such as when Rav Sheshes and Rav Nachman said "Teisi Li" for fulfilling the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Tzitzis properly.
(b) The MAHARSHA in Shabbos explains that there is a certain type of reward which a person may request. That reward is the type of reward mentioned in the Mishnah in Avos (4:2): "The reward for a Mitzvah is the opportunity to perform another Mitzvah." The Amora'im asked Hash-m to provide them with further opportunities to do these Mitzvos, since they put forth so much effort into fulfilling them properly in the past.
(c) TOSFOS in Bechoros (2b, DH Shema) points out that the expression "Teisi Li" appears only with regard to deeds which one is not obligated to perform, or which most people are not careful to do properly. (The Amora'im who praised themselves for observing the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Tzitzis meant that they never walked four Amos without Tefilin or Tzitzis, as Rashi explains, or, alternatively, most people around them indeed did not perform these Mitzvos properly; see Tosfos to Shabbos 49a, DH k'Elisha, and Rashi to Shabbos 130a, d'Amar Rebbi Yanai.)
Perhaps a person may not demand reward for a Mitzvah which Hash-m commanded him to do. However, when a person performs a Mitzvah in a way which is above and beyond the minimum obligation, perhaps it is not considered inappropriate to ask for reward. (Support for this may be inferred from the Mishnah in Avos (2:8) which says, " If you have learned much Torah, do not attribute worthiness to yourself, because it was for this that you were created" -- that is, one is obligated to learn as much Torah as he can, and thus there is never a point at which he can ask for reward for learning "more.") (M. KORNFELD)
(d) The RITVA in Shabbos explains that the reason why the Amora'im praised themselves for fulfilling the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Tzitzis is that they excelled in the performance of those Mitzvos, as Rashi explains. The Ritva infers from the Gemara there that every Talmid Chacham should choose one Mitzvah to fulfill in the most ideal manner, with scrupulous attention to every detail.
The Ritva's words may be based on what the RAMBAM writes in Perush ha'Mishnayos at the end of Makos. The Mishnah there (23b) states that Hash-m wanted to give the Jewish people the opportunity to earn reward, and therefore He gave them many Mitzvos. The Rambam asks, how does the presence of many Mitzvos provide more opportunity for reward? On the contrary, if there are more Mitzvos to observe, their fulfillment is more difficult and there is more opportunity for punishment! The Rambam explains that when a person properly fulfills just one Mitzvah with no ulterior motives but entirely Lishmah and out of love for Hash-m, he will merit Olam ha'Ba. The Mishnah means that Hash-m gave many Mitzvos so that a person would find it easy to choose at least one of them to observe in an outstanding manner.
Perhaps this is what the Amora'im meant when they said, "Teisi Li." They were not demanding reward, but rather they were saying that "any reward that I receive will be because of this Mitzvah, because this is the Mitzvah which I fulfilled in the most outstanding manner."
This also seems to be the intention of the IYEI HA'YAM cited by the ETZ YOSEF in Shabbos. He explains that the Amora'im meant to say that "if you see that I receive reward, then know that it is because of this Mitzvah."
This approach may resolve a question in the commentary of Rashi in Shabbos. When the Amora'im there (118b) said "Teisi Li" for the respective Mitzvos listed there, Rashi does not explain the meaning of the words "Teisi Li." He explains these words only later in Shabbos (on 119a), when the Gemara quotes Rava who said, "Teisi Li because I love Talmidei Chachamim." Rashi there says "Teisi Li" means that "I will be rewarded." Why does Rashi not explain these words earlier when they first appear in the Gemara? (See IYUN YAKOV.)
The answer might be that had Rashi explained these words earlier, then one would have been bothered by the question of why the Amora'im demanded reward for their good deeds. When Rava said that he would receive reward for loving Talmidei Chachamim, it was clear that he was not requesting any form of material reward, because Rava himself says earlier in Shabbos (23b) that one who loves Talmidei Chachamim will be rewarded by having children who are Talmidei Chachamim. Rava was not asking to be rewarded, but rather he was explaining that if he has children who are Talmidei Chachamim, everyone should know that it is because of his love for Talmidei Chachamim. That is why Rashi waited until there to explain the meaning of "Teisi Li." (M. KORNFELD) (See also Insights to Megilah 28:2.)