1) AGADAH: THE VOCATION OF THE FUTURE
OPINIONS: Rebbi Elazar states that in the future, those who have professions ("Ba'alei Umniyos") will leave their work (specifically, sea-traders) and toil on the ground in agriculture as the verse says, "They will descend from their boats -- all who hold the oar, rowers, all sailors; they will stand on the ground" (Yechezkel 27:29).
Why will everyone leave their vocations and till the soil instead?
(a) The IYUN YAKOV explains that Rebbi Elazar is consistent with his view in Sanhedrin (98a), where he says that the ultimate sign of the advent of the final Ge'ulah will be the tremendous agricultural productivity of Eretz Yisrael. In the Gemara here, Rebbi Elazar says that when the final Ge'ulah arrives, even those who work in crafts and commerce (vocations far more profitable than farming) will leave their professions in order to work in farming because farming will become much more profitable than all other professions due to the abundant productivity of Eretz Yisrael.
(b) The ETZ YOSEF in the Ein Yakov points out that in Rebbi Elazar's following statement, he says that there is no lower form of work than tilling the soil. However, Rebbi Elazar says earlier that "any person who does not own land is not a man," implying that working the land is a good form of livelihood.
The Etz Yosef explains that it is because working the land is a lowly profession and reaps only modest returns that one should own and work the land. Working the land helps a person develop the attribute of modesty and enables him to reach a high level of Bitachon, trust in Hash-m. (See TOSFOS to Shabbos 31a, DH Emunas.) A farmer cannot fall into the trap of believing that his profits are the results of his personal efforts and labor, as members of other professions tend to think. He realizes that the growth of the produce depends entirely on Hash-m. Moreover, because his profit margin is modest, he learns to be satisfied with simple, basic foods.
In the future, when all people will recognize that the purpose of life in this world is not to amass material wealth but to serve Hash-m, they will turn to working the ground in order to attain faith in Hash-m and to realize that He provides for everyone.
(c) The BEN YEHOYADA writes in the name of his son that the Gemara alludes to the two primary revolutions in international economics -- the transportation revolution and the industrial revolution. The advent of the steam engine and the railroad (and, in more recent times, the automobile and airplane) brought about the transportation revolution and effectively brought an end to the primacy of sea-travel. The industrial revolution minimized the number of professional laborers by enabling a large quantity of a single product to be made by a machine, thereby replacing human laborers at many stages in the manufacturing process.
2) AGADAH: COMPARING A WOMAN TO A NATION
QUESTION: The Gemara cites the verse, "I will anger them with a despicable nation" (Devarim 32:21), and says that this refers to a "wicked wife."
Why does the Gemara assert that the verse refers to a "wife," when the verse clearly refers to a nation and not to a woman?
(a) The IYUN YAKOV explains that women are called "a nation unto themselves" (see Shabbos 62a). Hence, when the verse refers to a "nation," it may refer to a woman.
(b) The IYEI HA'YAM explains that the "nation" refers to a wife's progeny. Besides the need to tolerate his wicked wife, a man will need to tolerate her offspring who will have the same wicked traits as their mother.
(c) The MAHARSHA writes that the verse refers to Galus, and not to a bad wife. The Gemara cites the verse as a metaphor to show how difficult it is to be married to a wicked wife. Just as the Jewish people in Galus are unable to escape the torment of their enemies, so, too, one who has a wicked wife -- and an expensive Kesuvah -- is unable to divorce his wife and free himself of his torment.
3) AGADAH: THE "NESHAMOS" IN "GUF"
OPINIONS: Rebbi Asi states that Mashi'ach ("Ben David") will not come "until all of the Neshamos that are in Guf are terminated."
What is the meaning of the term "Guf" in this context?
(a) RASHI here and in Avodah Zarah (5a) and Nidah (13b) explains that "Guf" is the chamber in which the souls of all future Jews are kept. Rashi here explains that it specifically refers to the "Pargod" (Heavenly curtain) which divides between the Shechinah and the angels.
(b) RABEINU AVRAHAM MIN HA'HAR offers an original explanation for the Gemara's statement (based on "Remez"). Rabeinu Avraham Min ha'Har explains that this statement alludes to the age at which a person is able to understand the secrets of the Torah. "Ben David" is an allusion to the development of a mature intellect ("Ko'ach ha'Sechel"). When the Gemara says that "Ben David will not come until...," it means that a person does not reach this level of deeper understanding until "the Neshamos of the Guf are terminated," that is, until the physical strength of his body begins to wane, when he reaches old age. As a person's physical vigor weakens, his analytic and cognitive powers become stronger. That is why the Gemara in Chagigah (13a) says that the Tana'im would study the secrets of the "Ma'aseh ha'Merkavah" only when they were older, when they would be able to comprehend the secrets of the Torah. (The term "Ben David" may allude to the age of seventy, the age at which a person is considered old (Avos 5:21), which was the age at which David ha'Melech died.)
Rabeinu Avraham Min ha'Har says that the statement of the Gemara here parallels an incident recorded in the Gemara in Sanhedrin (38a). Rebbi Chiya's sons, Yehudah and Chizkiyah, were sitting in front of Rebbi at a meal and did not speak at all. Rebbi decided to give them some wine so that they would be less inhibited and talk. When they drank the wine, they said, "Ben David will come only after the two leading families in Yisrael -- the Rosh Golah in Bavel and the Nasi in Eretz Yisrael -- are terminated!" Rebbi complained that "they are throwing thorns in my eyes," meaning that he was upset that they were predicting that he would not live to see Mashi'ach. Rebbi Chiya explained to Rebbi that he should not get upset because "Yayin" (wine) has the value of seventy in Gematriya, and "Sod" (secret) also has the value of seventy, and thus when one drinks wine, secrets emerge.
Rabeinu Avraham Min ha'Har's intention in quoting this Gemara is unclear. It seems that his intention may be as follows:
The sons of Rebbi Chiya did not want to speak about the more esoteric parts of the Torah in the presence of Rebbi because they had not yet reached the age at which they felt comfortable discussing those parts of the Torah. When Rebbi insisted that they speak and he gave them wine to drink for that purpose, they tried to convey to him their reason for not speaking in a hidden, allegorical way. They said that "Ben David," meaning the intellect mature enough to understand the secrets of the Torah, "will come only after the two leading families in Yisrael -- the Rosh Golah in Bavel and the Nasi in Eretz Yisrael -- are terminated," a reference to the temporal leaders who take care of the physical needs of the nation, representing the physical strength of the body. (More specifically, those two leaders may refer respectively to a person's reproductive faculty and creative faculty.) When a person's physical strength and needs lessen as he ages, he becomes more fit to understand the secrets (Sod) of the Torah.
When Rebbi did not fully understand the intention behind their statement, Rebbi Chiya clarified what they meant and said that both "Yayin" and "Sod" equal seventy in Gematriya, which shows that only when a person reaches the age of seventy is he able to delve into the secrets of the Torah.
4) HALACHAH: THE CONDUCT OF BEN AZAI
QUESTION: Ben Azai states that one who does not involve himself in the Mitzvah of Piryah v'Rivyah is both considered a murderer and reduces the "heavenly form." Nevertheless, Ben Azai himself never married and did not fulfill the Mitzvah of Piryah v'Rivyah. (The Gemara in Sotah (4b) cites various opinions concerning whether Ben Azai was ever married. According to one opinion, he was once married but he separated from her. According to other opinions, he never married.)
The Gemara here relates that the other Tana'im asked Ben Azai on what basis he exempted himself from the Mitzvah of Piryah v'Rivyah. He answered, "What can I do? My soul yearns for Torah!"
The RAMBAM (Hilchos Ishus 15:3) expounds on this and writes that "if one's soul yearns for Torah and he constantly thinks about it like Ben Azai and he is attached to it all of his days, and [because of this] he does not marry a wife, he has no sin in his hands (Ein b'Yado Avon)."
What does this mean? On what basis is a person permitted to abstain from fulfilling the Mitzvas Aseh to have children?
(a) The ME'IRI and the TAZ (EH 1:3) explain that one who is immersed in his Torah learning is not permitted, l'Chatchilah, to refrain from marrying. He is obligated to fulfill the Mitzvah to marry just as he is obligated to fulfill other Mitzvos. However, it is possible that a person becomes so immersed in his learning that he feels incapable of being married. His desire for Torah is so strong that, to a certain degree, he loses control and cannot marry ("Ones"). In such a case, although refraining from marriage might not be proper, Hash-m pardons him because his inability to marry is beyond his control. This is the intent of the Rambam when he says, "Ein b'Yado Avon." (See also RAV ELCHANAN WASSERMAN Hy'd in KOVETZ HE'OROS, Hosafos #1.)
(b) The RITVA apparently understands that the Rambam permits a person like Ben Azai not to marry even l'Chatchilah because of his profound dedication to learning Torah. In the preceding Halachah, the Rambam writes that when a person is occupied with learning Torah and does not want to marry so that he not need to take time away from his learning to provide for a family, he is permitted to delay marriage because of the principle that "one who is involved in one Mitzvah is exempt from another." According to the Ritva, a person like Ben Azai may delay marriage indefinitely because he is involved in the Mitzvah of learning Torah.
Rav Elchanan Wasserman (loc. cit.) challenges the Ritva's explanation from the Gemara in Moed Katan (9b) which states that when a person is presented with the opportunity to do one of two Mitzvos -- to learn Torah or to do another Mitzvah, if the other Mitzvah is one which another person can do, he should let another person do it and not interrupt his Torah learning. If the other Mitzvah is one which only he can do, he must interrupt his learning in order to do it.
The ROGATCHOVER GA'ON in TZAFNAS PANE'ACH suggests that the Mitzvah of Piryah v'Rivyah is considered a Mitzvah which can be fulfilled by others. When the Gemara says that one should continue learning and let someone else do the Mitzvah which can be done by others, it means that the outcome of the Mitzvah can be achieved by others. The outcome of Piryah v'Rivyah is to populate the world, and thus it is considered a Mitzvah which can be done by others. Only when the outcome of a Mitzvah cannot be achieved by others must one interrupt his learning in order to do the Mitzvah.
The allowance to delay marriage in order to remain immersed in Torah learning applies only to a person who has no Hirhurim, wrongful thoughts. The Rambam concludes that a person who has Hirhurim is obligated to marry a wife regardless of whether he has children or not (see Rambam, ibid.). Only if he is like Ben Azai who is so deeply and completely involved in learning Torah and has no wrongful thoughts may he refrain from getting married.