QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rav Papa and Abaye were involved in a Halachic dispute. Rav Papa cited proof for his logic from a Beraisa, and Abaye consented. Abaye praised Rav Papa's acumen and declared that his parents must be alive and providing him with support, such that he is able to dedicate all of his time to learning Torah. The Gemara relates that "Abaye placed his eyes on them, and they died."
This incident is very difficult to understand.
1. What right did Abaye have to cause the parents of Rav Papa to suffer such a cruel fate, with no apparent guilt on their part?
2. How was Abaye able to "place his eyes" on Rav Papa's parents when they were not present? An "Ayin ha'Ra" is effective only when the person actually sees the subject it affects (see Berachos 20a).
3. Why did Abaye's "placing of the eyes" have such an effect, when neither Rav Papa nor his parents had done anything wrong and did not deserve to die?
ANSWER: This incident may be understood in the following way. Every "placing of the eyes," or "Ayin ha'Ra," mentioned in the Gemara involves a feeling of jealousy (Kin'ah) of a Chacham (or layperson) towards the deeds of his colleague, even if that feeling is very slight. Although he certainly has no conscious intention to harm his colleague (as RAV YAKOV EMDEN here writes at length), nevertheless the distress which the Chacham experienced as a result of his colleague's deeds effects a process of retribution towards the one who pained him. This is the mechanism of every "Ayin ha'Ra" mentioned in the Gemara. When it involves a Chacham, even the most minute degree of distress can cause the other person to be punished. (See Avos 2:10, "Hevei Zahir b'Gachaltan..." and the commentaries there.)
In the case of the Gemara here, Abaye's "Ayin ha'Ra" was not placed upon the parents of Rav Papa, but rather upon Rav Papa himself, who had achieved great success in his Torah learning due to the efforts of his parents in providing him and his family with material support (as Rashi explains). Now that his parents had died, it would be very difficult for him to continue learning with the same exclusive focus with which he had learned until now, since he would now be responsible for the burden of supporting his family himself.
When the Gemara says that Abaye "placed his eyes on them," it does not mean literally that he looked upon Rav Papa's parents. Rather, it means that by placing his eyes on Rav Papa, his parents died. (Alternatively, the text of the Gemara should read instead that "he placed his eyes on him," as indeed is the Girsa in the Munich manuscript of the Gemara.)
The parents of Rav Papa certainly did no wrong to Abaye. Apparently, their destined time to depart from this world had arrived already and passed, and the only reason they were given extra time in this world was in the merit of their support of their son, Rav Papa. Now, however, for some reason Rav Papa became no longer deserving of their support, and thus his merit was removed from them and they died.
What misdeed did Rav Papa commit that caused him to be unworthy of the continued support of his parents? The fact that he corrected an error in a Halachic ruling of his Rebbi, Abaye, should not have been cause for retribution. On the contrary, one is obligated to point out to his Rebbi an error in a Halachic ruling.
It must be that a person on the level of righteousness of Rav Papa was expected to correct his Rebbi's error in a more respectful manner. Although the manner in which he spoke to Abaye ("But does the master not maintain that...") would have been considered sufficiently respectful towards another student, Rav Papa should have spoken with even more reverence and said, "Is it not written in the Torah that...," or, "Did we not learn that..." (as recorded in the Shulchan Aruch YD 240, based on the Gemara in Kidushin 32a). Perhaps Rav Papa was held accountable for not saying both parts of the ruling immediately ("on condition that he give 200 Zuz," and "Meshateh Ani Bach"). Instead, he waited until Abaye made a mistake in the second Halachah and then he corrected him, and that was certainly inappropriate (as the Gemara teaches in Shavuos 31a).
Ha'Rav Moshe Shapiro shlit'a explained that Rav Papa did not sin at all. Rather, the death of his parents was for his benefit, so that he would be able to learn Torah through hardship and thereby acquire an eternal share in Torah. (M. Kornfeld)


QUESTION: The Mishnah expounds the verses in the Parshah of Chalitzah. The Mishnah explains that the words, "v'Kar'u Lo... v'Dibru Elav" -- "They will call to him... and they will speak to him" (Devarim 25:8), teach that the Beis Din must advise the Yavam about the proper course of action he should take. RASHI explains, based on the Gemara earlier (101b), that this means that the Beis Din assesses the situation and, depending on the circumstances (such as if the Yavam is young and the Yevamah is old, or if the Yavam is old and the Yevamah is young) advises the Yavam not to marry the Yevamah but to do Chalitzah instead, and to find another woman who is more fitting for him to marry.
However, the Mishnah's explanation of those words is entirely inconsistent with the context of the verse. The previous verse (Devarim 25:7) states that "if the man does not want to take his Yevamah... she should go up to the gate to the elders and say, 'My brother-in-law refuses [to do Yibum].'" The verse then states that the elders call in the Yavam ("v'Kar'u Lo") and speak to him ("v'Dibru Elav"), and then "the Yavam shall stand and say, 'I do not want to marry her.'"
The verse clearly instructs the Beis Din to call the Yavam after he has refused to do Yibum. Why does the Gemara say that these words mean that the Beis Din advises him not to do Yibum?
(a) The ARUCH LA'NER points out that the RAMBAM's explanation of the verse differs slightly from the Gemara's explanation. The Rambam (in Perush ha'Mishnayos and in Hilchos Yibum 4:1) explains that the elders call to the Yavam and instruct him to do Yibum if the Yevamah is appropriate for him, and they advise him to do Chalitzah if she is not appropriate for him.
The Rambam understands the Gemara's elucidation of the verse in a way which is consistent with the context of the verse. When the Beraisa states that Beis Din instructs the Yavam to do Chalitzah when the Yevamah is inappropriate for him, the Beraisa is emphasizing an additional point which is not expressed by the simple meaning of the verse but which apparently is derived from the repetition of "v'Kar'u Lo... v'Dibru Elav." If the elders "call to him," obviously they must also "speak to him"! It must be that "v'Kar'u Lo" ("they call to him") implies that they "call to him to come in" because they need to see him in order to assess the situation and advise him appropriately. (The Gemara's Derashah of "v'Lo Shelucham" (Yevamos 101b) may be derived from the word "Lo" alone and not the word "v'Kar'u," leaving that word available for the Gemara's present Derashah.)
(b) Other Rishonim understand that the Beis Din does not advise the Yavam to marry, as the Rambam writes. Rather, the advice of Beis Din is intended merely to prevent the Yavam from doing Yibum where it is inappropriate. Accordingly, the letter "Vav" of "v'Kar'u Lo" does not mean "and," but rather "or." The verse is saying that either the woman tells the elders that her Yavam refuses to do Yibum with her, or the elders call him in and tell him that he should not do Yibum because of their assessment of the situation.