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Ketubot, Daf Kuf Gimmel, Part 5
Reading for Thursday, April 20
Today’s sugya begins a long and famous aggadic passage about R. Judah Hanasi. I am not going to comment on every aspect of these aggadot. The stories are understandable, although sometimes strange. And this is not the framework for a long discussion of the meaning of these stories. I would though encourage you to think about them and perhaps bring up some of the issues related to them on our FB page.
ת”ר: בשעת פטירתו של רבי, אמר: לבני אני צריך, נכנסו בניו אצלו. אמר להם: הזהרו בכבוד אמכם; נר יהא דלוק במקומו, שולחן יהא ערוך במקומו, מטה תהא מוצעת במקומה; יוסף חפני, שמעון אפרתי, הם שמשוני בחיי והם ישמשוני במותי.
Our rabbis taught: When Rabbi was about to die he said, “I require [the presence] of my sons.” His sons came before him. He instructed them: “Take care that you show proper respect to your mother. The light shall continue to burn in its usual place, the table shall be laid in its usual place [and my] bed shall be spread in its usual place. Joseph of Haifa and Shimon of Efrat, they who attended to me in my lifetime shall attend on me when I am dead.”
We can see why this story is here in Ketubot. Rabbi on his deathbed instructs his heirs to show respect for his widow and to provide her with the same amenities she was used to during her life. Thus the story is placed in the context of obligations towards widows.
הזהרו בכבוד אמכם. דאורייתא היא דכתיב: +שמות כ’+ כבד את אביך ואת אמך! אשת אב הואי. אשת אב נמי דאורייתא היא, דתניא: כבד את אביך ואת אמך, את אביך – זו אשת אביך, ואת אמך – זו בעל אמך, וי”ו יתירה – לרבות את אחיך הגדול! הני מילי מחיים, אבל לאחר מיתה לא.
“Take care that you show proper respect to your mother.” Is this not from the Torah, since it is written, “Honor your father and your mother?” She was their stepmother.
[The commandment to honor] a stepmother is also from the Torah, for it was taught: “Honor your father and your mother,” “your father” includes your stepmother, “and your mother” includes your stepfather. And the superfluous vav includes your older brother?
This refers to honoring them during their lifetime. But it does not include after death.
The Talmud asks why Rabbi had to tell his sons to honor their mother—this is written directly in the Torah. And even if she is their stepmother, that too is in the Torah, at least midrashically.
The answer is that the Torah mandates honoring stepparents only while the parent is still alive. Once the parent has died, there is no such mandate from the Torah. Thus Rabbi had to instruct his sons to continue honoring his wife after his death.
נר יהא דלוק במקומו, שולחן יהא ערוך במקומו, מטה תהא מוצעת במקומה. מאי טעמא? כל בי שמשי הוה אתי לביתיה, ההוא בי שמשא אתאי שבבתא קא קריה אבבא, אמרה אמתיה: שתיקו, דרבי יתיב! כיון דשמע שוב לא אתא, שלא להוציא לעז על צדיקים הראשונים.
“The light shall continue to burn in its usual place, the table shall be laid in its usual place [and my] bed shall be spread in its usual place.” What is the reason [for all these instructions]? He used to come home at twilight every Shabbat eve [even after his death]. On a certain Shabbat eve a neighbor came calling at his door. His handmaiden said, “Be quiet for Rabbi is sitting there.” As soon as he heard this he did not come anymore, in order not to cast aspersion on earlier righteous ones.
Even after his death, Rabbi used to come home to visit his wife every Friday evening. That is why he needed the house set as it was in his lifetime. While the text does not say this, it would seem likely that it is hinting that he would come home to have relations with his wife. Rabbi stopped coming when he feared that people would know that he came back even after his death, and they would say that only Rabbi was great enough to merit returning after his death. Throughout these stories, Rabbi is often a model of modesty.
יוסף חפני, שמעון אפרתי, הם שמשוני בחיי והם ישמשוני במותי. סבור מינה, בהדין עלמא הוא דקאמר, כיון דחזו דקדים ערסייהו לערסיה, אמרי: שמע מינה לההוא עלמא הוא דקאמר, והאי דאמר הכי? דלא לימרו: מילתא הואי להו, ועד האידנא נמי זכותו דרבי הוא דאהניא להו.
“Joseph of Haifa and Shimon of Efrat who attended to me in my lifetime shall attend to me when I am dead.” They thought he meant [that they would attend to him] in this world. When they saw that their biers preceded his they said, “Learn from this that he was referring to the world to come.” And why did he mention it? So that people should not say that they were guilty of some offence and until now Rabbi’s merit was protecting them.
It seems like Rabbi was saying that Joseph and Shimon would take care of his burial. But these two men die before him. They were to tend to him in the world to come. So why then did Rabbi make that statement? It was to let people know the merit of Joseph and Shimon so that people should not think that they were deserving of death and were kept alive only due to the protection of Rabbi.
אמר להן: לחכמי ישראל אני צריך, נכנסו אצלו חכמי ישראל. אמר להן: אל תספדוני בעיירות, והושיבו ישיבה לאחר שלשים יום; שמעון בני חכם, גמליאל בני נשיא, חנינא בר חמא ישב בראש.
He said to them, “I require [the presence] of the Sages of Israel.” The Sages of Israel entered into his presence. He said to them, “Do not eulogize me in the smaller towns. Reassemble the yeshiva after thirty days. My son Shimon is wise, my son Gamaliel the Nasi, and Hanina b. Hama shall preside at the head.”
This is Rabbi’s next set of instructions.
אל תספדוני בעיירות. סבור מינה, משום טרחא הוא דקאמר, כיון דחזי דקספדי בכרכים וקאתו כולי עלמא, אמרו: שמע מינה, משום יקרא הוא דקאמר.
“Do not eulogize me in the smaller towns.” They thought he was saying this in order [to cause less] trouble. When they saw that they were eulogizing him in the large towns and everyone was gathering, they said, “Learn from this that he said this because of honor.”
Again, people misunderstood the intent of Rabbi’s instructions. They thought he was telling people not to eulogize in the smaller towns to save them trouble. But then they saw that in the end, everyone gathered together to eulogize, thus augmenting Rabbi’s honor.
הושיבו ישיבה לאחר שלשים יום. דלא עדיפנא ממשה רבינו, דכתיב: +דברים ל”ד+ ויבכו בני ישראל את משה בערבות מואב שלשים יום, תלתין יומין ספדין ביממא וליליא, מכאן ואילך ספדו ביממא וגרסי בליליא או ספדו בליליא וגרסי ביממא, עד דספדי תריסר ירחי שתא.
“Reassemble the yeshiva after thirty days.” For I am no greater than our teacher Moses concerning whom it is written, “And the children of Israel wept for Moses in the plains of Moab thirty days.” For thirty days they mourned both day and night. Subsequently they mourned during the day and studied at night or mourned at night and studied during the day, until a period of twelve months of mourning [had passed].
Rabbi tells the sages to go back to learning after thirty day. Again, this was due to his modesty, so that people would not think him greater than Moses. Nevertheless, the people did continue to mourn Rabbi for a whole year whenever they were not learning.
ההוא יומא דאשכבתיה דרבי, נפקא בת קלא ואמרה: כל דהוה באשכבתיה דרבי מזומן הוא לחיי העוה”ב. ההוא כובס כל יומא הוה אתי קמיה, ההוא יומא לא אתא, כיון דשמע הכי, סליק לאיגרא ונפל לארעא ומית, יצתה בת קול ואמרה: אף ההוא כובס מזומן הוא לחיי העולם הבא.
On the day that Rabbi died a heavenly voice went forth and announced: Whoever was present at the death of Rabbi is destined to enjoy the life of the world to come. A certain launderer, who used to come to him every day, failed to come on that day; and, as soon as he heard this, he went up on the roof, and fell down to the ground and died. A heavenly voice went forth and announced: That launderer also is destined to enjoy the life of the world to come.
This is admittedly a strange story. It is meant to show the salvific power of Rabbi’s death, but also the poignant ironies of life.
שמעון בני חכם. מאי קאמר? הכי קאמר: אף על פי ששמעון בני חכם, גמליאל בני נשיא.
אמר לוי: צריכא למימר? אמר רבי שמעון בר רבי: צריכא לך ולמטלעתך.
מאי קשיא ליה? הא קרא קאמר: +דברי הימים ב’ כ”א+ ואת הממלכה נתן ליהורם כי הוא הבכור. ההוא ממלא מקום אבותיו הוה, ורבן גמליאל אינו ממלא מקום אבותיו הוה.
ורבי מאי טעמא עבד הכי? נהי דאינו ממלא מקום אבותיו בחכמה, ביראת חטא ממלא מקום אבותיו הוה.
“My son Shimon is wise.” What did he mean? This is what he meant: Although my son Shimon is wise, my son Gamaliel shall be the Nasi.
Levi said, “Was it even necessary to state this?”
Shimon b. Rabbi said, “It was necessary for you and your lameness.”
What was his difficulty? Does not Scripture state, “But the kingdom he gave to Yehoram, because he was the firstborn?”
He filled the place of his ancestors but R. Gamaliel did not fill the place of his ancestors. Then why did Rabbi act in the manner he did? Granted that he did not fill the place of his ancestors in wisdom but he did fill their place in his fear of sin.
Rabbi says that Shimon is “wise.” This is interpreted as meaning that although Shimon is wiser than Gamaliel, Gamaliel is to be the Nasi, the political leader, because he is the first born. This is true even though Gamaliel, unlike the biblical king Yehoram, was not worthy of filling the shoes of his ancestors, at least in terms of his wisdom. Ultimately, Gamaliel did fear sin, and therefore, despite his inferiority to Shimon in terms of wisdom, he was appointed the political successor of Rabbi.