• Rav Ezra Bick


Introduction to the Study of Talmud

Megilla: 11: 22b

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a

red pause box

It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also written in red

Last week, we were learning the sugya that asked how many olim there are on a fast day. We got up to the point (at the beginning of 22b) where the gemara cited an explicit beraita that on work days, such as fast days, we have three olim. The beraita read: "This is the rule, every (day) which would result in an interference with work for the people, such as a public fast or Tisha B'Av, three read."

The gemara concluded with the words "shma mina" - "we hear from this," meaning that this proof is conclusive.

In nine cases out of ten, a concluding "shma mina" is indeed the end of a sugya - which is why I felt comfortable ending the shiur last week at that point. But there are exceptions - and to our surprise, this sugya  is not over. We are picking up the discussion from the fifth line on 22b - "amar Rav Ashi...."

Rav Ashi said: But do we not cite the mishna in this way! - "This is the rule, every day that has a musaf and is not a yom tov, four read." What does this come to add? - Is it not to add public fasts and Tisha B'Av?

(Question)  According to Rav Ashi, the mishna is neither according to the Tanna Kamma nor according to R. Yossi.

For it is taught: If (Tisha B'Av) falls on Monday or Thursday, three read and one (of them) is maftir; on Tuesday or Wednesday, one reads and he is maftir. R. Yossi says: In all cases three read and one is maftir.

But what about "This is the rule"? In other words, what does the rule add?

No - it comes to add Rosh Chodesh and (Chol Ha) Moed.

That is written explicitly - "On Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed four read."

(The rule) is merely a sign (and not meant to imply any additional information), so that you not think that Yom Tov and Chol HaMoed are equivalent.

Rather, remember this rule: Every day which has an additional element relative to another day, has an additional person (as an oleh). Therefore:

Rosh Chodesh and Moed which have a musaf sacrifice, four read.

Yom Tov which has a prohibition on work, five.

Yom Kippur, which has the punishment of karet, six.

Shabbat, where the prohibition carries the punishment of stoning, seven.

אמר רב אשי: והא אנן לא תנן הכי - זה הכלל כל יום שיש בו מוסף ואינו יום טוב קורין ארבעה - לאתויי מאי? לאו לאתויי תענית ציבור ותשעה באב?

ולרב אשי, מתניתין מני לא תנא קמא ולא רבי יוסי.

 דתניא חל להיות בשני ובחמישי קורין ג' ומפטיר אחד; בשלישי וברביעי קורא אחד ומפטיר אחד. רבי יוסי אומר לעולם קורין ג' ומפטיר אחד.

ואלא קשיא זה הכלל?

לא! לאתויי ראש חודש ומועד.

הא בהדיא קתני לה - בראשי חדשים ומועד קורין ארבעה.

 סימנא בעלמא יהיב דלא תימא יו"ט וחולו של מועד כי הדדי נינהו.

אלא נקוט האי כללא בידך כל דטפי ליה מילתא מחבריה טפי ליה גברא יתירא הלכך

בר"ח ומועד דאיכא קרבן מוסף קורין ארבעה

ביו"ט דאסור בעשיית מלאכה חמשה

ביוה"כ דענוש כרת ששה

שבת דאיכא איסור סקילה שבעה

In the end, the conclusion of last week still stands, but Rav Ashi attempted to prove that a fast day should have four olim. His proof is from our mishna, which is parallel to the text cited in the proof that there are three olim on a fast day. Both begin with "this is the rule," but the rule of the mishna was not interference with work but the presence of a musaf. Rav Ashi claims this includes a fast day.


The word "l'atuyei" (translated as "comes to add") means that Rav Ashi assumes that if there is a rule, it is there because through the rule we can learn the law for some additional case not spelled out in the mishna. If you have a list of cases and then a rule, it generally implies that the rule includes more cases than the explicit list - otherwise, what do I need it for? Since the mishna  explicitly mentions Rosh Chodesh and Chol HaMoed, there must be another day which "has a musaf," on which there are four olim. That can only be a fast day (and the musaf refers, as we learned last week, to an additional beracha in the shemona esrei and not to an additional sacrifice).

The gemara's answer is that this particular "this is the rule" does not, in fact, imply any additional examples. It is "l'simna b'alma," just a summation of what is explicit. Why then is it here? To make it clearer that we are distinguishing between a yom tov and chol hamoed, between a festival and the intermediate days within the festival.

The gemara then proceeds to explain the principle behind the entire reading scheme laid out in the mishna. Any special sign of status for a given day is reflected in the number of olim for that day. A hierarchy of days is created, with Rosh Chodesh on the bottom and Shabbat on top, with between four and seven olim for each day.

Why does the gemara  reject Rav Ashi's reading of the mishna? Surely it would be a better reading to use the "this is the rule" to imply something? The gemara finds an explicit argument concerning the reading on Tisha B'Av. The Tana Kamma and R. Yossi require either one oleh or three, but neither mentions the possibility of four olim. Since Rav Ashi is based on his reading of our mishna, it would be strange if the opinion expressed in a mishna corresponded to neither of the recorded opinions concerning Tisha B'Av. Apparently, Rav Ashi's reading of the mishna, with its implication of four olim on a fast day, is incorrect.

The sugya concludes by giving the criteria which result in each additional oleh for each different day. Review the list (from Rosh Chodesh to Shabbat). Make sure the logic of the progression from each day to the next is clear. Why is a fast day left in the minimum category of three, together with Mondays, Thursdays, and Shabbat mincha?

When rejecting Rav Ashi's opinion concerning the reading on a fast day, the gemara quoted a beraita concerning the reading on Tisha B'Av. Surprisingly, the Tanna Kamma maintained that if Tisha B'Av falls on a day that would not otherwise have a Torah reading, only one oleh is called. In all other cases, the minimum number of olim is three, as we saw. Why is Tisha B'Av different.

The Rav z"l, Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, answered this question by first taking notice of the unusual juxtaposition of the number of olim with the instruction on the maftir, the reading of a passage from the prophets. There is no dispute concerning the maftir between the Tanna Kamma and R. Yossi. Why is the statement that one of the olim reads the maftir appended to both of the opinions concerning the number of olim?

The Rav answered that the reading on a fast, like Tisha B'Av, is different than that on any other day. In all other cases, the central reading is from the Torah, with the haftara an additional supplementary reading. However, on a fast, the reading from the Prophets is the main reading. The reason is because the purpose of the reading on a fast day is teshuva, repentance. The prophetic books are essentially a call for teshuva, or a rebuke and remonstrance for sin. The only reason, said the Rav, that we read first from the Torah on a fast, is because of the honor of the Torah, not to give precedence to the Prophets. Hence the Tanna Kamma thought that it is sufficient to have only one aliya from the Torah, since the reading is not really a goal in itself. R. Yossi basically agrees, but nonetheless claims that any reading of the Torah must have three aliyot, for this is the minimum implicit already in the enactment of Moshe Rabbeinu. The language of the beraita however makes it clear that they are arguing about the reading of the Torah of he who will read the maftir. It is the reading of the maftir that is the source of their disagreement concerning the reading of the Torah.

The nature of the reading on a fast day is different, added the Rav, than on any other day. On all other days (other than Monday and Thursday, where it is to have regular learning of Torah without an interruption of "three days without water"), the reading celebrates the sanctity of the day or the rejoicing. Learning and reading the Torah is a way of celebration. On a fast day, this makes no sense, since there is no sanctity and nothing to celebrate. The purpose of the reading on a fast is, as we stated above, repentance.

Back to the gemara

In the unsuccessful attempt to prove that there are four olim on a fast, the gemara (last week) quoted the story of Rav's visit to Bavel, where he has not recited a final beracha after his aliya. The next detail of the story, to which the gemara above had not related, was that the congregation fell on their faces, but Rav did not. The gemara now returns to that detail. Although this has nothing to do with the topic of our perek, the gemara follows the links as they arise and explored each topic independently. (I am not the first person to notice that reading gemara is, at times, like reading a hyperlinked text. Every now and then, you "click" on a link, go off on excursion, and come back to the main topic later.)

Quote: Rav came to Bavel on a public fast. He arose and read from the sefer (Torah). He began and recited a beracha;  he finished and did not recite a beracha. Everybody fell on their faces, but Rav did not fall on his face.

Why did Rav not fall on his face? The floor was made of stone, and we have learned:

"You shall not place a covering stone in your land, to bow on it" (Vayikra 26,1). On it you may not bow in your land, but you may bow on stones of the Temple. This is according to (the opinion of) Ulla, for Ulla said: The Torah has only forbidden a floor of stones.

If this is so, why only Rav - all of them also (should not have bowed down)?

It (the stone) was in front of Rav.

Let him go to them and fall on his face!

He did not want to bother the public.

Rashi: For if he would go, they all would stand up before him.

Or alternatively you may say: Rav would stretch out his arms and feet (when bowing; i.e., he would prostrate himself completely), (and his not doing so here was) in accordance with Ulla, for Ulla said: The Torah prohibited only stretching out of one's arms and feet.

Rashi: And the rest of the congregation did not do so.

Let him fall on his face and not stretch out arms and feet!

He did not want to change his custom.

Or alternatively you may say: An important man is different.

Rashi: He never fell on his face, for he was an important person who does not fall on his face.

In accordance with the opinion of R. Elazar, for R. Elazar said: An important person is not permitted to fall on his face unless he is assured that he will be answered like Yehoshua bin Nun, where it is written, "God said to Yehoshua, Arise and go...."

גופא רב איקלע לבבל בתענית צבור. קם, קרא בספרא, פתח בריך, חתם, ולא בריך, נפול כולי עלמא אאנפייהו ורב לא נפל על אנפיה.

 מ"ט רב לא נפיל על אפיה? רצפה של אבנים היתה, ותניא

ואבן משכית לא תתנו בארצכם להשתחות עליה - עליה אי אתה משתחוה בארצכם אבל אתה משתחוה על אבנים של בית המקדש, כדעולא, דאמר עולא: לא אסרה תורה אלא רצפה של אבנים בלבד.

 אי הכי, מאי איריא רב, אפילו כולהו נמי?

קמיה דרב הואי.

 וליזיל לגבי ציבורא ולינפול על אפיה!

לא בעי למיטרח ציבורא.

ואיבעית אימא, רב פישוט ידים ורגלים הוה עביד, וכדעולא, דאמר עולא: לא אסרה תורה אלא פישוט ידים ורגלים בלבד.

 וליפול על אפיה ולא ליעביד פישוט ידים ורגלים!

 לא משני ממנהגיה.

ואיבעית אימא: אדם חשוב שאני, כדרבי אלעזר,

דאמר רבי אלעזר: אין אדם חשוב רשאי ליפול על פניו אלא אם כן נענה כיהושע בן נון, דכתיב ויאמר ה' אל יהושע קום לך [וגו'].

The verse in Vayikra 26,1 is interpreted by the Sages to prohibit bowing on a floor of stone. Because the prohibition applies only "in your land," which is an apparently meaningless restriction (where else - in the sky? on water?), the beraita explains that "in your land" comes to exclude in the Temple, which had a floor of stone, and those in attendance during the service would bow down to the floor on their faces.

The gemara gives three different explanations why Rav did not bow down, even though the rest of the congregation did.

1. Only in front of him was the floor made of stone. In order to explain why he simply did not move, the gemara adds that he did not wish to walk to a different place, for then the congregation would have risen in his honor. Better not to bow down in the usual manner than to cause the community to stand up for him.

2. Rav would bow by prostrating himself totally, which other people did not do. The prohibition in Vayikra 26 refers only to bowing in that manner. Here too, the gemara has to add that Rav would rather forego bowing altogether than to change his custom.

3. On the contrary, Rav never bowed at all ("fell on his face"), for it is prohibited for an "important man" to fall on his face unless he is assured that God will hear his prayer.

This "falling on one's face" is the prayer we call tachanun, recited after the shemona esrei. How exactly our custom accords with this gemara will be seen next week. It is worth mentioning already though, that the Rambam lists "falling on one's face" as one of the laws of shemona esrei; i.e., it is not an additional prayer, but a kind of completion to the shemona esrei itself. From the Rambam it is clear that the main point is not what you say, but the fact that you bow. In other words, it is not that this prayer requires bowing, but that the requirement that one bow down after the shemona esrei engenders that one also say something when doing so.

We shall explore the laws of bowing next week. Until then, kol tuv ve-shabbat shalom.