• Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Megilla 23: 25a-25b

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

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1461 for 25a

http://www.e-daf.com/dafprint.asp?ID=1462 for 25b

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

We concluded last week's shiur in the middle of a discussion of when we silence one who makes a statement in the context of prayer that sounds as though it is tinged with heresy. The gemara now explains the last two statements of the mishna, which extend the discussion to misinterpretations of pesukim. We are up to the two dots toward the bottom of 25a, three lines before the mishna. The gemara will present each of the mishna's concluding statement and briefly explain what it means.

One who euphemizes the forbidden sexual relations - we silence him:

Rav Yosef taught: The embarrassment of his father and the embarrassment of his mother.

One who says (regarding the verse) "You shall not give of your offspring to pass, etc.:

The house of R' Yishmael taught: The verse refers to a Jew who had relations with a non-Jewess and had from her a son for idol worship .  

המכנה בעריות משתקין אותו:

תנא רב יוסף: קלון אביו וקלון אמו.

האומר ומזרעך לא תתן להעביר וכו',

תנא דבי רבי ישמעאל: בישראל הבא על הכותית והוליד ממנה בן לעבודה זרה הכתוב מדבר.

The mishna stated that one who explains the meaning of the forbidden sexual relations in a euphemistic way is to be silenced. Rav Yosef explains how this is possible; one can explain that when the Torah says that one should not uncover the "nakedness" (erva) of one's father or mother (Vayikra 18:7), the intention is that one should not reveal any embarrassing information about them. While this is certainly true, it is not the meaning of the verse, and the person should therefore be silenced.

The final ruling of the mishna is that one who explains that the Torah's admonition against giving one's child to pass before molech really refers to one who has relations with a non-Jew, should also be silenced. The verse regarding molech (Vayikra 18:21) refers to participating in an idolatrous ceremony in which the child was passed between two fires. One could have interpreted the verse allegorically as referring to one who bears children via a non-Jewish woman and thereby gives his child to idol worship; the child will not be halachically Jewish, and may well lead a life of idolatry. This interpretation would be particularly attractive because the pasuk appears in the middle of a lengthy list of forbidden sexual relations; hence, understanding that this verse too refers to such a prohibition would make the pasuk fit better with the larger context of the parsha. Additionally, there are verses that warn that intermarriage leads to one's children becoming idolaters (see Devarim 7:3-4). Nevertheless, because this understanding is not the correct meaning of this pasuk and is a distortion of the halacha - while it is forbidden to have sexual relations with non-Jews, it is certainly not punishable by death, as is the prohibition of molech - one who advocates this interpretation is to be silenced.

The mishna

The last mishna concluded with the appropriate reaction to incorrect renderings of certain pesukim. Our mishna continues with a discussion of which sections ought not be read or translated publicly at all, lest people misunderstand them. The mishna is seven lines from the end of 25a:

The incident of Reuven is read and not translated; the incident of Tamar is read and translated.

The first (time the Torah recounts the) incident of the (golden) calf is read and translated, and the second is read and not translated.

The Priestly Blessings, the incidents of David and Amnon are read and not translated.

We do not read as maftir the Chariot, and R' Yehuda permits.

R' Eliezer says: We do not read as maftir from "Make known to Jerusalem" (Yechezkel 16).   

מעשה ראובן נקרא ולא מתרגם, מעשה תמר נקרא ומתרגם,

מעשה עגל הראשון נקרא ומתרגם, והשני נקרא ולא מתרגם.

ברכת כהנים, מעשה דוד ואמנון - נקראין ולא מתרגמין.

אין מפטירין במרכבה, ורבי יהודה מתיר.

רבי אליעזר אומר: אין מפטירין בהודע את ירושלים (יחזקאל ט"ז).

The first two sections mentioned by the mishna are incidents that happened with two of Ya'akov's sons. The Torah (Bereshit 35:22) relates that Reuven lay with Bilhah, his father's concubine. The gemara in Masechet Shabbat (55b) claims that Reuven did not have relations with Bilhah, but rather upset his father's bed in frustration over the fact that after Rachel's death, Ya'akov had moved his bed to Bilhah's tent rather than to Leah's (Reuven's mother) tent. Regardless, we are concerned that a public translation of this story will give people an unnecessarily critical view of Reuven, who was on the whole a righteous person.

In contrast, the story of Yehuda and Tamar (Bereshit 38) is publicly translated. The background here is that Tamar married Yehuda's son Er, and upon his death, she married Yehuda's next son Onan (in accordance with the concept of yibum). Onan also died, and Yehuda promised to marry her off to his next son, Shela. As time went on, Tamar saw that she was not being given to Shela, so she essentially tricked Yehuda himself into having relations with her (Ramban explains that in biblical times, this too could be a fulfillment of yibum). She became pregnant, was accused of illicit relations and sentenced to death. At the last moment, she revealed to Yehuda that it was he who had impregnated her, and Yehuda publicly admitted her innocence and exonerated her. The gemara will explain why one may have thought that this section would not be publicly translated, and why in fact it is translated.

The next pair of sections mentioned in the mishna is the making of the golden calf. When the Torah first describes its construction (Shemot 32:4), it says that Aharon fashioned the calf. When Aharon repeats the story to Moshe, however, he says that he put the gold into the fire, and the calf emerged (ibid. 32:24). This part ought not be publicly translated, lest people mistakenly view its "miraculous" construction as proof that it must really have had some independent power. 

The mishna next mentions that the pesukim that are recited as the priestly blessings (Bamidbar 6:22-24) are not translated. The gemara (26b) explains that this is because of the word ישא - Hashem "will turn" His countenance to us and grant us peace. Rashi there understands that the potential problem is that people will think that Hashem shows us undue favoritism, and blesses us regardless of our deeds. In reality, Hashem "turns toward us" because (and if!) we are deserving of it. 

The next reference in the mishna is to the story involving David and Amnon (II Shmuel 13). In short, David's son Amnon desired his half-sister Tamar, and tricked David himself into sending her to his room, where Amnon raped her. This was the beginning of the terrible family strife that plagued David's family as a punishment for his sin with Batsheva, and the incident likely led to the rebellion against David by another of his sons, Avshalom. The gemara will explain that we do not translate the verses that identify Amnon as David's son, so as to disassociate David from the Amnon's sin.

The "Chariot," or merkava, refers to the opening chapter of Sefer Yechezkel, which describes a prophetic vision of the celestial beings that surround God's throne. It is considered to be an exceptionally exalted vision, and one that most people cannot comprehend. The first opinion in the mishna rules that we may not read it as a haftara, apparently out of concern that people will presume they may misunderstand its lofty content. R' Yehuda disagrees, and we follow his view; this chapter is the haftara commonly read on the first day of Shavuot.

The final clause of the mishna quotes R' Eliezer's view that the section starting with "Make known to Jerusalem its abominations" (Yechezkel 16:2) may not be read as a haftara. The apparent reason is that the prophecy speaks in a pejorative sense about Jerusalem (or at least about the people living there). The halacha is not accordance with R' Eliezer. Nevertheless, practically this chapter is not included in the regular cycle of haftarot. (It is a relatively recent development that we have an established cycle of haftarot, which makes this halacha inapplicable.)

The gemara

The gemara continues to discuss various portions of Tanach that may or may not be read and translated in public.

The rabbis taught: There are (some portions of Tanach) that are read and translated, and some that are read and not translated, and some that are not read and not translated.

These are the ones that are read and translated: בל"ת עק"ן נשפ"ה  is a mnemonic. 

The story of creation is read and translated. Obvious! You might have said; they will come to ask what is above, what is below, what is before, what is after - it comes to teach us (that we are not concerned about this possibility). 

תנו רבנן: יש נקרין ומתרגמין, ויש נקרין ולא מתרגמין, ויש לא נקרין ולא מתרגמין.

אלו נקרין ומתרגמין: בל"ת עק"ן נשפ"ה סימן.

מעשה בראשית נקרא ומתרגם. פשיטא! - מהו דתימא: אתו לשיולי מה למעלה מה למטה, ומה לפנים ומה לאחור, קמשמע לן.

The opening line of the b'raita lays out the categories of sections; the b'raita will then continue to detail which sections of Tanach fall into each category. The vast majority of Tanach may be publicly read and expounded. The b'raita will only specifically mention in the first category (sections that can be read and translated in public) those sections that one may have mistakenly thought should not be included.

Before listing the actual sections that can be publicly read and expounded, the gemara gives a mnemonic to remember these sections: בל"ת עק"ן נשפ"ה. Each of these letters refers to one of the sections included in the upcoming list. The first section, for instance is bereshit, which starts with a ב. It is not uncommon to find these mnemonics ("simanim") in the gemara.

The first section that one may have thought should not be publicly expounded, but which in fact it is permissible to expound, is the very beginning of the Torah, which tells of the world's creation. One may have thought that we should be concerned lest exposure to the story of creation spur people to further philosophical and metaphysical speculation for which they are not yet equipped, and which may therefore lead them astray. The b'raita therefore teaches that we are not concerned about the possibility that people will end up going astray due to hearing Parshat Bereshit read and translated in shul.

The gemara continues:

The incident of Lot and his two daughters is read and translated. Obvious! You might have said - we should be concerned for the honor of Avraham - it comes to teach us (that we are not concerned about this possibility).

The incident of Tamar and Yehuda is read and translated. Obvious! You might have said - we should be concerned for the honor of Yehuda - it comes to teach us that it is his praise, that he confessed.  

מעשה לוט ושתי בנותיו נקרא ומתרגם. פשיטא! - מהו דתימא: ניחוש לכבודו דאברהם. קמשמע לן.

מעשה תמר ויהודה נקרא ומתרגם, פשיטא! - מהו דתימא: ליחוש לכבודו דיהודה, קמשמע לן: שבחיה הוא דאודי.  

The case of Lot is mentioned here to teach us that we need not be concerned about negative publicity to Avraham, Lot's uncle, whose reputation may be tarnished by his connection to this dubious episode.

The next case refers to Yehuda's reputation, which is threatened more significantly than Avraham's was, as it was Yehuda himself who was involved in the episode of Tamar that we explained earlier. In this context, the gemara makes a fascinating statement; the fact that Yehuda was forced to publicly admit that he had accidentally impregnated his daughter-in-law (which, though a fulfillment of yibum at that time in history, was certainly an embarrassing revelation) and had been negligent in marrying her to his youngest son, does not damage Yehuda's reputation but rather enhances it. It is a dramatic demonstration of a person's ability to overcome public embarrassment and to rise to the occasion and repent (he could have easily refused to acknowledge that he was the father of Tamar's unborn child, and gone through with her execution). In fact, Yehuda serves as one of the biblical models of repentance, and the Davidic dynasty - and mashiach - descend from one of the children that Tamar was to give birth to as a result of Yehuda's admission. 

The gemara continues its listing of various parshiot that can or cannot be publicly read and expounded - but we will pause here. Have a wonderful rest of the week!