Daf 29b continued
YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
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When we last left off, we had just learned the gemara's comparison of a man's obligation to study Torah and his obligation to ensure that his son studies Torah. The gemara had quoted the view of R' Yehuda, that if one has the means for only he or his son to learn, the study of the more capable student should take precedence. This view was confirmed by the case of Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, who realized that he was a more capable student than his son, and ordered his son to remain at home and work so that he could take his son's place as a student of Abaye.
The gemara resumes by relating a story that occurred when Abaye realized that the great Rav Acha bar Ya'akov was coming to join his yeshiva. We are up to the seventh long line of 29b.
Abaye heard that he was coming,
there was a particular demon in Abaye's "house of sages,"
that when they would go in with two even by day they would be harmed.
He said to them: "No man should give him (Rav Acha) lodging, perhaps a miracle will happen."
He (Rav Acha) went up and stayed in that "house of sages,"
it appeared to him as a serpent with seven heads,
every prostration that he did removed one head.
He said to them the next day: "Were it not for the miracle that happened, I would have been endangered."
שמע אביי דקא הוה אתי,
הוה ההוא מזיק בי רבנן דאביי,
דכי הוו עיילי בתרין אפי' (=אפילו) ביממא הוו מיתזקי.
אמר להו: לא ליתיב ליה אינש אושפיזא, אפשר דמתרחיש ניסא.
על, בת בההוא בי רבנן,
אידמי ליה כתנינא דשבעה רישוותיה,
כל כריעה דכרע נתר חד רישיה.
אמר להו למחר: אי לא איתרחיש ניסא, סכינתין.
Abaye, upon hearing that Rav Acha bar Ya'akov was coming to study with him, decided to make use of his great piety to solve a problem that had been plaguing the yeshiva students. The study hall was inhabited by a demon that would harm the students even when they would arrive in pairs and during the day, despite the fact that demons generally stay away from people in such circumstances. Abaye advised the nearby residents not to invite Rav Acha bar Ya'akov as a guest so that he would have to stay in the study hall. Abaye reasoned that if such a pious person would stay there, his merit might allow the demon to be defeated.
Abaye's plan came to fruition. Rav Acha bar Ya'akov arrived at the study hall, where he was forced to spend the night. The demon appeared to him in the form of a seven-headed serpent (tannina). Each time Rav Acha prostrated himself, one head of the serpent was cut off. In this fashion, the demon was defeated. The next day, he complained about Abaye's plan, stating that if not for God's miraculous intervention, his very life would have been endangered.
This story is an example of aggada, the sections of Talmud that deal not with halacha but rather with values. At times, aggadic discussions may be couched in fantastic stories; the point is always to teach a particular lesson. With regard to this story, some commentators suggest that the "serpent" represents arrogance. In fact, Sefer Yechezkel (29:3), when quoting Pharaoh's ultimate statement of arrogance, in which he essentially describes himself as a god, refers to Pharaoh as "the great serpent" (ha-tannim ha-gadol). If this is the case, it may be that Abaye's yeshiva was beset with arrogance, one-upmanship and unhealthy competition. The presence of the saintly Rav Acha bar Ya'akov, who demonstrated humility (his prostrations) despite his high level of accomplishment, "slayed" this demon by helping the students achieve a more healthy outlook on life and attitude toward their fellows. (If this is the case, Rav Acha's final complaint would presumably be that his own saintliness was potentially compromised by his being placed in such an environment.)
Back to the gemara
We resume with the gemara, 13 lines from the end of 29b.
The rabbis taught (in a beraita): To learn Torah and to marry a wife
he should learn Torah and afterwards marry a wife.
And if it is impossible for him without a wife,
he should marry a wife and afterwards learn Torah.
Rav Yehuda said in the name of Shemuel, the law is (he should) marry a wife and afterwards learn Torah.
R' Yochanan said: a millstone on his neck and he will involve himself in Torah?
And they do not argue: this is for us, this is for them.
ת"ר (=תנו רבנן): ללמוד תורה ולישא אשה
ילמוד תורה ואח"כ (=ואחר כך) ישא אשה.
ואם א"א (=אי אפשר) לו בלא אשה,
ישא אשה ואח"כ ילמוד תורה.
אמר רב יהודה אמר שמואל, הלכה: נושא אשה ואח"כ (=ואחר כך) ילמוד תורה.
ר' יוחנן אמר: ריחיים בצוארו ויעסוק בתורה?
ולא פליגי: הא לן, והא להו.
The beraita quoted here in the gemara wonders whether one should delay marriage in order to continue his Torah study or marry earlier and then pursue his Torah studies. The beraita declares that one should first learn Torah, delaying marriage until he is more accomplished in his studies. However, if he feels that he cannot successfully pursue his studies before marriage, he should first marry and then learn Torah.
The gemara then quotes a discussion of the early Amora'im on this topic. Shemuel, quoted by Rav Yehuda, rules that one should not delay marriage; rather, one should marry early and then pursue his Torah studies. R' Yochanan objects on the grounds that one will not be able to study with proper focus with a "millstone on his neck," meaning while he simultaneously fulfills his new familial responsibilities. Therefore, he should delay marriage in favor of study. The gemara concludes that Shemuel and R' Yochanan do not actually argue; they were simply addressing different audiences. One was addressing "us," while the other was addressing "them."
Who are the target audiences of the respective rulings of Shemuel and R' Yochanan? At the time of these sages (the early third century of the Common Era), there were two centers of Jewish life; Eretz Yisra'el and Babylonia. In the time of the Tanna'im (scholars of the Mishna), Eretz Yisra'el was the more prominent center of learning. Later, during the time of the Amora'im (scholars of the Talmud), the center of Jewish learning shifted to Babylonia. Shemuel and R' Yochanan were contemporaries, with Shemuel serving as one of the leading scholars of Babylonia while R' Yochanan was a leading scholar of Eretz Yisra'el. In their time, it was still common for young Babylonian scholars to travel to Eretz Yisra'el in order to learn from the great Tanna'im. According to Rashi (s.v. ha lan, s.v. lehu) this explains the discrepancy between the advice given to residents of Eretz Yisra'el and that given to residents of Babylonia.
|Take a moment to read Rashi's comments. How does he use the facts we have mentioned to help explain our gemara?|
Rashi explains that R' Yochanan's concern that students would not be able to fully apply themselves to their studies in the face of familial responsibility was one that was uniquely applicable to Israeli students. They would typically study locally; they would therefore have to tend to household responsibilities, which would take them away from their studies. On the other hand, Babylonian students could marry in Babylonia, thus weakening their inclination for lustful thoughts and allowing them to be more pure and focused in their studies. They could then travel without their wives to Eretz Yisra'el to study, where they would be free from familial responsibilities. Thus, the gemara, written in Babylonia, states: "This is for us," referring to the initial ruling quoted; that of Shemuel, the Babylonian scholar. On the other hand, "this is for them," meaning that R' Yochanan's ruling was aimed at Israeli students, for whom it made more sense to delay marriage in order to pursue their studies without hindrance.
Tosafot (s.v. ha lan veha lehu) dispute this explanation of Rashi. Firstly, they ask, if a Babylonian student was to marry at home and then leave his wife for an extended period of time in order to study in Eretz Yisra'el, he would not necessarily be saved from lustful thoughts during his time away. Even more fundamentally, how could Shemuel recommend that students leave their wives for extended periods of time; men are, after all, required to support their families!
Based on these considerations, Tosafot reverse Rashi's explanation of the gemara. In their view, the gemara means to assert that R' Yochanan's opinion is recommended for Babylonian students. Since they would travel abroad in order to study, they should delay their marriage until they return home. Additionally, Tosafot claim, the Babylonian community tended to be less well off than their Israeli counterparts; this explains R' Yochanan's concern that one would not be able to study with a "millostone around his neck," meaning while he is obligated to work in order to support his family. On the other hand, Israeli students were to follow Shemuel's opinion and marry early. Since they were more likely to be wealthy enough to support a family while they learned and would remain at home during their course of study, it made sense for them to marry early in order to keep themselves pure from improper thoughts.
Back to the gemara
The gemara's previous discussion took for granted that there are advantages to getting married early. The gemara now digresses to expound upon this point. We are up to the two-dots, toward the bottom of 29b.
Rav Chisda praised Rav Hamnuna to Rav Huna that he (Rav Hamnuna) was a great man.
He (Rav Huna) said to him (Rav Chisda): When he comes to your hand (=to you), bring him to my hand (=to me).
When he (Rav Hamnuna) came, he (Rav Huna) saw that he was not wearing a cloth.
He said to him: What is the reason you are not wearing a cloth?
He said to him: I am not married.
He turned his face from him,
(and) said to him: See (to it) that you don't see my face until you are married.
Rav Huna is according to his reason, for he said:
One who is twenty years old and has not married a woman, all his days are with sin.
Do you think with sin?
Rather, say: all his days are with sinful thoughts.
משתבח ליה רב חסדא לרב הונא בדרב המנונא דאדם גדול הוא.
א"ל (=אמר ליה): כשיבא לידך הביאהו לידי.
כי אתא, חזייה דלא פריס סודרא.
א"ל (=אמר ליה): מאי טעמא לא פריסת סודרא?
א"ל: דלא נסיבנא.
אהדרינהו לאפיה מיניה,
א"ל: חזי, דלא חזית להו לאפי עד דנסבת.
רב הונא לטעמיה, דאמר:
בן עשרים שנה ולא נשא אשה כל ימיו בעבירה.
בעבירה סלקא דעתך?
אלא אימא: כל ימיו בהרהור עבירה.
The gemara relates the following story: Rav Chisda once told Rav Huna about Rav Hamnuna, whom Rav Chisda considered to be a great scholar. Rav Huna requested that Rav Chisda bring Rav Hamnuna to him so that he, Rav Huna, could meet him. When Rav Hamnuna came, Rav Huna saw that he was not wearing a cloth upon his head. Apparently, it was customary at the time for married men to wear a cloth head-covering. Rav Huna questioned Rav Hamnuna about the fact that he was not wearing such a cloth, and Rav Hamnuna explained that he was not married. Rav Huna refused to look at him and ordered him not to come back until he was married. The gemara notes that this incident is consistent with Rav Huna's opinion that a man who reaches the age of twenty and has still not married is likely to be plagued by sinful thoughts. Therefore, Rav Huna placed great importance on marrying at a relatively early age.
Back to the gemara
The gemara continues its discussion of the importance of getting married early. We are four lines from the end of 29b.
Rava said, and so taught the academy of R' Yishmael:
Until twenty years, the Holy One, blessed be He, sits and waits for when a person will marry a woman,
once twenty (years) have come and he has not married, He says: "let his bones swell!"
Rav Chisda said: that which I am better than my peers
is because I married at sixteen,
and if I had married at fourteen,
I would have said to Satan, "an arrow in your eyes!"
אמר רבא, וכן תנא דבי ר' ישמעאל:
עד כ' שנה, יושב הקב"ה (=הקדוש ברוך הוא) ומצפה לאדם מתי ישא אשה,
כיון שהגיע כ' ולא נשא, אומר: תיפח עצמותיו.
אמר רב חסדא: האי דעדיפנא מחבראי
ואי הוה נסיבנא בארביסר,
הוה אמינא לשטן גירא בעיניך.
The gemara previously cited Rav Huna, who strongly recommended that men marry by the age of twenty. Rava and R' Yishmael's academy reinforce this viewpoint. They claim that God waits eagerly for a man to marry; if the man delays marriage until he is twenty, God gets angry, as it were, and exclaims that the man's bones should swell as a punishment for having delayed his marriage so long.
Rav Chisda goes even further. He claims that his great success as a righteous scholar was due to the fact that he got married at the age of sixteen. He further asserts that had he married at the age of fourteen, he would have been able to taunt Satan. Rashi explains that "Satan" represents the yetzer ha-ra, the evil inclination. Rav Chisda would have been so pure that he could have taunted his yetzer ha-ra with full confidence that he could not be led astray to sin.
This discussion, like the previous one, emphasizes the dangers that men face due to the likelihood of lustful thoughts, and perhaps even immoral activity, if they delay marriage. It is important to note that there is a more fundamental halakhic reason to marry, which is a central part of any discussion of the topic: the mitzva incumbent upon men to have children. The Shulchan Arukh even writes (EH 1:3) that the Rabbinical court would force men to marry if they had not done so by the age of twenty, so that they could fulfill this mitzva. The exception, based on our gemara, is one who delays marriage in order to study Torah without distractions. Other commentators add that one who delays because he is searching for the right match is also not to be pressured. Rama notes that Rabbinical courts in his time did not force anyone to marry, and that is obviously the case today as well.