Daf 32b

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Kiddushin 16

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Last week, we learned the first part of the Gemara's discussion of whether or not parents and teachers are able to forgo their honor (a process known as mechila). The Gemara concluded that parents certainly can forgo their honor, while the issue of a teacher forgoing his honor is subject to debate. We begin today with the continuation of that discussion. We are on the 11th line of 32b.

Rav Ashi said: "Even according to the one who said

the teacher who forgave his honor, his honor is forgiven -


the nasi who forgave his honor, his honor is not forgiven."

A challenge: There was an incident with Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Tzadok

that they were reclining at the celebration of Rabban Gamliel's son,


and Rabban Gamliel was standing and pouring for them;

he gave a cup to Rabbi Eliezer and he did not take it, he gave it to Rabbi Yehoshua and he accepted it.

Rabbi Eliezer said to him: "What is this, Yehoshua, we are sitting and Rabban Gamliel the Great is standing and pouring for us?"

He said to him: "We have found a greater one than he who served;

Avraham was the greatest of the generation, and it is written of him: 'And he stood over them!'

And maybe you will say, they appeared to him like ministering angels?

They appeared to him only as Arabs.

And we; should Rabban Gamliel the great not [be allowed to] stand and pour for us?"

אמר רב אשי: אפילו למ"ד (למאן דאמר)

הרב שמחל על כבודו כבודו מחול -

נשיא שמחל על כבודו אין כבודו מחול.

מיתיבי: מעשה ברבי אליעזר ורבי יהושע ורבי צדוק

שהיו מסובין בבית המשתה בנו של רבן גמליאל,

והיה רבן גמליאל עומד ומשקה עליהם;

נתן הכוס לר' אליעזר ולא נטלו, נתנו לר' יהושע וקיבלו.

אמר לו רבי אליעזר: מה זה, יהושע, אנו יושבין ורבן גמליאל (*ברבי) עומד ומשקה עלינו?

אמר ליה: מצינו גדול ממנו ששמש; (אברהם גדול ממנו ושמש)

אברהם גדול הדור היה, וכתוב בו: והוא עומד עליהם!

ושמא תאמרו, כמלאכי השרת נדמו לו?

לא נדמו לו אלא לערביים.

ואנו לא יהא רבן גמליאל ברבי עומד ומשקה עלינו? 

The gemara begins by quoting Rav Ashi, who rules that even if a teacher may forgo his honor, a nasi (often translated as "prince") may not forgo his. The station of nasi was held by the head of the Sanhedrin, the supreme rabbinical court of seventy one scholars. The famous tanna Hillel was a nasi, and the post was held by his descendants, who were themselves great scholars; this includes the Rabban Gamliel mentioned in our gemara, who lived immediately following the destruction of the Second Temple. Apparently, Rav Ashi considers the honor of the nasi to be so significant that it is of a higher order than that of a regular scholar, and cannot be dispensed with.

Rav Ashi's ruling is challenged on the basis of an incident that occurred at a celebration in honor of Rabban Gamliel's son (presumably his wedding). As host, Rabban Gamliel stood over the guests and poured for them, a clear sign of his lack of concern over his honor. Rabbi Eliezer refused to be served by Rabban Gamliel, apparently out of fear that it was inappropriate to allow the nasi to pour for him. Rabbi Yehoshua, on the other hand, accepted Rabban Gamliel's offer. Rabbi Eliezer questioned Rabbi Yehoshua's conduct; Rabbi Yehoshua responded by pointing to the example of Avraham, who stood and served his guests despite being the greatest of his generation, as detailed in Bereshit (18:8). This is a reference to the famous story of the three angels who appeared to Avraham and foretold the birth of Yitzchak before travelling to destroy Sodom. Avraham welcomed the guests despite being in pain due to his circumcision, and served them a meal. At the time, Rabbi Yehoshua maintains, Avraham was under the impression that the angels were actually regular men; nevertheless, he served them himself, forgoing his honor. This proves that even the nasi, the leader of the generation, can forgo his honor.

It is important to be aware of textual issues that can arise while studying Gemara. Please note that there are two sets of parenthesis in the section of gemara that we have quoted above. In the first case there is also an asterisk, which directs our attention to the inside margin of the page. The Mesorat Ha-Shas at times quotes variant versions of the text, and often cites parallel texts from other massekhtot (tractates) of the Talmud. In this case, the Mesorat Ha-Shas notes that in the Yalkut, which is a collection of midrash, the word is דרבי instead of ברבי, a difference that does not impact upon the meaning of the term. Regarding the second set of parenthesis, the small note in the margin between the text of the gemara and the Tosafot commentary notes that other versions skip these words entirely (ס"א ל"ג stands for ספרים אחרים לא גורסים, "other books do not have this text"). Indeed, these words do not seem to fit the general flow of the gemara, and our translation has omitted them. It is generally the case that words in parenthesis in the text of the Gemara are to be ommitted, while bracketed words are to be included.

Let us continue on in the gemara, which resumes the discussion:

Rabbi Tzadok said to them: "Until when will you leave the honor of God and be involved with the honor of the creations?

The holy One, blessed is He, brings winds and raises clouds


makes rain fall and the earth sprout,

and sets the table before each and every [creature];


and we; should Rabban Gamliel the Great not [be allowed to] stand and pour for us?"

Rather, if it was stated, it was stated this way:

Rav Ashi said: "Even according to the one who said a prince that forgives his honor his honor is forgiven,

a king who forgives his honor - his honor is not forgiven,

for it says: 'You shall surely place upon you a king;' his fear should be upon you."

אמר להם רבי צדוק: עד מתי אתם מניחים כבודו של מקום ואתם עוסקים בכבוד הבריות?

הקב"ה משיב רוחות ומעלה נשיאים

ומוריד מטר ומצמיח אדמה,

ועורך שולחן לפני כל אחד ואחד;

ואנו לא יהא רבן גמליאל ברבי עומד ומשקה עלינו?

אלא אי איתמר הכי איתמר:

אמר רב אשי: אפילו למ"ד (למאן דאמר) נשיא שמחל על כבודו כבודו מחול,

מלך שמחל על כבודו - אין כבודו מחול,

שנאמר: שום תשים עליך מלך; שתהא אימתו עליך.

Rabbi Tzadok, who was also present at the celebration in which Rabban Gamliel poured wine for his guests, responded to the discussion between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua. In his view, there is an even more conclusive proof that a nasi can forgo his honor than that offered by Rabbi Yehoshua. God Himself, who is exalted beyond all else, nevertheless provides for the needs of His individual creatures. Does this not represent a mechila of God's honor? If God can forgo His honor, certainly the nasi should be able to forgo his honor. This concludes the Gemara's coverage of the incident at Rabban Gamliel's son's party.

The story detailed here proves with certainty that there are those - such as Rabbi Yehoshua and Rabbi Tzadok - who believe that even a nasi can forgo his honor. Rav Ashi's statement has thus been disproved! The gemara concludes that his statement, indeed must be reformulated: Even according to those who argue that a nasi may forgo his honor, a king certainly cannot forgo his honor. The honor of a king is mandated by a specific verse in Devarim (17:15): "You shall surely place upon yourself a king, etc." From the fact that the pasuk states, "on yourself," the gemara learns that the king should be "over" his subjects, meaning that they should have a sense of fear and awe with regard to their king. This precludes the possibility of the king forgoing his honor.

Rabbi Tzadok's argument to show that a nasi may forgo his honor was that if even God can forgo His honor, certainly a human being can do so, as the honor of God is much greater than that of a human being. Shouldn't this argument apply regarding the honor of a king as well? Why does Rav Ashi think that everyone, including Rabbi Tzadok, would agree that a king may not forgo his honor?

Based on this question, we are forced to conclude that there is a qualitative difference between the honor due to a king and the honor due anyone else, including a nasi. The honor due a nasi relates directly to himself on a personal level. Personal honor may always be forgiven, as even God forgives His honor. The honor due a king is not due him on his own merit; he therefore has no right to forgo that honor. (This is very similar to Rava's original argument with regard to a Torah scholar, in the gemara on 32a-32b that we studied last week.) What, in fact, is the source of a king's honor? There are two suggestions as to the nature of the honor due a king:

1) Tosafot (Sanhedrin 19a, s.v. Yannai) explain that the honor due a king is mandated by the Torah. A king has no right to revoke the mitzva that the Torah commands. Maharsha (here in Kiddushin) adds that kingship belongs to God, and He gave of it to particular people; since the person himself has no inherent right to the throne, he also does not have the right to forgo the honor that a king deserves. This is different from a scholar, whose honor derives from the Torah he has learned, which is considered his own; and it is certainly different from God, who also has rights to His elevated status, and can thus forgo His honor.

2) Rabbenu Yona (13th century Spanish scholar) explains that the king personifies the nation as a whole. Thus, the honor due a king is actually because of his status as a personification of the whole Jewish People; since this honor does not belong to him, he may not forgo his honor.

We alluded earlier to the Mesorat Ha-Shas; the main use of this tool is as a reference to parallel sugyot (passages) in which a particular statement appears. Note the asterisk that appears in the standard printed version of the text at the point where the gemara reformulates Rav Ashi's statement. The Mesorat Ha-Shas there directs our attention to three other places where the Gemara mentions Rav Ashi's ruling. By looking up those sugyot, we can get a more well-rounded view of the topic at hand.

In our case, the other sugyot suggest that Rav Ashi's ruling may be limited in a way not mentioned in our gemara. The Gemara in Sota (41b) discusses the mitzva of hakhel (lit. "gather"): every seven years, on the Sukkot following the shemitta year, the entire nation gathers and listens to the king read from the Torah. The king may read from the Torah while he sits, but is nevertheless permitted to stand, which is viewed as a violation of his honor. The gemara questions this point on the basis of Rav Ashi's ruling, and answers that because the king would be standing for a mitzva, he may renounce his honor.

On the other hand, the Gemara in Ketuvot (17a) seems to differ regarding this issue. The Gemara teaches that if a wedding procession is moving on the road, one should stand aside to let it pass, which is considered part of the mitzva of bringing joy to a bride and groom. Nevertheless, a king may not do so if it will be noticeable, as that would violate his honor, which takes precedence over that of a new couple. What is the reason for the apparently contradictory rulings?

Tosafot (Sota 41b s.v. mitzva) explain that if a king renounces his honor in the context of a regular mitzva, the mechila is valid because he is demonstrating that the fear of God is upon him. Based on the two explanations we mentioned above regarding the nature of the honor due a king, we can certainly understand this point: the mitzva regarding a king's honor can only be overridden in the context of another mitzva, and the honor of the Jewish people as a whole certainly takes a backseat to the needs of a mitzva. Furthermore, the general point of the mitzva of a king's honor is that his "fear" should be upon the people; when he shows that he himself fears God, that does not detract from the attitude of the people toward the king. On the other hand, when the mitzva for which the king has chosen to forgo his honor, is to give honor to another person, that does detract from the awe with which the people are supposed to view their king. Thus, the king can stand for the Torah reading without compromising his elevated status among the individuals of the nation; on the other hand, he cannot move aside for a new couple, as that would imply that the "fear" of the king is not upon them.