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22b: How to Bow

Rav Ezra Bick

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 began what was essentially a side-issue. having quoted a story about Rav in order to (unsuccessfully) attempt to determine how many olim there are on a fast day, the gemara returned to the story in order to understand why Rav did not fall on his face when reciting the prayer we call tachanun (and why the rest of the congregation did). We saw that, at least for two out of three answers, the issue revolved around the prohibition to bow down on a floor of stone outside of the Temple area. One tangent leads to another, as is the way of the Talmud, and we now have a short sugya on the meaning of bowing.

We are on 22b, seven lines from the bottom, "Tanu Rabbanan" - תנו רבנן

Before I begin my presentation of the gemara, I would like to repeat something I said at the beginning of the course. Every gemara is presented here in three forms. The first - and the most important - is the original tzurat hadaf, the original appearance of the printed gemara. This is found either in the printed edition you are holding open in front of you, or on the webscan referenced above in the opening box. To the extent possible, you should be trying to read and follow the sugya from that edition. My slightly formatted rendition of the Hebrew, together with the English translation, is meant as an aid, to help you read - better, to help you decipher - the original. Figuring out how to read gemara is at least as important as any other aspect of learning. I once heard Rav Amital say that the Mishna was originally written deliberately in a relatively enigmatic manner (for people who after all had no problem with the Hebrew), because R. Yehuda HaNassi wished to preserve the aspect of Oral Law, requiring discussion, analysis, text-perusal, and a connection between teacher and student, rather than mere reading, even as he revolutionized Torah study by writing it down for the first time.

So, even though I present both the English and a formatted version of the Hebrew-Aramaic below, you should be trying to read the original, together with my text-commentary, and working on figuring out what it means.

So again - We are on 22b, seven lines from the bottom, "Tanu Rabbanan" - תנו רבנן


Tanu Rabbanan: "Kida" is on one's face; as is written, "Vatikod Batsheva (Batsheva bowed) on her face to the ground."

"Kri'a" is on the knees, as is written, "mikhroa (from bowing) on his knees."

"Hishtachavaya" is stretching out the arms and legs, as is written, "Shall I, your mother, and your brothers, come l'hishtachavot (bow down) to you to the ground?"

תנו רבנן: קידה על אפים שנאמר ותקד בת שבע אפים ארץ

 כריעה על ברכים וכן הוא אומר מכרוע על ברכיו

 השתחואה זו פישוט ידים ורגלים שנאמר הבוא נבוא אני ואמך ואחיך להשתחות לך ארצה

Since this gemara is concerned with the exact meaning of synonyms, it cannot be directly translated. What it consists of is a halakhic dictionary for three synonyms, all of which appear in Tanach, and would be translated as "bowing." The gemara explains that kida means bowing to the floor, kri'a means kneeling, and hishtachavaya means prostrating oneself completely. You will remember (from last week's shiur) that Ulla had said that the prohibition on bowing on a stone floor applied only to prostration. The reason apparently is because the Torah uses the term "histachavaya" (ואבן מסכית לא תתנו בארצכם להשתחות עליה). This is the reason, presumably, that this gemara is cited at this point in the sugya.

The gemara continues with a story.


Levi performed kida before Rebbe and became lame.

But was this the reason? Did not R. Elazar say: A man should never cast accusations against heaven, for a great man cast accusations against heaven, and became lame; and who was it? - Levi.

This and this caused it.

לוי אחוי קידה קמיה דרבי ואיטלע

 והא קא גרמא ליה? והאמר רבי אלעזר: לעולם אל יטיח אדם דברים כלפי מעלה, שהרי אדם גדול הטיח דברים כלפי מעלה ואיטלע. ומנו - לוי

 הא והא גרמא ליה

This story, which has no particular halakhic content, is nonetheless very interesting. Levi was performing kida, previously defined as bowing down to the ground, and injured himself. What is the difficulty in kida? Rashi (s.v. "achvi") explains:


Demonstrated kida. He pokes in his thumbs and leans on them and bends until he touches the floor and straightens up; and since he cannot lean on his thumbs, and his hands do not aid in straightening up, and he has to strain his hips, he became lame in his thigh.

אחוי קידה. נועץ גודליו ונשען עליהם ושוחה עד שנושק את הרצפה וזוקף ומתוך שאינו יכול להשען על גודליו ואין ידיו מסייעות אותו בזקיפתו וצריך להתאמץ במתניו ומתוך כך נצלע בבוקא דאטמא:

But, the gemara asks, we have a different tradition to explains Levi's injury. It seems he once spoke to God in an improper manner and his injury was a punishment. Does this not contradict the tradition that it occurred while demonstrating kida to Rebbe? The gemara gives a terse answer - "this and this caused it."

What does this actually mean? How could it have two causes?

The answer, I think, is simple, and is an important principle in Divine Providence. A moral-religious explanation does not contradict a natural-scientific one. His injury was a punishment, but it did not take place miraculously. On the contrary, there is a perfectly natural medical explanation - but the reason why nature took its course in that way was because he was being punished. As Rashi states: "Because he cast accusations, therefore he was injured at a time of danger." It is possible that he he not engaged in dangerous activity, he would not have been injured, but by putting himself in danger, he required more Divine protection to see him through it - and that did not take place because of the sin he had committed.

Curious what accusation Levi had made against God? The story is found in Masechet Taanit 25a (I did not know that by heart - look at the left margin in the printed gemarot, opposite the beginning of the Levi story. In tiny letters is noted, "Taanit 25a, Sukka 53a").

The gemara in Taanit deals with drought and the fasts that are decreed to pray for rain. The gemara tells the following story.


Levi decreed a fast but rain did not fall. He said before Him: Master of the World, You have risen and sat in the heaven, but you do not have mercy on your children! Rain fell, and he was lame.

R. Elazar say: A man should never cast accusations against heaven, for a great man cast accusations against heaven, and became lame; and who was it? - Levi.

Levi's prayer-accusation works, and God brings rain - but Levi himself is punished! The morality here is not simple at all, for if Levi had simply sinned, why was his prayer successful? As R. Elazar points out, Levi is considered to be a "great man." Apparently you can be right and wrong at the same time. I leave it to you to work out the moral status of Levi's actions.

Let us finish the sugya. Back to Megilla.


R. Chiya b. Abin said: I saw Abaye and Rava who would incline. אמר רב חייא בר אבין: חזינא להו לאביי ורבא דמצלי אצלויי.

Rashi (s.v. "d'matzli") explains: "They inclined on their sides and did not fall completely on their faces, for an important person is not permitted to fall on his face."

Rashi is referring to the gemara we learned last week (in connection with an earlier amora, Rav), that an adam chashuv should not fall on his face. The gemara says that if you tilt somewhat to the side when falling, this problem is avoided.

Tosafot (s.v. "ve-i'bayit"), when discussing the prohibition of bowing on stone, had raised the possibility that even though the gemara  had stated that only prostration violates this Torah prohibition, there might be a rabbinic prohibition even if he did not "stretch out arms and legs." Tosafot then asked how we bow down in our synagogues, which have stone floors. he answers that we tilt to the side, like Abaye and Rava. Tosafot apparently interpreted the practice of Abaye and Rav as a means not of averting the problem Rashi raised - an important person should not ever prostrate himself - but of the prohibition of anyone bowing on a stone floor. Tosafot's interpretation is one of the reasons why when we say tachanun we lean on one arm, off slightly to the side. Among other things, this is meant to avert a possible problem of bowing on stone (assuming your synagogue has a stone floor).


We are finishing earlier than usual today, because the time has come to do chazara - review. Reviewing what we learn is an integral part of learning gemara. In yeshivot, there are set times for review both in the middle and end of the term. For instance, after Channuka, my shiur in Yeshivat Har Etzion took off two weeks for a review of all we had learned since the beginning of the year. The gemara in Sanhedrin has some chilling statements about forgetting what is learned because you do not review:

  • R. Yehoshua b. Korcha said: One who learns Torah and does no review it is like one who sows but does not reap.
    R. Yehoshua said: One who learns Torah and forgets it is like a woman who gives birth and buries her child.

So, what I would like you to do is to begin a review of all we have learned since the beginning, going back to the mishna on 22a. 

kol tuv,
Ezra Bick

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