derush Yerushalmi

Are We Incapable of Understanding Aggadita?

ירושלמי מעשרות יז-יח
דלמא רבי זעירא ורבי אבא בר כהנא ורבי לוי הוון יתבין והוה רבי זעירא מקנתר לאילין דאגדתא וצוח להון סיפרי קיסמי. אמר ליה רבי בא בר כהנא למה את מקנתר לון שאל ואינון מגיבין לך. אמר ליה מהו דין דכתיב (תהילים עו) כי חמת אדם תודך שארית חמות תחגור. אמר ליה כי חמת אדם תודך בעולם הזה שארית חמות תחגור לעולם הבא. אמר ליה או נימר כי חמת אדם תודך בעולם הבא שארית חמות תחגור בעולם הזה. אמר רבי לוי כשתעורר חמתך על הרשעים צדיקים רואין מה את עושה להן והן מודין לשמך. אמר רבי זעירא היא הפכה והיא מהפכה לא שמעינן מינה כלום. ירמיה בני אזל צור צור דוקניתא דהיא טבא מן כולם.

Rabbi Zeira and Rabbi Abba bar Kahana and Rabbi Levi were sitting and Rabbi Zeira was criticising the others (for their) homiletics and screamed at them (accusing them of working with) “books of sorcery!” Rabbi (Abba) bar Kahana: “why are you accusing us? Ask, and we’ll (respond?)” He (Rabbi Zeira) replied “What is it that’s written (Tehilim 76:11) ‘For a man’s fury is your gratitude, the residue of anger will fortify’?” He (Rabbi Abba bar Kahana) replied: “‘For a man’s fury is your gratitude’ refers to this world and ‘the residue of anger will fortify’ refers to the next world.” He replied: “(Perhaps) you can say the opposite: ‘For a man’s fury is your gratitude’ refers to the next world and ‘the residue of anger will fortify’ refers to this world.” Rabbi Levi said “When You arouse Your fury on the evil, the righteous see what You will do with them, and they will acknowledge Your Name.”

According to the Pnei Moshe, Rabbi Levi’s response suggested that you could, in fact, find a way to interpret the verse either way. To which, Rabbi Zeira responded:

Rabbi Zeira said: “Interpret it this way or that way, but I don’t accept anything from you, but my son Yirmiya (who had previously asked about how many figs one can eat without first separating מעשר) is better than all of them.”

Rabbi Zeira is effectively saying that, since aggadic interpretations of Torah passages are so often ambiguous, for all intents and purposes, they’re meaningless. Is Rabbi Zeira (whose opinion is not challenged by the Yerushalmi) telling me to give up my search for clear meaning in much of Tanach and Chazal?

This is something I’ve struggled with for years. I’ve written about it in other places and will hopefully revisit it again here in the context of other Yerushalmis.

Any thoughts?


Gedolay Hador

Just how do gedolay hador spend their yom tov days? Well, I can’t speak for all gedolay hador – nor am I qualified to decide who is or is not a gadol – but there is a gemara that shows us how at least some gedolim behaved. And it’s not what you’d expect.

סוכה מז
אמר רב יוסף נקוט דר’ יוחנן בידך דרב הונא בר ביזנא וכל גדולי הדור איקלעו בסוכה בשמיני ספק שביעי מיתב הוו יתבי ברוכי לא בריכי ודלמא סבירא להו כמ”ד כיון שבירך יו”ט ראשון שוב אינו מברך גמירי דמאפר אתו

Rav Yosef said: take Rabbi Yochanan’s (opinion) in hand, for Rav Huna bar Bizna and all the gedolay hador went to a succah on the eighth day (of Succos outside of Israel) which might (because of ספיקא דיומא) have been the seventh day. They sat (in the succah) but they didn’t make a bracha (לישב בסוכה). Perhaps (you could argue) they held like you only make that bracha on the first day (of the chag)? I (i.e., Rav Yosef) heard (from my teachers) that (the gedolim) had come from the field.

גמירי דמאפר קאתו. למדתי מרבותי שהן באו מן האפר שבהמותיהן רועות שם ולא ישבו בסוכה כל ימי החג

“I heard that they had come from the field” I learned from my teachers that they had come from the field where their cattle had been grazing. They therefore had not sat in a succah all through the chag (until now).

So, for the first seven days of Succos, the gedolay hador were so busy tending to their cattle that they hadn’t managed to even once sit in a kosher succah. According to Tosafos, they weren’t even able to build themselves a סוכת רועים!