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Unexpected Yerushalmi

Who Wants to Learn?

You’re probably familiar with the mishna in the third perek of Eiruvin:

…אם בא חכם מן המזרח עירובי למזרח בא מן המערב עירובי למערב

(A person may make an eruv techum – extending the distance he may travel outside his town on Shabbos – conditional, saying:) “If a wise man will come from the east, my eruv will (extend my techum) in the east (so I can go to meet him). If the wise man will come from the west, my eruv will be in the west.”

But you may not be aware of an alternate reading quoted in the Yerushalmi (עירובין פרק ו הלכה ג):

אית תניי תני במערב מאן דמר במזרח באילין חכימי’ מאן דמר במערב ברגיל

“There is a tana who taught: ‘(regarding the wise man who comes from the east, that he wants his eruv in the) west. The one who would say (his eruv should be in) the east refers a to (true) wise man. The one who says (his eruv should be in) the west refers to a wise man (who only teaches things everybody already knows).

The scenario presented by the alternate version gives us a man whose motivation for setting an eruv techum is to escape from the chochom, presumably so he wouldn’t need to sit through his lecture.

But this gets more interesting. Later in Eiruvin (פרק ח הלכה א), we find that one should only set an eruv techum for the purpose of a mitzva. Meaning that, according to the Yerushalmi’s version, not only is it reasonable for a person to wish to escape a chochom, but it can even be a mitzva!

Categories
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?