These Torah thoughts are dedicated le’iluy nishmas Menachem Mendel Ben Harav Yoel David Balk a”h.
This week we learned Gittin 68-74. Here are some highlights of the learning.
Gittin 68: The Shamir Worm and the Combine Machine
Our Gemara relates that when Shlomo Hamelech wished to build the Beis Hamikdash he was confronted with a problem. The Torah demanded that the Temple be built with completed, chiseled stones. Yet the Torah also states (Devarim 27:5), “Lo tanif aleihem barzel—do not wave metal above them,” that metal objects could not be used to cut the stones. How was Shlomo to produce chiseled stones without using any metal utensils? The sages guided Shlomo to use the Shamir worm. The Shamir worm had been created during bein hashmashot of the sixth day of creation. It had a remarkable property. If it was dropped onto a hard surface it would make that surface crack. Moshe Rabbeinu had been the first to use the Shamir. When constructing the Mishkan, Hashem had ordered Moshe to engrave the names of the tribes on the stones of the Choshen. To create the grooves in rock, Moshe had guided the Shamir worm on the stones. The Gemara relates the miraculous adventure how Shlomo and his chief advisor Benayahu got ahold of the Shamir.
This story has relevance to an important issue in Jewish law. Gerama means to indirectly cause an act. Can one fulfill a mitzvah through a gerama? Some argued that Gittin 68 proves that one may. Moshe had a mitzvah to engrave names on the stones. In fact, however, he placed the Shamir on the stones and the Shamir cracked the rocks. Moshe was merely a cause for the engraving. He placed the Shamir on the correct spot but the worm did the work. Since this act fulfilled his obligation, it is clear that a gerama can also discharge an obligation. However, most poskim disagreed with this analysis. Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank, Tzelach and others point out that when chiseling with a knife or an anvil, the one cutting the stone moves the knife in particular lines and in this way engraves letters. Such chiseling is certainly a direct action. Moshe Rabbeinu used the Shamir as a knife. He guided the Shamir along lines to spell the names of the tribes. This use of the Shamir was a direct act and not a gerama.
Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank applied this analysis to a wheat-cutting combine machine. When the State of Israel was first founded, the Jewish Agency purchased a wheat-cutting combine machine to help agricultural settlements harvest their wheat. To maximize use of the machine, the Agency made a rule that they would only lend the machine to two settlements who would share its use. They would not lend it to a single settlement. A religious settlement asked Rav Tzvi Pesach Frank if they should join with a secular neighboring settlement and borrow the machine. The secular settlers would likely use the machine on Shabbos. Perhaps since the machine would allow more wheat to be harvested they should not join with their neighbors, for in doing so they would be causing an increase of Shabbos desecration. On the other hand, a machine might be considered a gerama. The farmer turns the machine on, the machine does the work; it cuts the wheat, not the farmer. Perhaps causing Jews to cut wheat indirectly is actually preventing them from a greater prohibition of cutting wheat directly with a knife? Rav Frank responded that there was no religious gain to harvesting grain with a combine machine. Just as poskim taught that guiding the Shamir worm was considered a direct act, guiding the combine to wheat stalks would be a direct act of cutting wheat, no different than cutting wheat manually with a knife, and therefore the religious community should not play an active role in procuring the machine that would cause more desecration of Shabbos. (Meorot Daf Hayomi)
Gittin 69: The Wisdom of the Sages
The Talmud records many medicinal treatments of old. For example, for cataracts it recommends taking a seven-colored scorpion and drying it in the shade, then grinding it and mixing it with blue eye shadow. This is then applied three times to each eye. If one will apply this potion more than three times to the eye, the eye might pop out. Maharshal records in Yam Shel Shelomo that there is an ancient ban on attempting to use the medicinal treatments of the Talmud. Times have changed. Bodies have changed. Climates have changed. Our spiritual levels have changed. The treatments worked then and will frequently not work now. Those who use these treatments and not succeed with them might think that our sages were mistaken. This might lead them to doubt other lessons of our sages. Therefore, we may no longer try to use these remedies. Maharsha points out that the Talmud included these remedies to teach us that our sages were scholars in many fields. They even knew how to heal illnesses with herbs and potions. We may not understand all their words, but they were interested in many areas of wisdom. (Portal Daf Hayomi)
Gittin 70: End-of-Life Care
Shmuel taught that a man who was wounded by the poison-tipped spears of the Persians would certainly end up dying. However, to try and keep him alive, people should give him fatty meat roasted on coals and raw, undiluted wine. They might help live a bit longer and he will be able to issue final instructions to his children. Similarly, Rav Idi Bar Avin taught that one who swallows a hornet will die; however, he should be given a revi’it of strong vinegar to drink for that might enable him to live a bit longer and complete his last will and testament. Rav Zilberstein asked, why did Shmuel and Rav Idi explain that preserving life was important to complete a last will? Preserving life should be important, for each moment of life is of infinite value. On Shabbos, the Halacha is that we violate Shabbos even for chayei sha’ah, to preserve life for a bit. The Gemara in Yoma (85a) that taught about violating Shabbos to maintain life did not suggest that we are to violate Shabbos only to enable a person to complete his will.
Rav Zilberstein suggested, as a response, that in the Gemara in Yoma the person was not in great pain. His life was in danger, it was clear that he would pass, but he was not suffering. In such an instance, we violate Shabbos to give a person a few more moments, for each moment is of infinite value. However, in Gittin 70, the Sages discussed a person who had been wounded by a poisoned spear and a person who had swallowed a hornet. In these instances, they had no chance of recovery and were in great pain. When one is in great pain we do not need to give treatments that would preserve life but also continue agony. In such cases, only since the person had unfinished business, for he had not yet given his children his final instructions, would we preserve his life for as long as we could to enable him to express those final wishes. Based on this Gemara, when doctors approach Rav Zilberstein with the question of adding treatments to a patient who is in great pain and has no prospect of recovery, Rav Zilberstein rules that if he still has not yet given his final instructions, they should give him the treatments; however, if he has already completed his will, they should not give him treatments that will cause his suffering to continue for a bit more, when he will certainly soon pass away. (Chashukei Chemed)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue, 255 Walnut Street in Englewood, NJ, at 5:35 a.m. Monday and Thursday, at 5:45 a.m. Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, and at 7:45 on Sunday mornings.