Saturday, March 25, 2023

May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.

 This week we learned Sanhedrin 13 and 14. These are some highlights.

Sanhedrin 13: Why was Hillel called by his name and not Rabbi Hillel?

Our Gemara mentions that the ordination of rabbis as members of the society that can issue rulings on matters of fines requires three judges in the Land of Israel. This Gemara is the reason for a difference in how different sages are referred to in the Talmud. Rav Sherira Gaon and his son Rav Hai Gaon, leaders of the Gaon Ya’akov Yeshiva in Bavel, wrote a letter to explain the titles sages have in the Talmud. Why are some sages called Rabban, others Rebbi, others Rav, and some—like Hillel and Shamai, are only referred to by their names?

They explain that there is a hierarchy of titles. “Gadol merav—rebbi, gadol merebbi—rabban, gadol merabban—shman. Greater than rav is rebbi, greater than rebbe is rabban, greater than rabban is the name by itself.” The greatest individuals did not have any title before their name. Our fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, all the prophets, kings and members of the Great Assembly are not given titles. It was only at the end of the Second Temple era that the title rabban, our master, was added before the names of the leaders of the nation in Israel, the nesi’im, and “rebbe” was given before the name of the other sages in the Land of Israel. Sefer Yuchsin explains the reason for this new practice.

At the end of the Second Temple era, the Jewish nation was split between the Jews who were loyal to and accepted the Oral Torah, the Perushim, and Jews who rejected the Oral Torah and made up for themselves interpretations of the Torah text, Tzedokim—Sadducees. The Sages wished to distinguish between rabbis who were loyal to the complete Torah and the Sadducee scholars. They therefore added the title Rebbe before the names of the Perushi sages. The title Rebbe indicated that the sage was loyal to the Oral Torah and a worthy member of the chain of Sages stretching all the way back to Moshe Rabbeinu.

Rav Sherira Gaon and Rav Hai Gaon explain that sages of Israel were called Rebbe and sages in Bavel were called Rav. The reason for this is our Gemara. Our Gemara teaches about ordination of sages. Ordination of sages is not accomplished by the teachers laying hands on the student. It is achieved when the sages declare that he is a scholar worthy of ruling on matters of financial fines and that he deserves the title Rebbe. Ordination of sages was limited to the Land of Israel. In Bavel they did not give semicha. To show the difference, the sages of Bavel were titled Rav and only the sages of Israel were given the title of Rebbe. Rebbe Zeira moved from Bavel to Israel. In Bavel he was known as Rav Zeira. After he moved, he became Rebbe Zeira. In fact, Gemara Ketubot (43b) has a doubt about a particular law—if it was taught by Rav Zeira or Rebbe Zeira. The question revolved around whether it was taught by Rav Zeira when he was in Bavel or it was taught when Rebbe Zeira had already moved to Israel.

Rabbi Akiva Eiger (introduction to his shu”t) writes that if he could, he would stop all the titles that are currently given to rabbis. Sometimes the titles are excessive and are a form of unfair flattery. Sometimes the titles cause the one who hears them to be a bit arrogant; or, if he does not like the titles for he feels they are insufficient, he might end up in a dispute and fighting…

Hillel was not called Rabbi Hillel, for greater than being called by an honorable title is being referred to by name. Our leaders idealized lack of honorable titles. The titles were only begun well after the era of Hillel, as a reaction to the Sadducees. (Meorot Daf Hayomi)

Sanhedrin 14: Why does gaining a new position remove sins?

Our Gemara continues to discusses semicha, the ordination of sages into the society of sages that stretches back to Moshe Rabbeinu. It discusses Rebbe Zeira. When Rav Zeira came to Israel, they wanted to grant him semicha. He initially hid from them. He had heard from Rebbe Elazar that fame is dangerous. Keep a low profile and you will thrive. Then he heard from Rebbe Elazar that if someone gains a great position all his sins are forgiven. He then sought to make himself available to those who ordain. He willfully accepted semicha and become Rebbe Zeira.

Why does gaining a position rid the new leader from sin?

Rav Gershon Edelstein quotes the Meiri who provides an explanation. Hashem gifts a leader with new capabilities. If Hashem allows someone to become a leader it is a sign that he is deserving of this greatness. Hashem cares for His nation. He gifts the leader with a new temperament. The leader is given abilities to influence. He is given wisdom to guide. He is granted pedagogic capabilities in order to educate and inspire his people. Since he becomes a new person, his sins are forgiven. They were performed by someone else. This new man, the leader, starts afresh with no sin. (Oneg Shabbos)

By Rabbi Zev Reichman

 Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.


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