Friday, April 4, 2008

Daf: Nazir 23, a fascinating page

Yes, an entire post for this daf; there is a ton to see here, and we are just touching the tip of a very large iceberg!

Nazir 23a-b is very interesting, for its discussion of the role of intention in both mitzvah and transgression. Some surprising concepts surface here, most prominently the idea of עבירה לשמה, a sin performed for the sake of Heaven. The concept itself is not surprising – it’s with us pretty much from childhood – but its validation in the gemara is not what one might have expected. The ‘system’ does not normally sanction its abrogation.

Rabbi Akiva cries here, regarding the extent to which a person is held liable for his intent. It’s interesting on two levels:
1. Rabbi Akiva is the one who usually laughs when the sages cry (end of Talmud Makkot), and even shuns tears upon his own martyring. Nonetheless, I find it consistent – Rabbi Akiva is always focussed on the Divine plan, and confidence in HaShem. Here, he cries because HaShem is so strict in judgment.
2. Various sages cry, in the gemara, when they reach specific pesukim or lessons of great import for our spiritual accounting. Think of Rebbe in Avodah Zarah 17 or 18, crying because a person can acquire his ‘olam’ in an instant יש קונה עולמו בשעה אחת.

Look at Tosafos על דבר, using the ראשי תיבות (acronym) approach.

I was troubled by the use of אכילה גסה here to connote simple over-eating – until I saw Tosafos “pesach”.

The midrash is troubled, at the start of Parshat Balak, regarding the interplay between Midian and Moav in hiring Bilam. The midrash’s conclusion is that Midian and Moav teamed up. Here, though (top of the page), it appears that they are considered the same nation?

The reason presented here (ancestral behavior) for the prohibition of marrying an Amonite/Moabite is not the same as the reason given in the Torah itself (behavior of those nations when the Jews arrived to enter Israel)! Perhaps the idea is that the actions of the ancestors dictated the character of their descendants, a sort of ersatz מעשה אבות סימן לבנים concept. It fits the traditional concept of mamzerut, too – that the descendant is influenced by the traits of his parents.

Our gemara speaks positively about a person who learns Torah or performs mitzvos with ulterior motives. Tosafos here, and in four other places, points out that Berachos 17a strongly condemns a person who acts with ulterior motives! In all of those sites, Tosafos explains that there is a difference between acting positively for personal gain (approved), and acting positively in order to harm others (not approved).

Ruth is identified here as the descendant of kings. This fits a general talmudic pattern of associating outsiders who joined the family of Avraham, or who wanted to join, with royal heritage; we do this for Hagar, identifying her as the daughter of a Pharoah, and for Timna (see Rashi to Bereishis 36:12).

Note also Tosafos בת בנו on the chronology of Ruth’s connection to Eglon. We don’t assume that Ruth’s mother was exceptionally long-lived. (As opposed to Ruth’s descendants, between her and Dovid haMelech.)

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