ה׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ו (July 11, 2016)

Bava Kamma 41a-b: Deriving Meaning from Every Word

One of the most common words in the Hebrew language cannot be translated into English. The word et introduces many words in the Torah, and according to many of , we can use it as a source to learn new laws.

One such case is shor ha-niskal where someone’s ox gores and kills another person. As we saw on yesterday’s daf , in that case the Torah teaches that the ox is stoned and its meat cannot be eaten. The passage that says that its meat cannot be eaten – v’lo ye’akhel et besaro – is understood by the Gemara to teach us prohibitions against eating its meat, as well as deriving benefit from its meat. According to some opinions in the Gemara, the word et is understood to teach that the animal’s skin also cannot be used; according to others we must learn this from elsewhere in the passage, since they do not believe that the word et can be used to teach halakhot.

These positions are found in a baraita that brings the teachings of Shimon (some say Nehemia) ha-Amasoni, who was known to learn halakhot from every et that appeared in the Torah. When he reached the passage of et ha-Shem Elokekha tira ( 10:20), which teaches that you should be in awe of God, he could not think of an appropriate thing to learn from the word et, and he stopped making such . In reply to his students’ question of “What will happen to our earlier teachings?” he responded that he would now receive reward for distancing himself from this methodology, just as he did when he made use of it. Finally Rabbi Akiva made use of that et to teach that Torah scholars should be included in the list of those whom the students should hold in awe.
One of the popular questions asked by the rishonim about this baraita is, why did Shimon ha-Amasoni encounter difficulties only when he reached this passage? Shouldn’t the passage in 6:5 – v’ahavta et ha-Shem Elokekha, that you should love Hashem your God – have presented the same type of problem? The Maharsha suggests that Shimon ha-Amasoni had no doubt that there was an obligation to love Torah scholars which could be derived from that pasuk. His only question was whether the same rule could apply to awe, as well, a question that Rabbi Akiva eventually related to.

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