כ׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ז (January 18, 2017)

Bava Metzia 114a-b: Standing in a Graveyard

The Gemara on today’s daf continues the discussion of a lender taking a mashkon – collateral or a guarantee – from a borrower, and asks whether there is an obligation to leave the debtor with enough property for him to continue living his life normally. Although the Gemara brings ordinary discussion and proofs in answer to this question, it also includes an interesting conversation between Rabba bar Avuh and Eliyahu.

The Gemara tells of Rabba bar Avuh meeting Elijah the Prophet in a non-Jewish cemetery. Seizing the opportunity he asked him a number of questions:

“Must a borrower be left with enough for him to continue living normally?”

Eliyahu replied that he must, citing a parallel between the laws of mashkon and the laws of arakhin (when someone declares that he will give his worth to the Temple).

“What is the source for the law forbidding someone who is naked from tithing?”

Eliyahu replied that the source could be found in Sefer Devarim (23:15).

Finally, Rabba bar Avuh asked how Eliyahu could be in a cemetery, since he is a kohen for whom entrance into a cemetery should be forbidden. Eliyahu responded that based on a passage in Sefer Yehezkel (34:31) we learn that non-Jews are not metame be-ohel – their dead will not ritually defile a person when found in the same dwelling or overhang (this is separate from the question of physical contact with a dead body, where the body of a non-Jew would be forbidden for a kohen to touch).

The idea of Elijah the Prophet appearing to the righteous is one that we find often in the Talmud, and, in fact, in post-Talmudic literature, as well. It is clear from the story in our Gemara that Eliyahu does not come to offer prophetic solutions to problems in Jewish law – since halakha cannot be decided based on prophecy – rather he makes use of the ordinary tools of the halakhic decisor. The rishonim point out that his statements in the Gemara are accepted like those of any other Sage, and can be accepted or disputed.

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