ב׳ בטבת ה׳תשע״ב (December 28, 2011)

Bekhorot 44a-b – How tall was Moses?

The Mishnayot on today’s daf (=page) continue to discuss various physical abnormalities that would preclude a kohenfrom serving in the Temple. The first Mishnah teaches that the following are considered abnormalities:
  • one whose eyes are as large as a calf’s or as small as those of a goose; or
  • one whose body is unduly large for his limbs or unduly small for his limbs; or
  • one whose nose is unduly large for his limbs or whose nose is unduly small for his limbs;
  • one whose ears are very small or whose ears resemble a sponge.
In reaction to this, the Gemara relates an aggadic teaching in the name of Rav:
Said Rav: Moses our teacher was ten cubits in height,for it is said: “And he spread
abroad the tent over the tabernacle (Shemot 40:19).”Now who spread it? Moses our teacher; and Scripture says: Ten cubits shall be the length of the board (Shemot 26:16).
To which Rav Shimi bar Hiyya replied:
If so, you have made out that Moses was a blemished person,for we have learnt: “one whose body is unduly large for his limbs or unduly small for his limbs.”
Rav recognized that Rav Shimi had misunderstood his teaching and responded:
I refer to the cubit of the tabernacle.
Rav Shimi had originally thought that Rav meant to say that Moses had an ordinary body and that his arm was ten times the length of his own arm (amah, which is translated both as cubit and as arm). This led him to ask how Moses – who had served in the role of during the week of the consecration of the Tabernacle (see Masechet Zevahim daf 102) – could have done so if he suffered from a bodily abnormality. Rav then explained that he meant that Moses was a physically imposing person, and that he was so tall that his limbs were extraordinarily long – but in proportion with his body.

There are obvious problems with the suggestion that Moses was so tall; for example some rishonim ask how could he enter the Tabernacle given his height?  The Maharal mi-Prague suggests that Rav was not referring to Moses’ physical stature, so much as to his spiritual greatness.