ט״ז בניסן ה׳תשע״ג (March 27, 2013)

Eiruvin 19a-b: More from Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar

When a particular Sage is quoted by the Gemara, it is not unusual for the Gemara to bring other statements made by that Sage in halakha or in aggada. Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar, whose explanation of the word deyomadin opened the second chapter of Massekhet Eiruvin (see 18a-b), has a series of teachings brought by the Gemara in the realm of aggada, ranging from interpretations of the Creation story to Divine reward and punishment.

Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar points to the contrast between criminals condemned by a flesh-and-blood king to those who are found guilty based on Divine law. The criminal who transgressed human law needs to be muzzled, lest he curse the king who is putting him to death. With regard to the individual who is found to be deserving of death based on Torah law, the passage in Tehillim 65:2 says Lekha dumiya tehila – “for You silence is praise.” That is understood by the Gemara to mean that the condemned man remains silent – and even praises God for the fairness of His judgment.

One clear reason for the contrast between the convicted men is the recognition that there is no punishment that can be inflicted by flesh-and-blood kings beyond death. God’s justice, on the other hand, is eternal and exists even after death.

The continuation of the passage in Tehillim is U’lekha yeshulam neder – “and to You shall the vow be performed.” Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar interprets this to mean that the death sentence is similar to bringing a sacrifice. The Maharsha explains this by pointing out that a korban – a sacrifice – is, on some level, a replacement for sacrificing oneself. In this case, the condemned man who accepts the judgment is truly sacrificing himself, so the act is similar to a korban.

Another teaching presented in the name of Rabbi Yirmeya ben Elazar is that there are three entrances to Gehenna: one in the wilderness, one in the sea and one in Jerusalem.

The Nahalat Yaakov (authored by Rav Yaakov Mi-Lisa ) explains this metaphorically, as different behaviors that lead to Gehenna. The “entrance to Gehenna” that is in the wilderness is makhloket – arguments – represented by the rebellion of Korah in the desert. The sea represents the reluctance to reprimand sinners, as with the story of Jona. Jerusalem represents the sin of haughtiness and a general deterioration of good qualities.

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