ל׳ בשבט ה׳תשע״ו (February 9, 2016)

Gittin 58a-b: Ransom Him for Whatever Sum of Money

Our daf continues with stories about the personal tragedies of the first ḥurban period – the time of the destruction of Jerusalem. The Gemara quotes a baraita that tells of Rabbi Yehoshua, who traveled to Rome where he heard of a handsome Jewish child who was being held captive in the city. Rabbi Yehoshua went to the entrance of the prison where he was being held and recited the beginning of the verse in Yeshayahu (42:24) which asks, “Who gave Jacob for a spoil, and Israel to the robbers?” In response he heard the child recite the end of the pasuk: “Was it not HaShem against whom we have sinned, and in whose ways they would not walk, neither were they obedient unto His law?” Realizing the unique qualities of this young man, Rabbi Yehoshua felt certain that he would become a great teacher in Israel and committed himself to redeeming the child at any cost. He did so and the child grew up to be the great sage Rabbi Yishmael.

Tosafot raise the obvious issue in this story: only a few pages ago (see daf 45) we learned that a Jewish person who is being held captive should not be ransomed for more than his worth, mipnei tikkun ha-olam – to encourage the proper workings of society. Tosafot raise a number of possible explanations, among them that Rabbi Yishmael may have been in mortal danger in prison, or that his great promise to become a talmid hakham allowed him to be redeemed for more than his personal worth. Others point out that the Gemara describes the physical beauty of the young man, implying that the Romans planned to make use of him for immoral purposes. When Rabbi Yehoshua “interviewed” him by means of the pasuk, he realized the emotional pain and suffering that he would undergo and felt it essential to save him from that degradation.

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