י״ח באלול ה׳תשע״ד (September 13, 2014)

Hagiga 5a-b: In a Verse From Kohelet

Our Gemara includes a list of passages from the TaNaKH whose message was so painful to Rabbi Yohanan that they caused him to cry. One of these pesukim (verses) appears in Kohelet (12:14), and is understood by Rabbi Yohanan as teaching that God will hold someone responsible for sinful acts committed by him, whether intentional or accidental.

The Gemara merely comments that learning this pasuk would bring Rabbi Yohanan to weep; it does not explain how God can hold someone responsible for accidental acts. The Mesillat Yesharim explains God certainly distinguishes between a sin done purposefully and one done accidentally. The pasuk in Kohelet is teaching that even an accidental sin will be judged, and that God will not simply overlook it.

The continuation of the pasuk also presents a serious difficulty. In closing, the passage seems to teach that an individual will be held responsible for good deeds as well as bad ones. Why would someone be “held responsible” for a positive act? Three examples are given:
In the study house of Rabbi Yannai they suggested that it refers to someone who gives money to a poor person in a public – and humiliating – manner.
In the study house of Rabbi Sheila they suggested that it refers to a man who gives charity to a poor woman in secret, which will lead to suspicions about her.
Rava suggests that it refers to a husband who sends uncut meat to his wife on Friday afternoon. Since it is uncut, the gid ha-nashe – the sciatic nerve, a sinew in the leg that cannot be eaten (see Bereishit 32:32) – has not been removed, and in the rush of Shabbat preparations, may not be dealt with properly.

To the Gemara’s challege that Rava himself was known to send such meat to his wife on erev Shabbat, we learn that Rava’s wife was the daughter of Rav Hisda, who he was certain would check the gid ha-nashe and deal with it properly.

The marriage between Rava and Rav Hisda’s daughter was a second one for both of them, although they were childhood friends. In a number of places in the Talmud we see that they had a uniquely close relationship. Similarly we find that Rava relied on her, not only because of her upbringing in Rav Hisda’s house, but also because of her personal integrity.

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