כ״ב באלול ה׳תשע״ג (August 28, 2013)

Pesaḥim 69a-b: Activities That Override Shabbat

The Mishna at the beginning of our perek (65b) related a disagreement between Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Akiva. Rabbi Eliezer permitted a number of preparatory activities connected with the korban Pesah to be done on Shabbat, while Rabbi Akiva forbade them. Rabbi Eliezer argued that if we permit slaughtering the sacrifice on Shabbat, certainly we will permit activities that are only Rabbinic prohibitions. Rabbi Akiva pointed to haza’ah – to sprinkling the ashes of the Para Aduma – as an example of a Rabbinic ordinance that is a mitzva, and yet is not done on Shabbat. The Mishna concludes with Rabbi Akiva’s general principle that only a melakha that cannot be done before Shabbat will be permitted.

It was taught in a baraita that Rabbi Eliezer said to him about this: Akiva, you have lightheartedly responded to me with a faulty a fortiori inference with regard to slaughter. His death will be with slaughter; meaning, as punishment for this disrespect you will be slaughtered by other people. Rabbi Akiva said to him: My teacher, do not deny my contention at the time we are discussing this inference, for this is the tradition I received from you: Sprinkling is forbidden by rabbinic decree and does not override Shabbat.

Perhaps we can understand something of this exchange based on the Jerusalem Talmud, which reports that Rabbi Akiva sat in Rabbi Eliezer’s lectures for 13 years without expressing himself or standing out in any way, and Rabbi Eliezer was surprised by the powerful question of this student who had never been recognized before. Perhaps this story appears to explain in some way Rabbi Akiva’s end, when he is tortured to death by the Romans as one of the asara harugei malkhut, who were killed for teaching Torah, based on the Talmudic teaching that the curse of one of will be fulfilled even if it was given without cause.

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