י״ג בטבת ה׳תשע״ג (December 26, 2012)

Shabbat 84a-b: Sowing Diverse Plants in a Garden, Part I

The Mishna continues to discuss an additional halakha based on a biblical allusion:

From where is it derived that in a garden bed that is six by six handbreadths, that one may plant five different types of seeds in it? He may do so without violating the prohibition of sowing a mixture of diverse kinds of seeds in the following manner. One sows four types of plants on each of the four sides of the garden bed and one in the middle. There is an allusion to this in the text, as it is stated: “For as the earth brings forth its growth, and as a garden causes its seeds to grow, so will the Lord God cause justice and praise to spring forth before all the nations” (Yeshayahu 61:11). Its seed, in the singular, is not stated; rather, its seeds, written in the plural. Apparently, it is possible that several seeds may be planted in a small garden.

The discussion of this Mishna is not particularly clear. As a result, there are many divergent opinions among the commentaries. The fundamental problem is that with no diagrams accompanying the Mishna or Gemara, it is difficult to understand precisely what each is describing and to cite proof from the Talmud for or against any of the proposed explanations.
There is also a dispute in terms of the content of this passage.

On one extreme is the opinion that at least three handbreadths must separate the different species of plants. This opinion is cited by Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam in Sefer HaYashar.

At the other extreme is the opinion that the various species do not need to be distanced from one another.

The fundamental requirement is to prevent seeds from intermingling and each species must be easily discernible from the others. An intermediate approach holds that a handbreadth and a half distance must separate the plants on each side (Rashi and Tosafot). Others say that it is necessary to maintain that distance only on certain sides. According to Rabbeinu Shimshon of Saens, one must plant the species so that each row of plants is at least a handbreadth and one-tenth from the edge of the garden bed, ensuring that there will be a distance of a handbreadth and a half between each set of plants on all sides. Some ge’onim explain that a distance of one handbreadth between the various species is sufficient. Others explain that there is no need to keep a distance between them and it is sufficient to plant the seeds on different sides and in different patterns (see Melekhet Shlomo and Tiferet Yisrael). Some of the differing opinions of how to lay out the garden bed include those of Rabbenu Hananel and Meiri , the Rosh , the Ge’onim , the Ramban and the Tiferet Yisrael.

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