כ״א בתמוז ה׳תש״ע (July 3, 2010)

Shevu’ot 6a-b – The need to be sensitive to political realities even in the religious study hall

As we learned on yesterday’s daf (=page), the Mishnah (2a) described that marot nega’im – biblical leprosy – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see Vayikra 13:1-2) – a se’etor a baheret – each have toladot – other, lower level signs of this plague – that are similar to them in color. According to the Gemara, a se’et is the color of the membrane of an egg, and its toladah is the color of white wool. A beheret is the color of snow and its toladah is the color of the lime that was used to paint the Temple sanctuary.

 

On today’s daf, we find that attempt to offer parallels to this hierarchy by describing the relationship between a king and his underlings. Rava rejects the suggestions made by the other Sages arguing that the only true parallel is the relationship between two kings who are on the same level – like Shevor Malka, the king of Persia and the Roman Caesar. In response, Rav Papa asked him which of the two is greater. Rava replied that Rav Papa’s question makes it sound as though he was living in a forest his whole life, since everyone knows which currency is more widely accepted in the world.

 

Rashi explains that Rav Papa was aware of the political reality of the outside world, but he was confused by the fact that Rava mentioned the Persian king before the Roman Caesar. Rava needed to do this since he lived under Persian rule and had to make sure that he spoke in a manner that was respectful to the local authority. The Hatam Sofer indicates that this was the basis of Rava’s comment – did Rav Papa not recognize the need to be sensitive to the honor of the Persian rule?

 

Some of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbenu Hananel) interpret Rava’s comment differently, and understand that he asked whether Rav Papa had a problem with his eyes. Did he not see which of the two countries was the greater one? Alternatively, the Arukh brings an opinion that Rava asked whether Rav Papa wanted to become blind, since the Persian kings were wont to blind people who did not show proper respect to the monarchy.