ט״ז בכסלו ה׳תשע״ח (December 4, 2017)

Shevuot 6a-b: The Greater of Two Kings

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the Mishna (2a) described that mar’ot nega’im – shades of leprous marks – are “two that are four.” That is to say that the two signs of plagues of leprosy mentioned in the Torah (see 13:1-2) – a se’et or 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 white wool of a newly born lamb, and its tolada is the color of the membrane of an egg. A beheret is the intense white color of snow and its tolada is white like the lime plaster of the Temple sanctuary walls.

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 Pappa asked him which of the two is greater. Rava replied that Rav Pappa’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 Pappa 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 Ḥatam Sofer indicates that this was the basis of Rava’s comment – did Rav Pappa not recognize the need to be sensitive to the honor of the Persian rule?

Some of the rishonim (e.g. Rabbeinu Hananel) interpret Rava’s comment differently, and understand that he asked whether Rav Pappa 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 Pappa wanted to become blind, since the Persian kings were wont to blind people who did not show proper respect to the monarchy.

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