Continuing with the theme of middah ke-neged middah that was introduced by the Mishna (8b) that we studied earlier, our Gemara focuses on some of the characters who are presented by the Mishna (9b) as prime examples of people who suffered this fate.
For example, a baraita is brought on our daf describing how there were five people who were created me-en dugma shel ma’alah – a term understood to mean that they had characteristics that were beyond those of normal people. The term ma’alah could be interpreted to refer to God, which would mean that these five people were “modeled on the Almighty,” i.e. had Godly attributes and were uniquely created in His image. This approach is rejected by the commentaries on our Gemara who object to the idea that flesh-and-blood humans could be compared to God, even for the purpose of expressing their special attributes. Failing to use these powers for noble purposes, these five suffered punishments specifically related to their unique abilities.
The five personalities – and their unique attributes – are:
- Shimshon and his strength (see Shoftim 16:19)
- Shaul and his neck (see I Shmu’el 10:23 and 31:4)
- Avshalom and his hair (see II Shmu’el 18:9)
- Tzidkiyahu and his eyes (see II Melakhim 25:7)
- Asa and his legs (see I Melakhim 15:23 and II Divrei HaYamim 14:12)
Avshalom was King David’s son who rebelled against his father and claimed the kingdom. When King David’s troops successfully defended the kingdom, Avshalom’s hair became caught in an overhanging branch while he was trying to escape from them. He was left hanging in the air until Yo’av heard of his situation and took the initiative to kill him.
Our Gemara describes that upon finding himself in this difficult situation, Avshalom’s first reaction was to cut his hair and free himself, but that, “Nivka she’ol mi-tahtav – a chasm opened under him”. Although Rashi understands this as an attempt to offer an explanation as to why Avshalom did not cut himself loose, the midrash suggests that the term nivka she’ol mi-tahtav should be understood to mean that Avshalom recognized that he was deserving of damnation and that he chose to allow himself to be killed as atonement for his sins against his father. In fact, the Gemara continues and describes that King David prayed on his behalf to raise him from the depths of gehinom.