כ״ט במרחשון ה׳תשע״ו (November 11, 2015)

Sota 16a-b: Three Items are Required to Be Seen

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, the procedure for preparing the “bitter water” involves mixing dirt from the floor of the mishkan or mikdash with the water that will be used. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches that this is one of three cases where things are required to be seen:

  1. The dirt mixed with water in the case of
  2. The ashes mixed with water in the case of Para Aduma
  3. The spit of a Yevama during the halitza ceremony.

Rabbi Yishmael adds the case of the blood of the bird used in the ceremony marking the recovery of a metzora that is mixed with water.

With regard to this last case, Rabbi Yirmeya asked Rabbi Zeira what to do if the bird is so large that the blood overwhelms the water so that no water can be seen, or if it is so small that the water overwhelms the blood and no blood can be seen. Rabbi Zeira’s response was, “Haven’t I told you not to take yourself out of the halakha?! The Rabbis were referring to a tzipor dror which does not grow so big or so small.”

We find quite a few questions in the Talmud raised by Rabbi Yirmeya that relate to issues of limits on shi’urim – the size requirements of the halakha. These questions appear to lead to a possible conclusion that the shi’urim cannot truly be significant since they cannot work in every single case. In many cases we find that Rabbi Zeira responds by saying that such questions should not be raised, since they are based on incorrect assumptions.

The tzipor dror that Rabbi Zeira mentioned is the Passer domesticus or house sparrow, one of the most common birds, that lives wherever there is human habitation. Although they live in close proximity with humans, they have never been successfully domesticated – in the language of the Talmud (Massekhet Beitza 24a) einah mekabelet marut. They reach full growth (about 14 centimeters) in 2-3 weeks, although they continue to be raised by their parents for some time after that.

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