י״ד בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (November 26, 2015)

Sota 31a-b: But the Fetuses Could Not See

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, based on his interpretation of the passage in Tehillim (68:27) Rabbi Meir taught that at the time the Jewish people crossed the Red Sea, even unborn children in their mothers’ wombs broke out in a song of praise.

The Gemara on our daf questions how this could have happened; after all, how could they have seen the miracle that was taking place from their position inside the womb? Rabbi Tanhum responds to this question by saying that despite being hidden from the world, they were able to see because their mothers’ stomachs became like aspaklaria ha-me’ira – transparent glass – which allowed them to look out.

The term aspaklaria has its source in Latin as specularis or speculare, meaning “something transparent” or “a seeing glass” – from the same root as the word “spectacles.” On occasion the Talmud uses it to mean “a mirror.”

In truth, this entire discussion in the Gemara is a difficult one, and in some manuscripts it does not appear at all. The problem stems from the fact that the Gemara is describing a miracle that contains elements that are much more difficult to accept than the problem of unborn children seeing the miracle of the parting of the sea. Simply put, how can unborn children break into song? Given this difficulty, why would the Gemara choose to focus on just one aspect of the miracle – their inability to see – and ignore the other issues?

In his Torah ha-kena’ot, Rabbi Moshe Betzalel Feibush suggests that when the Gemara raised this point, it did not mean to question the occurrence of the miracle, but rather its point was to clarify one further aspect of the miracle, beyond the obvious miracle of the children singing. The point was to explain how the unborn children were aware that the miracle took place.

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