י״ז בכסלו ה׳תשע״ו (November 29, 2015)

Sota 34a-b: The Stony Land of Hebron

As we have learned, the seventh perek of Massekhet Sota discusses how some religious ceremonies need to be said in Hebrew, while others can be said in any language. A series of segues leads the discussion from the blessings and curses that the Children of Israel recited on Har Gerizim and Har Eival to a general discussion about entering the land of Israel at the end of the forty year trek through the desert, and the story of the spies who entered the land to scout it out many years before.

Our Gemara focuses on some of what the spies chose to speak about when they returned to report to the Jewish People. According to the Torah (Bamidbar 13:22), they told of a number of giants who lived in the area of Hebron, mentioning that Hebron was built prior to the city of Zo’an in Egypt. This is understood by the Gemara as teaching that although Hebron was poor agricultural land, it was considered better than Zo’an, which was the best land in Egypt.

The term used to describe the land around Hebron is trashim, which describes ground that is so hard that it cannot be plowed and planted normally. Generally speaking, such earth is found in rocky areas where the earth between the rocks also becomes hard and cannot be used for normal agricultural uses. The Gemara’s proof that the land in Hebron was trashim is that it was used as a burial place.

The Sfas Emes questions how the fact that the burial place of the forefathers of the Jewish people is in Hebron can serve as a proof that the land was of poor quality. He explains that according to burial custom in Israel, soft earth was not a good place to bury people, since the walls of the grave will collapse. Rather, the ideal burial ground is one where the earth is hard and cannot be used for farming. In such a place, the body will remain properly buried.

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