Sunday, August 26, 2012

Berachot 24a: Rav Elyashiv and Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi

Despite a kabbalistic directive not to clasp one's hands together, Rav Elyashiv zatzal did just that. I discussed it in this parshablog post.

The kabbalistic directive:
The Zohar Ha’kadosh, in Vayikra (p. 24), writes that when a harsh judgment is issued against a person, Heaven forbid, his fingers will unwittingly begin moving, and the fingers of his two hands will become interlocked.  As interlocking hands is a sign of harsh judgment, it is improper for a person to intentionally hold his hands in this position. 
and the picture of Rav Elyashiv clasping his hands:
Rav Elyashiv, clasping his hands together
As I note in that post, this contradiction caused some to assert that the photo must have been Photoshopped!

In our gemara, we have the following testimony about the conduct of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi by Rabbi Chanina (ben Dosa), on Berachot 24a-b:
R. Hanina said: I saw Rabbi hang up his tefillin. An objection was raised: If one hangs up his tefillin, his life will be suspended. The Dorshe hamuroth27  said: And thy life shall hang in doubt before thee:28  this refers to one who hangs up his tefillin! — This is no difficulty: the one statement refers to hanging by the strap, the other to hanging by the box. Or if you like, I can say that in either case, whether by the strap or by the box, it is forbidden, and when Rabbi hung his up it was in a bag. If so, what does this tell us? — You might think that they must be resting on something like a scroll of the Law. Therefore we are told that this is not necessary.
R. Hanina also said: I saw Rabbi [while Saying the Tefillah] belch and yawn and sneeze and spit and adjust his garment,1  but he did not pull it over him;2  and when he belched, he would put his hand to his chin. The following objection was cited: 'One who says the Tefillah so that it can be heard is of the small of faith;3  he who raises his voice in praying is of the false prophets;4  he who belches and yawns is of the arrogant; if he sneezes during his prayer it is a bad sign for him — some say, it shows that he is a low fellow; one who spits during his prayer is like one who spits before a king'. Now in regard to belching and yawning there is no difficulty; in the one case it was involuntary, in the other case deliberate. But the sneezing in Rabbi's case does seem to contradict the sneezing in the other? — There is no contradiction between sneezing and sneezing either; in the one case it is above, in the other below.5  For R. Zera said: This dictum was casually imparted to me in the school of R. Hamnuna, and it is worth all the rest of my learning: If one sneezes in his prayer it is a good sign for him, that as they give him relief below [on earth] so they give him relief above [in heaven]. But there is surely a contradiction between the spitting in the one case and the other? — There is no contradiction between the two cases of spitting either, since it can be done as suggested by Rab Judah. For Rab Judah said: If a man is standing saying the Tefillah, and spittle collects in his mouth, he covers it up in his robe, or, if it is a fine robe, in his scarf.6  Rabina was once standing behind R. Ashi and he wanted to spit, so he spat out behind him. Said R. Ashi to him: Does not the Master accept the dictum of Rab Judah, that he covers it up in his scarf? He replied: I am rather squeamish.
If Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa is telling us this report of Rabbi's conduct, it must be to practical effect. And ideally, that practical effect should be obvious. The harmonizations performed by the setama degemara such that there are no contradictions with existing braytot are unlikely, precisely because this report of Rabbi's conduct directly contradict the bratyot, when both are read plainly.

In other words, I would assert that Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa was perfectly aware of the braytot, and that is why he chose to report Rabbi's conduct in precisely this manner. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi tannu hu upalig, he was a Tanna who disagreed with these other Tannaim.

Separate from this point, the gemara distinguishes between two types of itushנתעטש, sneezing or passing gas. Thus, כאן מלמעלה כאן מלמטה.

But from where does the setama degemara get such a distinction of lemaalah (sneezing) vs. lematah (passing wind)? Usually, it turns to a statement from a named Tanna or Amora when introducing such distinctions. Here is what we are told:
דאמר רב זירא הא מילתא אבלעא לי בי רב המנונא ותקילא לי כי כולי תלמודאי המתעטש בתפלתו סימן יפה לו כשם שעושים לו נחת רוח מלמטה כך עושין לו נחת רוח מלמעלה
Except here, lemata means down below on Earth, while lemaalah means up above in Heaven. Too perfect!

Of course, the reading of the gemara should be to take the entire statement of Rav Zera as an example of lemaalah, of sneezing, to be contrasted with the earlier negative statement, which was to refer to passing wind. I wonder though, in light of this, if we should reverse our typical assignment of the atisha with the positive and negative omen, assigning the atisha with the positive omen to passing wind.

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