Thursday, March 01, 2007

The Drunken Knife

After Rava ruled[1] that one is obligated to drink until the point of mind-dulling drunkenness on the holiday of Purim, the Talmud related a story illustrating this point. In this story, Rabbah, fulfills this rabbinic commandment, and then arises and "slaughters" Rav Zeira. The following morning, Rabbah begs G-d's mercy and Rav Zeira is miraculously revived. The next year, Rav Zeira declines Rabbah's invitation to join him for the Purim feast reasoning that perhaps he will be slaughtered again, and HaShem would be unwilling to perform a miracle on his behalf. Many of the Talmudic commentaries scramble to find an explanation to this story, as well as an explanation to the purpose that the Talmud quoted such a story.

Rabbi Nissim ben Reuven (1320-1380) quotes[2] in the name of Rabbeinu Efrayim, that the Talmud quoted this story in order to show that there is really no obligation to drink so much on Purim, for such an obligation would be frightfully dangerous, as in the story of Rabbah and Rav Zeira. However, Rabbi Chizkiyah ben David DiSilo (1659-1698) asks[3] that if this was the Talmud's intent in quoting the story, then why did Rav Zeira refuse to join Rabbah for the latter's Purim party if the obligation to drink excessively had been lifted as a result of the first part of the story, so there was no danger in attending Rabbah's festive meal. Rather, the story serves as a model as to how one should act on Purim, despite the commandment of drinking wine. Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) writes[4] that such drinking on Purim only caused a hazard to society because it was done by Rabbah. Rabbah, as the Talmud says[5], was born under the spherical influence of the Red (blood) Planet—Mars—so he was destined to become either a murder or ritual circumciser. However, Rabbi Sofer writes, that all others, who are not born of that constellational influence, are still obligated to drink wine excessively on Purim.

There is a law that under ritual slaughter, the slicing of the knife must be the cause of death for the slaughtered animal, nothing else. Rav Zeira ruled[6] that a white-hot metal knife is still kosher to be used in ritual slaughter because the cutting of the knife kills the animal, not the heat from the knife. How did Rav Zeira know that the incision of the knife itself kills before the heat of the white-hot knife? Rabbi Moshe Sofer explains[7] in the name of his Rebbe, Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1730-1805), the author of the Hafla'ah and Panim Yafos, since Rav Zeira was slaughtered by Rabbah, he knew the feeling of being slashed with a knife to death. Rabbi Moshe Sofer says that even though his Rebbe said this explanation somewhat in jest, the explanation is still true and is as essential component of the Torah as anything else that his Rebbe said. According to this, it seems that Rabbi Sofer understood the story of Rabbah and Rav Zeira as it is literally recorded in the Talmud.

Elsewhere, Rabbi Moshe Sofer explains[8] that Rabbah did not actually slaughter Rav Zeira; rather, he merely caused Rav Zeira to laugh. The Talmud says[9] that Rav Zeira rarely ever laughed because he knew that laughter and other forms of light-headedness lead to promiscuity[10]. Therefore, when Rabbah caused Rav Zeira to laugh at their join Purim celebration, Rav Zeira felt as if he had somehow sinned, so he repented for this "sin" of laughing. Rabbi Avraham Mordechai Alter (1866-1948) added[11] that Rav Zeira's name, Zeira, is actually an acronym for his attributes, "sweat, trembling, awe, and fear". Similarly, Rabbi Shmuel Eidels (1555–1631) explains[12] that Rabbah did not literally slaughter Rav Zeira; rather Rabbah forced him to drink an irrational dosage of wine until Rav Zeira fell fatally ill. Then, Rabbah prayed for Rav Zeira's recovery, and was granted a miracle in that Rav Zeira did not die because of the alcohol poisoning. This explanation is also implicit in the words of Rabbi Menachem Meiri (1249-1310)[13]. Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (1910-1995) also explains[14] that Rabbah did not physically kill Rav Zeira, but rather Rabbah somehow embarrassed Rav Zeira, and in Halacha, one who embarrasses another is considered as having killed another[15]; because of this, Rabbah prayed for forgiveness.

However, these explanations are difficult because the Talmud specifically uses the word "slaughter" which implies that Rabbah performed some act of violence toward Rav Zeira. Rather, Rabbi Ya'akov Emden (1697-1776) explains[16] that Rabbah realized that the happiness of their Purim celebration was getting out of hand, so he wanted to induce some sadness as Rabbah himself mandates regarding pure happiness[17]. Therefore, Rabbah created the illusion that he slaughtered Rav Zeira in order to "sober up" the partygoers. This illusion seemed so real to Rav Zeira that he fainted out of fright, after which Rabbah prayed for Rav Zeira's full recovery. Similarly, Rabbi Rachmiel Zelcer points out[18] that Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz explain[19] that Elijah the prophet—who was a Kohen—was allowed to come into physical contact with the dead corpse of the son of the Zarephathian widow[20] because the child did not really die, but rather fainted and was in a coma until Elijah revived him. Rabbi Zelcer says that the words of Rabbeinu Peretz are a proof to the explanation of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden concerning Rabbah and Rav Zeira.

Rabbi Yechezkel Shraga Halberstam (1813–1899) explained[21] the story of Rabbah and Rav Zeira on a different level, in the name of Rabbi Moshe Teitelbaum (1759-1841). He says that when the Talmud said that "Rabbah arose", it means Rabbah rose to high spiritual levels through service to HaShem on Purim. He then proved that when the Talmud continued that "[he] slaughtered Rav Zeira", the word "slaughter" actually means, "pulled." This refers to the fact that Rabbah "pulled" Rav Zeira to his own high spiritual level, which was too high for Rav Zeira, causing the latter to lose his physical existence, and thereby die. The next, Rabbah then prayed for Rav Zeira's well-being and Rav Zeira was restored to his proper spiritual level. The Ben Ish Chai, Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909), records[22] a similar understanding in the name of anonymous Kabbalists and he adds that according to this explanation, it makes sense why Rav Zeira refused to eat with Rabbah the next year. Had Rav Zeira been scared of a mere physical danger posed to him by Rabbah, he could have merely hired bodyguards, the fact that he was still scared shows that the danger posed to him by Rabbah was not physical, but was a spiritual threat.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad cites a question[23] which Rabbi Chaim Yosef Dovid Azulai (1724-1807) asked. Rabbi Azulai asked what was the status of Rav Zeira's wife after her husband died and before he was resurrected, and what was her status following Rav Zeira's resurrection, basically, did Rav Zeira have to re-marry his wife after he was resurrected or is he the same person and can merely continue his previous marriage. He understood the story as recorded in the Talmud as it is simply written, and thus wondered about the halachik status of one who dies and is miraculously resurrected. Rabbi Yosef Chaim answers that Rav Zeira was the same person as before and did not require a re-marriage to his wife. He proves this from the fact that the Talmud says[24] that at Mount Sinai, all the Jews present died and were resurrect, yet it is never found that they all had to re-marry their spouses. However, this is not a proof to the question of Rabbi Azulai because Rabbi Azulai was of the opinion that the Jews before Mount Sinai were not commanded in the commandment of marriage, so their pre-Sinaitic marriages were not legally effective anyways. Furthermore, Rabbi Yosef Chaim proves from the fact that the Talmud says[25] that the son of the Shunamite woman[26] who died and was resurrected by Elisha[27] is not ritually impure; from here, he saw that one who dies and is resurrected is considered as having never died. However, this is not a proof according to the explanation of Rabbi Ya'akov Emden. He explained[28] there that the reason why the ritually impurity was never effective on the child was because even though he died, since he was eventually going to be resurrected, it is as if he was still alive in regard to his ritual impurity, so the evil spirits which cause ritual impurity never rested on him.

The Aderes, Rabbi Eliyahu Dovid Rabinowitz-Teomim (1843-1905), wrote in a letter to Rabbi Chaim Berlin (1832-1912) the reason why in a certain Talmudic tale[29] Rav Zeira did not lead the Grace after Meals, but rather Rabbi Abahu was honored with that right, even though Rav Zeira was a Kohen[30]. He explained that the reason was that after Rav Zeira was slaughtered by Rabbah and resurrected, he was considered a new person, so he was no longer a Kohen and was thus not due the honor of leading the Grace After Meals. However, Rabbi Chaim Berlin assumed that the Aderes was joking with him because the Talmud derives[31] the concept of Resurrection of the Dead from the fact that the Torah says[32] that the tithes will be given in the future to Aaron the Priest, even though he is presently. According to the Aderes, Aaron would have lost his status as a Kohen with his natural death and thus after his resurrection would not deserve the tithes due to he Priests. Therefore, Rabbi Chaim Berlin learned that when one dies and is miraculously resurrected, he is the same person as before his death. Rabbi Yaakov Chaim Sofer (Rosh Yeshiva of Kaf HaChaim) defended[33] the position of the Aderes based on the words of Nachmanides. Nachmanides writes[34] that when the Talmud inquired[35] as to the proper order of the donning of the holy vestments during the inauguration of the Tabernacle—whether Aaron and his sons donned the clothes at the same time or one after each other—that original the Kohanic anointment and inauguration ceremony performed by Aharon and his sons became invalid at the time of their natural deaths. Therefore, they will become new people upon their resurrection from the dead, and, thus will require a new anointment in order to regain their status as Kohanim[36] and once again serve in the Holy Temple. According to this, a Kohen who dies and is resurrected is indeed no longer the same Kohen that he originally was, as the Aderes said.

The Talmud relates that Elijah the Prophet[37] was once found walking through a gentile cemetery. When he was asked why he was exposing himself to ritual, impurity even though he was a Kohen, he responded with the ruling of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai that the corpses of non-Jews do not conduce ritual impurity. Rabbi Avrohom Dovid Horowitz (1912-2004) infers[38] from here that Elijah the Prophet was still under the laws of purity required of a Kohen even though he physically died[39] and later returned to earth. From here one sees that after a Kohen dies and is resurrected, he still maintains his Kohanic status because he is the same person. Halachakly[40], the wife of Elijah the Prophet is allowed to remarry because her husband is considered legally dead. However, others have questioned this ruling because it is implied in some facets of rabbinic literature that Elijah is considered still alive[41]. Others explain that if one dies and then is resurrected, then retroactively, he has not died and was considered alive the entire time[42]. Therefore, when one is resurrected, his original marriages continue from before.

Despite the fact that Rabbi Shmuel Eidels writes[43] that when one is resurrected after death, one's new body is a completely new body reintegrated with his old soul, Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky offers[44] four proofs that one who dies and is resurrected through a miracle is halachakly considered the exact same person as before. Jeremiah is commanded[45] to perform the ceremony of redeeming a relative's sold field[46] on the field sold by his cousin Hanamel, son of Shallum. The Midrash tells[47] that after Shallum, son of Tikvah, died, he was thrown into the grave of Elisha and was resurrected. After his resurrection, he fathered Hanamel. Accordingly, if Shallum had been considered a new person upon his resurrection, then Jeremiah would not have been related to Hanamel, because Jeremiah's father, Hilkiah, would not have been considered Shallum's brother anymore. Rather, it must be that he was the same person. Furthermore, the Midrash says that Jonah was the boy whom Elijah the prophet resurrected. Yet, even though he died and came back to life, the Torah still considers him the son of his father, as it says, "And the word of HaShem came to Jonah son of Amittai saying…[48]." The Talmud even goes[49] as far as to say that Jonah was a descendant of the tribe of Asher and Zebulon, so it is evident that he is considered the same person, as he was when he was born. Additionally, Rav Kahane received[50] a blessing for long-life to counter his curse as part of the house of Eli[51], yet he died, and was resurrected by Rabbi Yochanan[52], while still young[53]. If he was a new person after his death, then either the blessing for long-life was unneeded (because he was not considered a descendant of Eli) or the blessing was never fulfilled. However, if he was the same person, then one can say that both the blessing was needed and was fulfilled. Furthermore, if a person is considered a new person if he dies and returns, then he should require a conversion to Judaism because he was not born of Jewish parents, yet we never find that Rav Zeira converted. Rather, one must say that when a person dies and returns from the grave, he is considered the same person as before, as the Talmud implies by Aaron and his sons[54].

Rabbi Yehuda Low (1525-1609) explains[55] that one is obligated to drink extensively on Purim in order to show that his physical being is completely dependent on HaShem and he submits all of his senses to nothingness in an attempt to be closer to G-d. Based on this, Rabbi Yitzchok Dovid Grossman explains that Rabbah wanted to exhibit that even his spiritual being is completely dependent on HaShem and he wanted to bring his soul closer to HaShem so he killed Rav Zeira. He did not kill himself because he could not guarantee that a miracle would be performed for him to return to this world, but he was able to kill Rav Zeira because he could guarantee that he would be able to resurrect Rav Zeira through the most powerful tool granted to mankind: prayer. We pray that HaShem listens to all our prayers and grants us the coming of the Messiah and the rebuilding of the Holy Temple, speedily and in our days: Amen.

[1] Megillah 7b
[2] Ran, Megillah 3b in the Alfasi print
[3] Pri Chadash
[4] Responsa Chasam Sofer, Orach Chaim §185
[5] Shabbos 156a
[6] Chullin 8a
[7] Chasam Sofer to Chullin 8a
[8] Chasam Sofer to Niddah 23a
[9] Niddah 23a
[10] Avos 3:13
[11] Imrei Emes, Likutim
[12] Maharsha to Megillah 7b
[13] Beis HaBechirah to Megillah 7b
[14] Halichos Shlomo, Volume 2, Party and Happiness §25
[15] Bava Metzia 58b
[16] Hagahos Ya'avetz to Megillah 7b
[17] See Brachos 30b-31a where Rabbah says that one should rejoice with trembling, and see there for a story in which Rav Zeira was seemingly acting too light-headedly.
[18] Ner L'Meah §34
[19] To Bava Metzia 114b
[20] Kings 1 17:21
[21] Divrei Yechezkel on Purim
[22] Ben Yehoyada to Megillah 7b
[23] Ben Yehoyada to Megillah 7b
[24] Shabbos 88b
[25] Niddah 70b
[26] The commentaries to Niddah 70b point out that the Talmud did not ask about the Zarephathian boy which Elijah revived because Maimonides (Guide for the Perplexed Part 1, Chapter 42) writes that that boy only fainted, but did not die, like Tosafos Rabbeinu Peretz cited above.
[27] Kings 2 4:17-37
[28] Hagahos Ya'avetz to Niddah 70b
[29] Brachos 46a
[30] See Jerusalemic Brachos 3:1 with the commentary of Rabbi Shlomo Sirilio (1485-1558)
[31] Sanhedrin 90b
[32] Numbers 18:28
[33] Kovetz Har HaMor, Gilyon Zayin, Nissan 5785, as quoted in Shallal Rav on Purim, page 252
[34] Sefer HaMitzvos, Root 3, §7
[35] Yoma 5b
[36] Although, Rabbi Ya'akov Yisroel Kanievsky (1899–1985) asks that the Midrash (Toras Kohanim, Tzav, Chapter 18) says explicitly that in the future, Aaron will not require another anointing of the oil to become the Kohen.
[37] Bava Metzia 114b
[38] Quoted in Shallal Rav to Purim
[39] Kings 2 2:11-18
[40] See Bais Shmuel to Even HaEzer §17:11
[41] See Kovetz Shiurim, Volume 2, §28 by Rabbi Elchonon Wasserman who asked that Bava Basra 121b implies that Elijah is still alive, see also Chochmas Shlomo, Even HaEzer §17:1
[42] See Pischei Teshuvah to Even HaEzer §17:1
[43] Maharsha to Niddah 70b
[44] Siach HaSadeh, Part 2, Kuntres HaLikutim §4
[45] Jeremiah 32:7
[46] Leviticus 25:25
[47] Pirkei D'Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 33
[48] Jonah 1:1
[49] Jerusalemic Sukkah 5:1
[50] Jerusalemic Rosh HaShannah 2:5
[51] Samuel 1 3:11-14
[52] Bava Kamma 117a-b
[53] Jerusalemic Brachos 2:8
[54] Sanhedrin 90b
[55] Chiddushei Maharal to Megillah 7b

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

wonderful stuff you missed a classic on the topic
likutei sichos volume 31 page 177
you can access it online here go to likutei sichos and scroll down

here is a short english version

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