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Tisha B’Av: The Secret to Survival
Video 2 of 4
So the Gemara records this debate about a tanur; an oven, and we’re talking about an earthenware oven. This was sort of a cylindrical sort of thing . In any case, we’re not talking about any old oven here, this oven, this particular Tanur had actually been smashed, but it hadn’t just been smashed into shards it was actually cut in a very precise kind of way for some reason. Chatchu chuliyot; the Gemara says it was actually cut into slabs, sort of parallel slabs so that the cylindrical slabs almost resembled chuliyot, it almost resembled sort of vertebrae in a rib cage. And then strangely, after it was cut apart into pieces, natan chul bein chulia lechulia, someone actually stitched this back together and repaired the broken tanur by putting sand between each one of these vertebrae and kind of stitch it all back together. So here is our first strange kind of element. Anyway, the debate over here is can it accept tumah contamination? Now, the laws that governed why and how a thing would be able to become tamei are kind of complex and we will talk about that in a few minutes.
But, for the mean time, let’s kind of it simple. The debate between Rabbi Eliezer in this case and the rest of the Sages of Yavneh, centers around whether or not this thing that has been reconstructed can become tamei. Now, if it can’t become tamei, then obviously it is going to be tahor - it’s going to be pure. And the Gemara says Rabbi Eliezer metaher, takes that view; that no matter what tumah contamination this thing comes into contact with, it simple cannot become tamei and therefore no matter what it’s tahor; no matter what it’s pure. Chachamim the Sages on the other hand, they argue and they say it can actually become tamei, if it comes into contact with tumah contamination; it can accept that tumah contamination as it were and become tamei. So this very esoteric case having to do with the laws of tumah and tahor, of ritual purity and impurity and it’s relationship to this really way out there example of this oven that was taken apart and put back together with sand.
The really interesting part of this Gemara is yet to come, it centers around the debate that takes place between Rabbi Eliezer and the Sages about this. And what happens is that Rabbi Eliezer marshals all of these arguments to support his view and one by one all of those arguments are refuted by the Sages; they just don’t buy any of it. At a certain point in time Rabbi Eliezer runs out of regular arguments and starts to do something else; he actually starts to marshal miracles to prove his case. And here is what the Gemara says.
Amar lahem, “at a certain point Rav Eliezer said to the chachamim, im halachah kamoti, “if in fact the law is like me” charov zeh yokiach, “let that carob tree prove that I’m right”. You know what happens next? Nekar charov mimkomo meah ama, “ all of a sudden, the carob tree picks itself up and throws itself actually a hundred amot in the other direction”. I mean fascinating. You would think that would be enough to sort of close the debate, the chachamim should give in but the Sages actually say ein mevi’in raih min hacharov, “we don’t accept proofs from the carob tree. It means nothing to us.” Rabbi Eliezer was undaunted. He says “ If I’m right, amet hamayim yochichu, let that aqueduct over there with the water flowing over it , let that prove that i’m right”. All of a sudden, the water in the aqueduct starts flowing back in the other direction. The Sages again aren’t impressed. Ein mevi’in raih meamet hamayim, “you don’t bring a proof from aqueducts.”
Rabbi Eliezer has another trick up his sleeve. He says, “If I’m right, let the walls of this beit midrash itself prove that I'm right.” All of a sudden, the walls start to fall. Rabbi Yoshua, one of the students of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai, stands up and starts screaming at the walls and said im talmidei chachmim menatzchim zeh et zeh behalacha, “if we, talmidei chachmim, are arguing with one another, what do you walls have to do with our argument!” All of a sudden, the walls stop falling. The Gemara says interestingly enough that they didn’t go back to their upright position either. They didn't fall because of the honour of Rabbi Yoshua, but they didn't go back to an upright position because of the honour of Rabbi Eliezer. Instead, they kept themselves in this sort of slanted position . Adayin matem v’omdim, ”they are still until this day” the Gemara says “leaning, leaning precipitously as if they are ready to fall”.
Rabbi Eliezer then makes one last stand. He says im halachah kamoti, “if I am right” min hashamayim yochichu, “let the heavens itself prove I’m right.” Yatzata bat kol ve’amrah, at that moment, a heavenly voice rings out and said mah lachem etzel Rabbi Eliezer, “what do you guys want with Rabbi Eliezer?” Halacha kamoto bechol makom “the law is like in everywhere. Leave him alone! He’s right!”. At that point Rabbi Yoshua gets back on his feet and screams back lo bashamayim hi! “The Torah is no longer in heaven! The Torah is no longer in your domain! It’s in our domain!” The Gemara explains “what do you mean lo bashamayim hi?” Rabbi Yerimiah explains shekevar nitnah Torah mehar Sinai “ we already listened to the heavenly voice! That was the heavenly voice that gave us the Torah at Mount Sinai! But once God gave us the Torah, the Torah is ours; not God’s!” And from then on ein anu mashgichin bebat kol, “we don’t listen to other heavenly voices telling us this is the way to interpret the Torah. We interpret the Torah Because kevar ketavtah behar Sinai beTorah, the Torah itself writes acharei rabim lahatot, “you lean after the majority”. So that’s the end of the debate!
God himself as it were, comes down on the side of Rabbi Eliezer only to have the Sages in fact win the day. The Gemara then records a little epilogue.
Rabbi Natan, one of the Sages, then found Eliyahu,Elijah the prophet himself, walking around; and if there is anybody who has a ‘birds eye view’ so to speak on what's going on behind the curtains in heaven, it would be Elijah the prophet. So he asks Elijah ashkacheih Rabbi Natan leEliyahu. Rabbi Natan, one of the Sages, then found Eliya haNav, Elijah the prophet himself, walking around and if there is anybody who has a ‘birds eye view’ so to speak on what's going on behind the curtains in heaven, it would be Elijah the prophet. So he asks Elija, mai avid kuch habrihu bayheh shaita “what was God doing at that moment when Rabbi Yeshua got up and screamed back at the heavenly voice lo bashamayim hi, “it’s not in heaven”. What was God’s response to that? Amar le, Eliyahu responds, ka chayech, “God was laughing”, v’amar “God said, nitzchuni benai nitzchuni benai, “my children have bested me. My children have bested me.”
It’s a strange story in many ways, strange esoteric debate about the ritual status of this cut apart oven. But the series of strange miraculous proofs from carob trees , aqueducts, walls of a building, these little details I think are not just happenstance. What we really need to do is pay attention to those details because they shed a fascinating light, revealing I think, deeper layers of meaning in this story. In our next video, I think we will find that these two stories we’ve been talking about, the story of Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai’s coffin and the creation of Yavneh and this story about one of the most famous debates that takes place in Yavneh are in many ways two sides of the same coin. Let’s come back and take a look at that.
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