1) THE MAN IS MORE GENEROUS WITH GUESTS
QUESTION: The Torah uses two terms in Avraham's request to Sarah to prepare bread for the guests: "Kemach" (flour) and "Soles" (fine flour), as the verse states, "Avraham hurried to the tent, to Sarah, and said, 'Quickly prepare three Se'ah of Kemach, Soles.'" (Bereishis 18:6). The Gemara derives from the use of these two phrases that "the wife is less generous with guests than is the husband." RASHI explains that Soles is superior to Kemach, and that Sarah said that she would make breads of Kemach, and Avraham told her that she should make breads of Soles.
Where in the verse is there any indication that Sarah said that she would make breads of Kemach? In the verse it is Avraham who is speaking, and there is no quote from Sarah in the verse. If the Gemara's inference is from the repetitiveness of "Kemach" and "Soles" that Sarah spoke, how does the Gemara know that it was Sarah who said "Kemach" and Avraham who said "Soles"? Perhaps it was Sarah who said "Soles" and Avraham who said "Kemach"!
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that it is not possible that Avraham would have told his wife to make breads of Kemach. Avraham certainly was not stingy when it came to serving guests, for the verses indicate (as the Gemara points out) that Avraham "said a little and did a lot." It certainly must have been Avraham who wanted to give the guests food made from the best type of flour, and therefore Avraham must have said only "Soles." Accordingly, it must have been Sarah who said "Kemach." It is not feasible to suggest that Avraham said "Kemach" because he exemplified the attribute of "saying little and doing much" and he merely said "Kemach" but really planned to give Soles. The conduct of "saying little and doing much" is appropriate only with regard to something that a person is going to do himself. It is not appropriate to "say little" and then require someone else to "do much" (in this case, Sarah).
(b) RAV YAKOV EMDEN writes that the Gemara understands the verse as follows. Avraham said, "Quickly prepare three Se'ah!" Sarah asked, "[Shall I prepare the three Se'ah with] Kemach?" Avraham told her, "[No, prepare them with] Soles." (I. Alsheich)
2) MAY A MAN ASK ABOUT THE WELFARE OF ANOTHER MAN'S WIFE?
QUESTION: Rebbi Yosi teaches that there are dots over the letters Alef, Yud, and Vav in the word "Elav" (Bereishis 18:9) because the Torah wants to teach proper manners. The Torah is teaching that a man should inquire about the welfare of his host's wife. The Gemara asks that Shmuel rules that one may not inquire about the welfare of another man's wife at all. The Gemara answers that it is permitted when one asks her husband about her welfare.
The Rishonim ask that in the Gemara in Kidushin (70b), Shmuel explicitly states that inquiring about the welfare of a woman is prohibited even by sending the inquiry to the woman via her husband. How are these two contradictory Gemaras to be reconciled?
(a) TOSFOS answers that the Gemara here does not mean that one is permitted to ask about the welfare of another man's wife. Rather, the Gemara permits merely asking where she is. (The Mal'achim asked Avraham, "Where is Sarah your wife?" either in order to make her more beloved to her husband by emphasizing how Tzenu'ah she was, or because of the requirement to act with Derech Eretz and ask a man about his wife.) Asking about her welfare is prohibited.
(b) TOSFOS in Kidushin answers that the Gemara here does permit one to ask a husband about his wife's welfare, while the Gemara in Kidushin prohibits sending the woman a greeting of Shalom, even via her husband. This is also the view of RASHI here (DH Al Yedei Ba'alah).
It seems that Tosfos in Kidushin and Tosfos in Bava Metzia disagree about whether one is permitted to ask a husband about the welfare of his wife. Tosfos in Kidushin permits asking a husband about the welfare of his wife, while Tosfos here prohibits it.
3) HALACHAH: ASKING ABOUT THE WELFARE OF ANOTHER MAN'S WIFE
OPINIONS: Shmuel rules that one may not inquire about the welfare of another man's wife, even by sending the inquiry to the woman via her husband.
What is the reason for this prohibition? Are there circumstances in which one is permitted to inquire about the welfare of a woman?
(a) RASHI in Kidushin (70b, DH Ein Sho'alin b'Shalom Ishah Klal) writes that asking a woman about her welfare is prohibited because one thereby "makes her heart and mind familiar with him" and creates a feeling of affection within the woman which could, Chas v'Shalom, lead to sin.
According to this reasoning, inquiring about a woman's welfare from her husband should be permitted because the woman herself is not aware of it and thus she will not feel affection towards the other man.
This seems to be the way Rashi here rules as well (DH Al Yedei Ba'alah). The Gemara explains that the reason why the Mal'achim were permitted to ask Avraham Avinu about the welfare of his wife is that they asked only her husband. Rashi explains that the prohibition applies only when one asks the woman directly about her welfare; it does not apply when one asks her husband about his wife's welfare. (For this reason, the BACH (EH 21, DH v'Ein) writes that one may ask about a woman's welfare from any other person and not only from her husband. The CHELKAS MECHOKEK (EH 21:7) disagrees and rules that one may ask only her husband, as the Gemara here implies, because her husband specifically avoids relating the man's inquiry to his wife, while any other person will not be so particular.)
(b) The RITVA in Kidushin, however, implies that the reason why a man may not inquire about the welfare of another man's wife is that the man will feel close to the woman and might, Chas v'Shalom, have sinful thoughts. (This also seems to be the view of the ME'IRI.) The Ritva writes that if a man knows that he has subjugated his Yetzer ha'Ra and is in complete control of his thoughts such that he never allows sinful thoughts into his mind, he is permitted to ask a married woman about her welfare. (The PISCHEI TESHUVAH (EH 21:4) quotes the YAD EFRAIM who explains that this is why Elisha was permitted to send a greeting of Shalom to the Ishah ha'Shunamis (Melachim II 4:26).)
According to the Ritva, the prohibition is because of the man's tendency to have sinful thoughts, and it is not because the woman will feel affection towards the man. Consequently, a man who is in complete control of his thoughts is permitted to ask a woman about her welfare. In contrast, according to Rashi, such a man still is prohibited from asking a woman about her welfare. On the other hand, according to the Ritva, a man is not permitted to ask a husband about his wife (even when his wife will not know about it), since there remains the concern that the man will have sinful thoughts.
How does the Ritva understand the Gemara here in Bava Metzia which states that the Mal'achim were permitted to ask Avraham Avinu about his wife? The DIVREI SHALOM (2:14) explains that the Ritva learns like TOSFOS here (DH Al Yedei). Tosfos explains that the Mal'achim were permitted to ask only "where is Sarah" (in order to make her more beloved to her husband by emphasizing how modest (Tzenu'ah) she was, or because of the requirement to act with Derech Eretz and ask a man about his wife), but not to ask about her welfare.
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (EH 21:6) rules like Shmuel who says that one may not ask a married woman about her welfare, even via a messenger, and even via her husband.
The Shulchan Aruch rules like Rashi's understanding of the Gemara here, that one is permitted to ask a husband about his wife's welfare. (See previous Insight.)
It is interesting to note the comments of the BEN YEHOYADA to the Gemara here. The Ben Yehoyada suggests that this prohibition applies only to a man who is completely unknown to the woman. By inquiring about her welfare, he creates a bond of affection. If, however, the man is a relative of hers or he is a frequent guest in her home, he is not prohibited from inquiring about her welfare. In such a case, it is clear that his intention is not to form a bond of affection but to express to her his gratitude for her hospitality. On the contrary, it is proper conduct of Derech Eretz to express concern about her welfare.
The TAZ rules that if the woman was ill or there were some other circumstances which would make it inappropriate not to ask about her welfare, then one may add in a letter written to her husband, "Please inform me of the welfare of your wife." (See also Insights to Kidushin 70:4.)
4) TAKING FRUIT FROM THE FIELD OF A "KUSI"
QUESTION: The Torah (Devarim 23:25) teaches that a hired worker may eat the fruits of the field in which he is working, but he may not place the fruits into his vessel (to save and bring home). The Gemara derives from the verse, "Ki Savo b'Cherem Re'echa" -- "When you enter the vineyard of your friend," that this restriction applies only "b'Cherem Re'echa," in the vineyard of a Jew, but not "b'Cherem Kusi," in the vineyard of a Kusi (or a Nochri), in which a hired worker may collect the fruits and place them in his vessel to bring home.
The Gemara asks that according to the opinion (in Bava Kama 113a) that one is permitted to keep an object that was stolen from a Kusi, there should be no need for a verse to teach that a hired worker may take home fruit from the Kusi's field. The Gemara answers that according to that opinion, the verse indeed does not teach that one is permitted to take home fruit from a Kusi's field. Rather, the verse teaches that one may take fruit only from the vineyard of one's fellow man, but not from a vineyard of Hekdesh in which one was hired to work.
The Acharonim ask why the Gemara does not answer its question as follows. There is a view that maintains that even though Gezel Nochri is permitted, nevertheless when the object is in the possession of a Jew it does not have the status of "Lachem," of fully belonging to the Jew (this is the view of the SEFER HA'YERE'IM #421, as cited by the MAGEN AVRAHAM OC 633:3). According to this view, even if Gezel Nochri would be permitted, the verse still would be needed to teach that the fruit becomes the full possession of the Jew (so that if he takes an Esrog, it is considered to belong to him so that he may use it for the Mitzvah on Sukos). (See MINCHAS CHINUCH 558:3.)
ANSWER: The Acharonim answer that the Sefer ha'Yere'im indeed had a different Girsa in the Gemara. His Girsa was the same as that of the RITVA. In his text, the Gemara asks according to the opinion that maintains that one may keep an object stolen from a Kusi, "Mai Ika l'Meimar?" That is, the Gemara does not ask that the verse would not be necessary to teach that a hired worker may keep the fruit, because the verse indeed is necessary to teach that the fruit that he takes belongs fully to him. Rather, when the Gemara says that "b'Cherem Re'echa" excludes the vineyard of a Kusi, it means that a hired worker may not take any fruit from the field of a Kusi. The Gemara then asks that if Gezel Nochri is permitted, why may he not take any fruit? The Gemara answers that the verse indeed does not exclude a vineyard of a Kusi, but rather it excludes a vineyard of Hekdesh. (I. Alsheich)