1) AGADAH: THE CONVERSATION BETWEEN RABAN GAMLIEL AND REBBI YEHOSHUA
QUESTION: The Gemara demonstrates the idea that having a position of leadership entails being enslaved to one's constituents with the words of Raban Gamliel to Rebbi Yehoshua. Raban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua were once traveling together on an ocean voyage. Upon embarking, Raban Gamliel took with him bread, while Rebbi Yehoshua took with him bread and flour. The ship went off course and the landing was delayed. Raban Gamliel's supply of bread was depleted, while Rebbi Yehoshua baked fresh bread with the flour that he had brought along, and he shared it with Raban Gamliel. Raban Gamliel asked Rebbi Yehoshua, "How did you know that we were going to be delayed so much?"
Rebbi Yehoshua replied, "There is a star which rises once every seventy years and misled the sailors, and I thought that it might rise up now and mislead them."
Raban Gamliel exclaimed, "You know so much, and yet you must travel on a boat?" RASHI explains that Raban Gamliel was asking that Rebbi Yehoshua's wisdom should have made him wealthy, and he should not have needed to go traveling on boats to distant places to earn money.
Rebbi Yehoshua said to Raban Gamliel, "Before being perplexed by me, you should be perplexed by your two students who are on the dry land, Rebbi Elazar Chasma and Rebbi Yochanan ben Gudgeda, who know how to calculate how many droplets there are in the ocean, and yet they have neither bread to eat nor clothing to wear!"
Raban Gamliel decided at that moment to give his two students positions of leadership in order to provide them with a livelihood (see RASHI, and see RAMAH cited by the Tosfos ha'Rosh). When he returned, however, they initially refused to come to him, not wanting to accept any position of leadership out of their humility. Raban Gamliel told them that he is not giving them leadership, but rather slavery, as a leader is enslaved to his constituents.
Why was Raban Gamliel perplexed that a man as wise as Rebbi Yehoshua needed to go sea-faring in order to earn a living? Raban Gamliel was wealthy, and yet he was taking a sea journey himself! (See YA'AVETZ. The simple answer to this question seems to be that Raban Gamliel, in his capacity as Nasi, was compelled to take journeys in order to intercede with various government bodies on behalf of the Jewish people, as the MAHARSHA writes.)
A more fundamental question is, why did Raban Gamliel attribute the potential for wealth to Rebbi Yehoshua's wisdom? Wealth is not a measure of one's wisdom at all. The verse states, "... and bread does not come to the wise men, nor does wealth come to the men of understanding" (Koheles 9:11). Moreover, wealthy people, and not poor people, are the ones who usually travel on ships in order to conduct their business affairs. (TOSFOS HA'ROSH)
What was the meaning of the exchange between Raban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua?
(a) The TOSFOS HA'ROSH quotes the RAMAH who argues with Rashi and explains that Raban Gamliel's question to Rebbi Yehoshua (why he needed to embark on the journey if he was so wise) was not related to Rebbi Yehoshua's need to earn money. Rather, Raban Gamliel was perplexed that Rebbi Yehoshua, who was so wise in matters of astronomy and celestial navigation, would have come on a boat in the first place, realizing that the star might appear at that time. When Raban Gamliel heard that Rebbi Yehoshua had previous knowledge that the sailors were at great risk of being thrown off course, he asked him why he came on the boat in the first place, putting himself in such danger.
Rebbi Yehoshua answered, "You should not be perplexed that my knowledge did not help me be careful and enable me to determine precisely when the star would appear. Rather, you should be perplexed that you have two students whose wisdom far surpasses mine, and yet they do not use their wisdom for procuring even their most basic necessities!"
The BE'ER SHEVA suggests that this is also the intent of Rashi. Raban Gamliel did not understand how someone so wise needed to put himself in danger and could not earn a living on dry land. Although it is true that many wise people are not wealthy, the wise man should at least be able to acquire the most basic necessities. Rebbi Yehoshua answered that this should not be a perplexity to Raban Gamliel, because he himself has students who cannot afford their basic necessities.
(b) The MAHARASHA explains that the story has a deep, allegorical meaning. He explains that embarking on a sea journey is a metaphor for Galus (see Bava Basra 73a), where the Jewish people are strangers in a dangerous, perilous place, and where every other moment brings new tribulations. Raban Gamliel and Rebbi Yehoshua's descent into the sea represents their debates with the Tzedukim and other heretics in Galus. The bread that each one took along alludes to the knowledge of Torah (as in Mishlei 9:5, Chagigah 14a), the staple of life like bread. Rebbi Yehoshua, however, prepared himself to debate with the Tzedukim with something other than Torah knowledge; he prepared himself with knowledge of science, mathematics, and other secular sciences, which are called "flour." Although flour does not provide nourishment or life by itself, when it is processed with water -- Torah -- then the worldly sciences can be elevated as well.
The debate was long and arduous. Raban Gamliel's supply of bread ran out, meaning that he was not able to defeat the Tzedukim with proofs from the Torah, because the Tzedukim rejected its authenticity. Raban Gamliel had to rely on Rebbi Yehoshua to win the debate; Rebbi Yehoshua argued with them using proofs from the secular sciences, and defeated them using their own methods.
Raban Gamliel asked Rebbi Yehoshua, "How did you know that we would have to rely on other methods (flour), and not be able to prove them to be in error with Torah alone?" Rebbi Yehoshua answered that once every seventy years -- referring to the average lifespan of a person -- a deceiving person lives, claiming to have the true light, attempting to mislead others in their way of thinking, specifically those who are wandering at sea, in Galus. Rebbi Yehoshua realized that perhaps in his generation, too, such Tzedukim would arise, and therefore he prepared himself to do battle with them.
After seeing the wisdom of Rebbi Yehoshua, Raban Gamliel exclaimed, "If you are so wise, then how could you have gone into Galus, into this treacherous journey? How could the wicked Titus (successor to Vespasian) have succeeded in destroying the Beis ha'Mikdash in your days?" Rebbi Yehoshua was a Talmid of Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai. The Gemara in Gitin (56b) relates that when Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai appeared before Vespasian (Aspasyanus), the wicked general asked him why he had not come sooner. Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai replied that the Biryonim (the rebels among the Jews who wanted to fight the Romans and not negotiate) did not let him come sooner. Vespasian sneered, "If there is a barrel of honey that is encircled by a snake, should you not destroy the barrel to get rid of the snake?" That is, Vespasian claimed that the Jews in Yerushalayim should have burned down the city walls in order to get rid of the Biryonim, who were guarding the ramparts and not letting anyone exit (Rashi there, DH Ein). Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai was quiet; he did not respond. The Gemara there says that he should have replied that the best method to dispose of the snake around the barrel is to use a pair of tongs to remove the snake, while leaving the barrel intact.
Raban Gamliel was asking Rebbi Yehoshua that since he accompanied Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai on his visit to Vespasian, he should have known with his great wisdom how to respond to Vespasian's claim and save Yerushalayim with his wisdom. Rebbi Yehoshua explained that even though he had wisdom, this does not mean that he would have been able to save Yerushalayim. This is alluded to by the Gemara in Gitin there which says with regard to Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai's silence that "[I am Hash-m, Who...] turns wise men backwards and makes their knowledge become foolish" (Yeshayah 44:25). Rebbi Yochanan ben Zakai was not lacking in wisdom; rather, it was Hash-m's will that Vespasian not receive a good answer. Rebbi Yehoshua proved this by showing that Raban Gamliel himself had students who were present at the time of the destruction of Yerushalayim who were even wiser than he, and they, too, were unable to prevent the Churban. (See also KEREN ORAH and ELEF HA'MAGEN.) (Y. MONTROSE)
2) AGADAH: THE DIFFERENCE BETWEEN THE MITZVAH OF THE MATRIARCHS AND THE SIN OF YAEL
QUESTION: Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak states that transgressing an Aveirah with pure intentions ("Lishmah") is greater than fulfilling a Mitzvah without proper intentions ("she'Lo Lishmah"). He proves this from the testimony of the verse about Yael, "Blessed of women is Yael, the wife of Chever ha'Keini, from the women in the tent she will be blessed" (Shoftim 5:24). The Gemara explains that the "women in the tent" refer to the Matriarchs -- Sarah, Rivkah, Rachel, and Leah. The Gemara questions Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak's assertion, and it concludes that his intent is that an Aveirah Lishmah is equal to, but not greater than, a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah.
In what way does the Gemara compare the deed of Yael with the deeds of the Imahos?
(a) The TOSFOS HA'ROSH (DH Gedolah) explains that the Aveirah of Yael, who derived no pleasure while seducing the wicked general Sisera in order to weaken him so that she could kill him, is considered equal to the act of the Mitzvah of the Imahos who derived pleasure from their relations with the Avos, and thus whose Mitzvos were considered Lo Lishmah. (See also TOSFOS to Yevamos 103a, DH v'Ha.)
The BE'ER SHEVA asks why were the acts of the Imahos considered Lo Lishmah? After all, doing the Mitzvah of Piryah v'Rivyah always includes pleasure, and yet the Torah considers it a Mitzvah. He explains that each time Leah named her child, she gave a reason for that name (see Bereishis 29:32-5). Rachel, at the birth of Yosef, also gave a reason for giving him that name. Only when the Mitzvah is done without any other intention is it called a Mitzvah Lishmah.
(b) The MEFARESH in Nazir (23b, DH Sarah) explains Yael's deed in the same way as the Tosfos ha'Rosh. Regarding the deeds of the Imahos, however, he explains that when the Imahos told their husbands to approach their maidservants, it was not with the pure intention of the Mitzvah that they made their request, but rather it was out of jealousy. Rachel was jealous of Leah, while Sarah and Leah were "jealous" to have children.
The Be'er Sheva here and the ORACH MISHOR in Nazir are perplexed with this explanation. How can the Mefaresh (whom they attribute to Rashi) claim that the Imahos had such ignoble motives? The Be'er Sheva points out that Rashi himself in Bereishis (30:1) quotes the Midrash Rabah which explains the jealousy of Rachel in a much different light. On the verse, "And Rachel was jealous of her sister," the Midrash explains that Rachel was jealous of her sister's good deeds, because she understood that it was because of her good deeds that Leah merited to have children.
To understand the explanation of the Mefaresh, we may suggest that he had a different Girsa in the Gemara. In contrast to the Girsa of our text, his Gemara had the text of "Sarah, Rachel, and Leah," omitting Rivkah. Why would a list of the Imahos exclude Rivkah? One obvious difference is that she never gave a maidservant to her husband, while the other Imahos all gave their maidservants to their husbands.
(c) The ORACH MISHOR in Nazir gives an entirely different explanation. He explains that the Gemara does not say that the Imahos performed a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah. Rather, the comparison between Yael and the Imahos is based on the fact that the verse says that Yael will be blessed with the blessing of the Imahos. This implies that because she did her Aveirah with pure intent, she is considered like the Imahos who did their Mitzvos Lishmah. The Gemara at this stage assumes that Mitzvos she'Lo Lishmah are not good, and it must be that the Aveirah of Yael was like the Mitzvah Lishmah of the Imahos. The Gemara then says that Mitzvos she'Lo Lishmah are also good, as they also lead to doing Mitzvos Lishmah. This means that there is no proof that Yael's action was better than a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah, and thus the Gemara concludes that her action was equal to a Mitzvah she'Lo Lishmah. (Y. MONTROSE)