1) AGADAH: REBBI AKIVA'S GIFT TO HIS WIFE
The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Akiva and the daughter of Kalba Savu'a were first married, they were so poor that they had nothing to sleep on but straw. Rebbi Akiva's wife would pull straw out of Rebbi Akiva's hair. Rebbi Akiva declared that if would have the means, he would give his wife a "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" adornment. The Gemara in Shabbos (59a) relates that Rebbi Akiva kept his promise and eventually gave her such an adornment. Tosfos there explains that this adornment is a tiara worn upon the head.
The VILNA GA'ON (in Mishlei 1:9 and Shir ha'Shirim 1:10) explains that when the Chachamim gave adornments to their wives, they did not simply give them randomly-chosen pieces of jewelry. Rather, the adornments they bought for their wives represented the unique qualities of the women. The Vilna Ga'on proves this from the Yerushalmi (Shabbos 6:1) which relates that Raban Gamliel's wife asked him to buy an adornment for her like the one Rebbi Akiva bought for his wife. Raban Gamliel replied, "Would you do for me what she did for her husband? Rebbi Akiva's wife cut and sold her hair in order to support her husband's Torah study."
The Vilna Ga'on explains that two types of adornments are mentioned in the Gemara: a "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" adornment which is worn upon the head, and a gold necklace made of many parts which is worn around the neck. The head adornment was given to a wife who was outstanding in her wisdom and understanding (corresponding to Torah). The necklace adornment, made of many parts, was given to a woman who was outstanding in her many good deeds (corresponding to Mitzvos). (Learning Torah, even all day, is considered fulfillment of one Mitzvah, since the obligation to learn applies at all times, uninterrupted; see Tosfos and Rosh to Berachos 12b.)
According to the Vilna Ga'on, perhaps the incident recorded here has a deeper, allegorical meaning. Rebbi Akiva's wife's act of picking straw out of his hair symbolized that his head was full of secular knowledge. Just as straw is inferior to the grain, secular wisdom is inferior to the wisdom of the Torah. The Gemara in Kesuvos (62b) explains that she married him because she saw his great potential to learn Torah which he had not yet actualized, and she wanted to persuade and encourage him to develop his potential. Rebbi Akiva was downhearted, convinced that he would never be able to become great in Torah since he was already advanced in age and had never studied (see Avos d'Rebbi Nasan 6:2).
The Gemara says that Eliyahu came to encourage Rebbi Akiva in the form of a pauper so destitute that he did not even have straw for his wife, who had just given birth, to sleep on. His lack of straw represented his dearth of knowledge with which to earn an income. His situation encouraged Rebbi Akiva, who realized that just as he was able to learn the vocations (such as shepherding) which he had mastered until now, he could also master Torah. The Gemara compares giving birth to learning Torah (see Chagigah 3b); Eliyahu was hinting to Rebbi Akiva's outstanding trait of modesty, a prerequisite for learning Torah, which his wife had perceived in him. Rebbi Akiva realized that once he had the "straw," Derech Eretz and basic knowledge, he would be able to learn Torah. One who does not have even basic knowledge cannot begin to learn Torah.
The fact that Rebbi Akiva's wife sold her hair so that he could learn Torah shows that she made a decision that Torah was more important to her than anything else (the Torah is represented by the head), and she was prepared to sacrifice everything for it. To commemorate her sacrifice, Rebbi Akiva bought her a "Yerushalayim Shel Zahav" to adorn her head.
2) AGADAH: 800 TYPES OF CUISINE
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that a person paid his friend to teach him 1000 ways to make a certain type of fruit dessert. However, his friend taught him only 800 ways. He brought his friend to the court of Rebbi, the leading sage of the generation. Rebbi declared, "Our fathers said, 'We have forgotten all good,' while we have never seen [such lavishness]." He was expressing his amazement that someone would pay another person to teach him 1000 ways to make a dessert.
Why did the person who felt he was wronged bring such a petty complaint to the Gadol ha'Dor?
ANSWER: A fascinating insight into this Agadah is presented by the Manostrishtcher Rebbe, RAV YEHOSHUA HESHEL RABINOWITZ zt'l, in ERKEI YEHOSHUA (30:13). He cites ha'Ga'on Rav Moshe of Savran who explains this Gemara based on the Gemara in Moed Katan. The Gemara in Moed Katan (16b) teaches that David ha'Melech was able to kill 800 enemies at one time. Nevertheless, it troubled him that he did not merit the miracle of being able to kill 1000 enemies at one time as mentioned in the verse (Devarim 32:30). A Bas Kol issued forth and declared that he did not merit to be able to kill 1000 at one time because of the sin of Bas Sheva and Uriyah. RASHI there explains that "200 were taken from him" as a result of his sin that involved Uriyah.
The VILNA GA'ON (in DIVREI ELIYAHU, Moed Katan; see also Insights to Moed Katan 16:3) asks why Rashi says that "200 were taken from him," implying that he indeed was able to kill 1000 enemies at one time before the sin of Uriyah. Where is any mention made of David ha'Melech's ability to kill 1000 enemies at once at some point in time before this battle? David ha'Melech does not describe his combat experience in any other place. (Indeed, RASHI KESAV YAD does not mention that the ability to kill an additional 200 was taken away from him, but rather that David lacked that ability and never had it in the first place.)
Moreover, why was the loss of the ability to kill an additional 200 enemies a punishment for what he had done to Uriyah? In what way was the punishment related to the misdeed?
Rav Moshe of Savran explains the Gemara there based on the verse, "The thousand are to You, the Master of peace (Shlomo), and two hundred more to those who guard his fruit" (Shir ha'Shirim 8:12). This verse alludes to the responsibility of the Gadol ha'Dor to contemplate 1000 Yichudim every day (to perceive 1000 different perspectives of Hash-m's Oneness; Hash-m is referred to as "Shlomo," which means "the King to Whom Shalom belongs," see Shevuos 36b). In order to achieve the last 200 of the 1000 Yichudim, however, one needs special Divine assistance which is granted only to a person who is especially careful in all aspects of his moral conduct. Accordingly, the verse means, "One thousand [Yichudim may be ascribed] to You (Hash-m), the Master of peace, and two hundred [of them are given only] to one who guards his fruit (to those who guard the source of reproduction)." David ha'Melech lost the ability to perceive the last 200 Yichudim because of his conduct with Uriyah and Bas Sheva.
This approach clarifies the Gemara here which relates an incident wherein two people made a deal that one would teach the other 1000 ways to make a certain type of fruit dessert, but his friend taught him only 800 and would not teach him the rest.
The Manostrishtcher Rebbe explains that the two people involved in the dispute were actually great Tzadikim. One hired the other to teach him the 1000 Yichudim. The Yichudim are represented by "fruit desserts," for each type of dessert is comprised of a combination of various fruits, and each combination makes a different taste. His friend, however, was able to teach him only 800 Yichudim because he had not merited to comprehend the last 200. Therefore, they came to Rebbi, the Gadol ha'Dor, who certainly knew all 1000 Yichudim and would be able to teach them the remaining 200.
Rebbi responded, "Our fathers said, 'We have forgotten all good,' while we have never seen [such lavishness]" -- an allusion that he, too, did not know the other 200 Yichudim and could not teach them. (Actually, Rebbi certainly knew the other 200 Yichudim. He did not divulge that fact because he always endeavored to uphold the integrity of his great forebear, David ha'Melech, as the Gemara says in Shabbos (56a). Therefore, even though Rebbi's moral conduct was indeed exceptional (Shabbos 118b), he did not want to reveal that he had attained a greater level than David ha'Melech in this area and thus he did not openly admit that he knew all 1000 Yichudim.) This is what Rebbi meant when he said, "Our fathers (David ha'Melech) said, 'We have forgotten all good'" -- David ha'Melech once knew the other 200 Yichudim, but he forgot it as a result of the incident with Uriyah. In contrast, "We have never seen such lavishness" -- we never learned all 1000 Yichudim in the first place. Rebbi said this out of humility and to show the greatness of David ha'Melech.
3) REBBI AND BAR KAPARA
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rebbi did not invite Bar Kapara to the wedding feast he made for his son. Bar Kapara commented, "If Hash-m grants such riches to those who transgress His will, then certainly to those who fulfill His will!" In response, Rebbi acquiesced and invited Bar Kapara. At that point Bar Kapara commented, "If Hash-m grants such riches in this world to those who fulfill His will, then certainly in the World to Come!"
Why did Bar Kapara call Rebbi one who transgresses Hash-m's will merely because he did not invite him to the wedding? (See GILYON HA'SHAS.)
(a) The SHALMEI NEDARIM explains that Bar Kapara was not calling Rebbi a transgressor. Rather, his intention was to make a cryptic statement so that Rebbi would misunderstand it and invite him to the wedding. Later, after Rebbi invited him, Bar Kapara explained his true intention. He actually intended to explain how Rebbi merited to receive such riches in this world if only Resha'im are rewarded in this world. He said that if the transgressors of Hash-m's will have such wealth in this world, certainly those who fulfill Hash-m's will shall receive reward not only in the next world, but in this world as well (and not at the expense of their share reward in the World to Come), as Rava says in Horayos (10b).
After Rebbi invited him, he explained his intention more clearly and said that if Rebbi has received such great reward in this world, certainly he has much reward awaiting him in Olam ha'Ba. (See the Shalmei Nedarim who also quotes the explanation of the SHEVUS YAKOV, to which the Gilyon ha'Shas refers.)
(b) The CHASAM SOFER quotes RAV BUNIM EIGER (his brother-in-law) who explains that Rebbi and Bar Kapara disagreed about how a person is supposed to relate to the pleasures of this world (see Insights to Berachos 30b). Rebbi's approach was to avoid deriving any pleasure from Olam ha'Zeh "even from my small finger" (Kesuvos 104a). Bar Kapara maintained that Rebbi's approach was incorrect; one is supposed to enjoy the pleasures of this world and use them for the sake of a Mitzvah, which is why Hash-m created those pleasures. Rebbi did not invite Bar Kapara to the wedding because he was afraid that Bar Kapara would cheer him and cause him to enjoy the material pleasures of the wedding. Bar Kapara referred to Rebbi as one who transgresses the will of Hash-m because Rebbi did not invite Bar Kapara to the wedding, where he would be able to enjoy the pleasures of this world. Rebbi eventually relented and invited Bar Kapara to the wedding, at which point Bar Kapara commented that if Rebbi allows him to cheer him so that Rebbi enjoys the pleasures of this world for the sake of the Mitzvah, Rebbi indeed is one who fulfills the will of Hash-m and certainly he will receive great reward in Olam ha'Ba.