PESACHIM 53 (29 Teves) - Dedicated in memory of Jeri Turkel, who passed away on 29 Teves 5776, by her husband Eli Turkel in honor of her Yahrzeit. The memory of Jeri's vibrant energy, her fervent prayers and her thirst for learning are cherished by all who knew her.

QUESTION: The Gemara gives different signs by which one can recognize various Halachic entities. "'Milin' trees are a sign of mountains. Palm trees are a sign of valleys. Reeds are a sign of rivers. 'Shikmah' trees are a sign of lowlands."
What is the significance of these signs?
ANSWER: The CHASAM SOFER sees in this list of signs a series of metaphors about proper social conduct.
1. "'Milin' trees are a sign of mountains." Mountains represent arrogant and haughty people. "Milin" means "words." An arrogant person is recognizable by his speech. He talks incessantly, and he is not careful about what he says (see Avos 1:17).
2. "Palm trees are a sign of valleys." Valleys represent humble people. Humble people produce sweet fruit, like the fruit of a palm tree, as the verse says, "Tzadik ka'Tamar Yifrach" -- "A righteous man will flourish like a date-palm" (Tehilim 92:13).
3. "Reeds are a sign of rivers." Rivers are a metaphor for Torah study, as the Gemara in Berachos (16a) expounds the verse, "ki'Nechalim Nitayu, k'Ganos Alei Nahar" -- "They stretch out like streams, like gardens by the river" (Bamidbar 24:6). Reeds are a metaphor for wisdom, as the Gemara in Berachos (56b) teaches, "One who sees a reed in his dream should expect to become wise." Those who dedicate themselves to the study of Torah study attain true wisdom.
4. "'Shikmah' trees are a sign of lowlands." The word "Shefelah," lowlands, is related to the word, "Shafel," lazy (see Gemara earlier, 50b). The lazy person lacks productivity and good deeds, and thus he is like the Shikmah tree, which, as Rashi mentions, produces no fruit. (A tree that produces fruit is a metaphor for a person who performs Mitzvos; see Sotah 46a.)
OPINIONS: The Gemara suggests a way to ensure that an area qualifies as a "Nachal Eisan" (the place where a young calf must be beheaded to atone for the murder, by an unidentified murderer, of an intercity traveler). Wherever there are reeds, one can be sure that the area qualifies as a Nachal Eisan.
What exactly is the meaning of "Nachal Eisan," and how is the presence of reeds an indication of such a place?
The Gemara in Sotah (46b) teaches that "Eisan" means "strong" ("Kasheh"), as in the verse, "Eisan Moshavecha" -- "Your residence is strong" (Bamidbar 24:21)."
The meaning of "Nachal," however, is subject to dispute.
(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Rotze'ach 9:2) writes that Nachal Eisan is "a river that flows swiftly." This is consistent with the Gemara's statement here that a Nachal is a place where reeds grow (ME'IRI to Sotah 46b). Reeds grow along rivers, as is clear from empirical observation, as well as from a number of statements in the Gemara and verses in the Torah (such as Shemos 2:3, "And she placed him among the reeds at the edge of the river" (see also Shemos 2:5 and Melachim I 14:15).
The reason why the Gemara in Sotah cites verses that use the word "Eisan" with reference to rocks is in order to prove that the Nachal must be strong, like a rock, in the force of its flow, rather than great in quantity.
The word "Eisan" is used with reference to a river in other verses, such as in the verse, "... the sea returned to its power (l'Eisano)" (Shemos 14:27). Similarly, strong and swift rivers are described as "Naharos Eisan" (Tehilim 74:15) and "k'Nachal Eisan" (Amos 5:24).
Another support for the Rambam's explanation is the verse that requires that the elders "wash their hands in the Nachal" (Devarim 21:6) after they have performed the procedure of the Eglah Arufah, which implies that the Nachal is a body of water.
If, however, the Nachal Eisan is a river as the Rambam says, why does the Torah prohibit the Nachal Eisan from being tilled or planted? Obviously, the Torah would not prohibit planting the Nachal Eisan if it was a river, as a river cannot be planted.
The ME'IRI and the CHAFETZ CHAIM (in LIKUTEI HALACHOS to Sotah 46b) explain that the Eglah Arufah is not killed inside the river, but on the banks of the river. The earth on the river banks is arable and can be planted. This might be the intention of the opinion cited by RABEINU BACHYE which says that Nachal Eisan is a very productive and fertile land. The Torah's prohibition against using it after the Eglah Arufah has been killed there provides incentive for cities to appoint guards along the highways in order to prevent murders (see also RADAK, Sefer ha'Sharoshim, Alef Yud Tav).
(b) Most Rishonim, however, interpret "Nachal Eisan" differently. They explain that a Nachal Eisan is a hard, unplowed valley. Among those who explain this way are RASHI, RAMBAN, and RABEINU BACHYE to Devarim 21:4 (see MAHARIK #158), the RASH and ROSH to Pe'ah 2:1, and the RASHBAM to Bava Basra 55a (see TOSFOS REBBI AKIVA EIGER, Pe'ah ibid.).
Similarly, RASHI in Sotah (46b, DH Eisan) implies that Nachal Eisan refers to dry land which is as hard as rock. According to Rashi, the word "Nachal" means "valley." This is supported by the Gemara there which cites the verse, "Your residence is strong (Eisan), and your nest is set in a rock (ba'Sela)" (Bamidbar 24:21), as a source for the definition of "Eisan." The association of "Eisan" with "rock" implies that "Eisan" describes the ground, and not a river.
This is also the opinion of the TARGUM ONKELUS (Devarim 21:4), who translates "Eisan" as "Bayar," or untilled, barren land.
The SHE'EILAS YA'AVETZ (#25) cites further support for this explanation from the Gemara in Nidah (8b), which says that the term "Karka Besulah" refers to land that was never worked and that meets the requirements of Nachal Eisan with regard to the Eglah Arufah.
However, if Nachal Eisan refers to hard land, then why is it necessary for the verse to prohibit the land from being tilled and planted? Land as dry and hard as a rock cannot be planted! The RITVA in Makos (22a) answers that the prohibition is still necessary, because hard land can be planted with much effort.
Nevertheless, this explanation is difficult to resolve with the Gemara here, which defines Nachal Eisan as a place where reeds are abundant. (TOSFOS REBBI AKIVA EIGER, Pe'ah ibid.)
The CHACHAM TZVI (#32) cites RASHI in Yeshayah (19:6), whose words offer a possible answer to this question. Rashi explains that when a river or wadi dries out, its reeds dry up and crack, and the waterless valley becomes filled with broken, parched reeds. Perhaps both the Rambam and the other Rishonim understand that Nachal refers to a riverbed. According to the Rambam, it is a riverbed that is full of water, and according to the others it is a dry riverbed, which can be recognized by the reeds in it.
Indeed, some suggest a compromise between the two opinions and reconcile the apparently contradictory sources for the definition of "Eisan." They explain that Nachal Eisan refers to a wadi, the bed of a river that flows only in the rainy season. When the corpse is found in the winter, during the rainy season, there is a strong current of water in the river. When the corpse is found in the summer, there is no water in the river, but rather hard-packed earth of the riverbed. This is consistent with the fact that strong rivers that flow during both winter and summer are relatively rare in Eretz Yisrael, while wadis are found near almost every city. A source for this definition of a Nachal can be found in Iyov (6:15-17; see METZUDAS DAVID there). (TORAH TEMIMAH to Devarim 21:4; CHIDUSHIM U'VI'URIM to Sotah 46b; see also Insights to Sotah 46:1.)