1) AGADAH: THE GRAVE SIN OF KILLING A "KOHEN" AND A "NAVI"
QUESTION: The Gemara asks what Aharon saw when the verse relates that "Aharon saw, and he built an altar before him" (Shemos 32:5). Rebbi Binyamin bar Yefes says in the name of Rebbi Elazar that Aharon saw the body of Chur who was killed as he tried to prevent the people from committing the sin of the Egel ha'Zahav. Aharon said to himself, "If I do not [pretend to] listen to them, then they will do to me as they did to Chur, and thereby fulfill through me, 'A Kohen and a Navi will be killed in the Mikdash of Hash-m,' thus forfeiting any chance for rectification." Aharon was referring to the murder of Zecharyah, a Kohen and a Navi, for whose murder the Jewish people was punished with the destruction of the Beis ha'Mikdash. Aharon reasoned that since the sin of killing a Kohen and a Navi would be so severe, he chose to build the altar for the Egel ha'Zahav in order to prevent the people from killing him. Who is the "Kohen" and "Navi" to whom Aharon referred?
ANSWER: RASHI states that Aharon was both a Kohen and a Navi, and thus he saw it imperative that the Jewish people not kill him. The murder of Chur was not as consequential, either because Chur was neither a Kohen nor a Navi, or because he had only one of those two qualities, and the severe consequences to which the verse refers apply only to killing a person with both qualities.
The Midrash (Vayikra Rabah 10.3), however, states that Aharon said to himself, "They have already killed Chur, who was a Navi, and if they kill me as well, they will have killed both a Kohen and a Navi on the same day."
The MAHARSHA asks that it does not seem correct that Aharon would call himself a Kohen. Aharon was not yet a Kohen, since his tribe received that status only as a reward for zealously defended the honor of Hash-m after the incident of the Egel ha'Zahav. Why did he already consider himself a Kohen?
The Maharsha answers that Aharon was a firstborn, and therefore he already had the status of a Kohen, since the firstborn performed the priestly duties before their rights were transferred to the Kohanim.
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM challenges the Maharsha's explanation. The Midrash (Shemos Rabah 1:13) states that Miriam was five years older than Moshe and three years older than Aharon. Both RASHI (Shabbos 88a) and TOSFOS (Bechoros 4a) support this opinion. Hence, Aharon did not have the status of a Bechor, the firstborn.
Therefore, the Maharsha's question remains: why did Aharon consider himself a Kohen at this point?
The Margoliyos ha'Yam answers based on the Gemara in Zevachim (102a). The Gemara says that Hash-m was upset with Moshe because of his reluctance to be the emissary who would lead the Jewish people out of Mitzrayim. Hash-m told Moshe that "Aharon, your brother the Levite" (Shemos 4:14) would help him speak to Pharaoh. The Gemara there asks that Aharon was a Kohen, and thus why was Hash-m calling him a Levite? The Gemara answers that Hash-m was telling Moshe, "I originally intended that you should be the Kohen and Aharon should be the Levite. Now, Aharon will be the Kohen and you will be the Levite."
According to the Gemara in Zevachim, Hash-m already told Moshe that Aharon would be the Kohen, and thus he was considered to have been appointed as Kohen at that time (which was long before the sin of the Egel ha'Zahav). (Y. MONTROSE)
2) AGADAH: THE FIRST QUESTION ASKED ON THE DAY OF RECKONING
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rav Hamnuna who says that the verse, "Poter Mayim Reishis Madon" -- "Discarding water is the beginning of judgment" (Mishlei 17:14), teaches that the first thing for which a person is judged on the final day of reckoning is whether or not he studied Torah. RASHI (DH Poter Mayim) explains that the verse is to be read, "Poter Mayim" -- "one who exempts himself from Torah study, which is compared to water," "Reishis Madon" -- will have his first judgment on this topic.
This Gemara contradicts the Gemara in Shabbos (31a) which states that the first question a person is asked at his final judgment is, "Nasasa v'Nasata b'Emunah" -- "were you honest in your business dealings?" How are these two Gemaras to be reconciled?
(a) TOSFOS answers that the two Gemaras refer to two different types of people. The Gemara in Shabbos refers to someone who studied some Torah, but did not set aside time consistently to learn Torah ("Kove'a Itim"). The Gemara here refers to someone who did not learn Torah at all, and thus his obvious failure is pointed out immediately.
(b) Tosfos answers further that both Gemaras agree that the first question a person is asked is about honest business dealings. The Gemara here is not referring to what question is asked first, but rather to what sin causes a person's first punishment.
(c) The MAHARSHA suggests an answer similar to Tosfos' first answer. The Gemara in Shabbos refers to someone who was never successful in Torah learning. As most of his time was spent in business dealings, his judgment deals primarily with business dealings. The Gemara here refers to someone who was successful in learning at first but nevertheless stopped learning. The main question asked of him is why most of his life was not occupied with learning Torah.
(d) The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM quotes the EIN ELIYAHU who explains that RASHI himself answers this question. Rashi (DH Techilas Dino) explains that this refers to "l'Asid la'Vo," the future, referring to Techiyas ha'Mesim. The Gemara here is discussing the judgment of whether or not the person will participate in the resurrection of the dead. This is determined first by the person's Torah study (as the KOVETZ MA'AMARIM explains, merit connected to Torah study is an absolute prerequisite for participation in Techiyas ha'Mesim). The Gemara in Shabbos, on the other hand, is discussing the first question one is asked after he dies.
(e) The Margoliyos ha'Yam further quotes the REGEL YESHARAH who answers that when the Gemara in Shabbos says that the first question will be, "Nasasa v'Nasata b'Emunah," it indeed refers to Torah study. "Nasasa v'Nasata b'Emunah" means, "Did you study Torah truthfully?"
He explains that this expression ("Nasasa v'Nasata") is often used to refer to the "give and take" of Torah study (see Chagigah 17a). Hence, both Gemaras refer to Torah study and there is no contradiction. (Y. MONTROSE)
3) AGADAH: THE SIXTY "GIBORIM" SURROUNDING SHLOMO'S BED
OPINIONS: The Gemara cites the verse in Shir ha'Shirim (3:7-8) which states, "Behold, it is the bed of Shlomo surrounded by sixty Giborim (mighty men) of the mighty men of Yisrael. They all clutch the sword and are trained in warfare; each man with his sword upon his thigh, [defending] against the dread of the nights." The Gemara derives from this verse that when a Dayan issues a ruling, he should be as fearful as though a sword is placed between his legs and Gehinom is open below him.
According to the Gemara's Derashah, who are the "sixty mighty men" mentioned in the verse?
(a) RASHI explains that the mighty men are the Talmidei Chachamim who comprise the Sanhedrin, who are fearful in judgment as though a sword is placed beneath them. However, the Sanhedrin was comprised of seventy Dayanim, and not sixty. If the verse refers to the members of the Sanhedrin, why does it mention sixty mighty men? Rashi answers that according to the Derashah, the number sixty in the verse is not an exact figure. The point of the verse is to emphasize that Talmidei Chachamim should be adequately prepared when they issue rulings.
The MAHARSHA cites support for Rashi's interpretation of "sixty mighty men" from the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 11:7) which also explains that the sixty men are Dayanim.
(b) TOSFOS in Yevamos (109b) disagrees with Rashi and explains that the word "Giborim" refers to the sixty myriads (600,000) of the Jewish people. (This explanation is also mentioned by the Midrash (loc. cit.) and the Yalkut Shimoni 2:986.) Apparently, according to Tosfos the verse means that when Shlomo ha'Melech, the Dayan, is surrounded by the Jewish people who come to him to judge their cases, he and his associates must be fearful of Gehinom.
The ROKE'ACH (on Shir ha'Shirim) cites further support for this explanation from a Gematriya: the Gematriya of "Shishim Giborim" equals the Gematriya of "Eleh Shishim Rivo" ("these are sixty myriads").
(c) The VILNA GA'ON supports Rashi's interpretation. He explains that when the Sanhedrin convenes, ten of its most prestigious members sit in the middle of the group, surrounded by the other sixty. Those are the "sixty mighty men" who surround "the bed of Shlomo." (The ten in the middle correspond to the seven "Ro'ei Pnei ha'Melech" and the three "Shomrei ha'Saf" in the court of a mortal king who are closest to the king, who correspond to the ten in the court of the King of kings; see Megilah 23a. The verse in Melachim II (25:19), which associates these authoritative members of the king's court with sixty other men, appears in the context of a discussion of the members of the Sanhedrin.)
The source for the Vilna Ga'on's explanation is the Midrash (Shir ha'Shirim Rabah 3:13) and Yerushalmi (Sanhedrin 1:2) which associate the verse of Shlomo's bed with the verses that describe the "Ro'ei Pnei ha'Melech" and the sixty others.
(d) The ARUCH LA'NER cites the Yalkut Shimoni (2:986) which explains that the number sixty refers to the nation of Yisrael, which is comprised of 24 Mishmaros of Kohanim, 24 Mishmaros of Leviyim, and 12 Shevatim which frequented the Beis ha'Mikdash, for a total of sixty groups. (The Aruch la'Ner suggests that these groups comprised the Sanhedrin in the Lishkas ha'Gazis.) (See also Insights to Yevamos 109:2)
4) AGADAH: APPOINTING AN UNWORTHY JUDGE IS LIKE PLANTING AN "ASHEIRAH" TREE
QUESTION: The Gemara states that one who appoints an unworthy judge is considered to have planted an Asheirah tree (a tree used for idol worship). Reish Lakish derives this from the fact that the verses that discuss the appointment of judges is immediately followed by the verse that forbids the planting of an Asheirah tree.
What logical reason is there to connect the two verses in this manner?
Moreover, what is the significance of this comparison? Why are unworthy judges like an Asheirah tree?
(a) RASHI understands that the Gemara derives this from the words that the Torah uses to forbid the planting of an Asheirah tree. The Torah says, "Do not plant for yourself an Asheirah, any tree." The Gemara in Ta'anis (7a) learns that the words "any tree" refer to a student who is possibly a "bad tree," as a person is called a tree in the verse, "Ki ha'Adam Etz ha'Sadeh" (Devarim 20:19). It seems that Rashi understands that the Gemara means that one should not plant a tree of this kind as a judge, lest he spread his bad "fruit" (mistaken ideas).
(b) The MAHARIK (Shoresh 117) interprets the significance of this comparison in a similar manner. An Asheirah tree can be a beautiful tree with many branches. However, the purpose for which it was planted -- idol worship -- defines its essence and renders it forbidden. Similarly, even if a person possesses wisdom and insight, he is not fit to be a Dayan if his actions are inappropriate.
(c) The ARUCH LA'NER quotes the Sifri which says that the planting of an Asheirah tree is a forbidden act itself, even if no one worships the tree. Here, too, the Gemara teaches that the mere act of appointing someone who is not worthy to be a judge is a sin, even if he never judges.
(d) The MAHARSHA explains that when the verse says, "Elokim Lo Sekalel" (Shemos 22:27), it refers both to Hash-m and to judges. The significance of a judge being called by a name of Hash-m shows that a Dayan's responsibility is to become a symbolic partner with Hash-m through honest judgment, as the Gemara states, "Anyone who judges honestly becomes a partner with Hash-m in creation." Therefore, one who appoints a judge even though he knows that the appointee cannot judge accurately is symbolically showing that there is a different entity present in judgment, especially if there is a capable judge available. He sets up a foreign code of law next to the Torah's law. This is akin to idol worship, the Maharsha explains, and is the meaning of the metaphor of planting an Asheirah next to the Mizbe'ach. (Y. MONTROSE)