1) AGADAH: THE DEATH SENTENCE OF REBBI AKIVA AS PRONOUNCED BY REBBI ELIEZER
QUESTION: The Gemara recounts the visit of the Chachamim to Rebbi Eliezer when he was on his deathbed. They entered his room and sat outside of his four Amos, due to his status of being excommunicated (see Bava Metzia 59b).
Rebbi Eliezer asked them, "Why have you come?"
They replied, "We came to learn Torah."
He said, "And until now why did you not come?"
They answered, "We did not have time."
Rebbi Eliezer declared, "I will be bewildered if they die their own deaths," meaning that the students will be killed.
Rebbi Akiva asked him, "What will my death be?" Rebbi Eliezer responded, "Yours will be worse than theirs."
Why did Rebbi Akiva receive a worse punishment than his colleagues?
(a) RASHI (DH Shelcha) explains that Rebbi Eliezer maintained that Rebbi Akiva's punishment would be worse because he had a greater ability to learn Torah than the others. Since the sin was that the students did not learn Torah from Rebbi Eliezer, Rebbi Akiva was held more accountable because of the greater amount of Torah which he could have learned.
(b) The MAHARSHA explains that Rebbi Akiva realized earlier in his life that there was much to learn from Rebbi Eliezer, as is apparent from the story recorded later in the Gemara, which describes Rebbi Akiva's earlier requests to Rebbi Eliezer to teach him the type of Kishuf to which the Torah refers, which is permitted to learn in order to be able to rule on Torah matters regarding the subject of Kishuf. Rebbi Eliezer granted those requests, thereby giving Rebbi Akiva a sense of Rebbi Eliezer's scope of knowledge. Although he knew that he could learn much from Rebbi Eliezer, he did not learn more from him, and this is why he received a harsher punishment.
(c) The ARUCH LA'NER is bothered by Rashi's explanation. He asks numerous questions on Rashi and on the Gemara in general. Among his questions are:
1. Why did Rebbi Akiva ask Rebbi Eliezer how he would die in the first place? What prompted him to think that his death would be different?
2. The Gemara in Pesachim (69a) seems to disagree with the Gemara here. The Gemara there says that Rebbi Akiva argued with Rebbi Eliezer in a certain matter, and Rebbi Akiva cited proof for his view from the laws of Shechitah. Rebbi Eliezer responded "You answer me with Shechitah? You will die by being slaughtered!" What was the cause of his death? Was it his argument as related in Pesachim, or the fact that he did not learn from him, as the Gemara here says?
3. The Gemara (Berachos 61b) relates that Rebbi Akiva was tortured to death by the Romans who tore off his skin with iron combs. This does not fit the description of death by slaughtering mentioned in Pesachim.
The Aruch la'Ner explains that these questions point to the genuine meaning of the Gemara here. When Rebbi Eliezer expressed that these Chachamim would be held liable for not learning from him, Rebbi Akiva asked Rebbi Eliezer whether the curse he received from him in Pesachim still applied, or whether his punishment would now be worse. Rebbi Eliezer answered that together with the sin of not learning from him, his punishment will be worse than that of the other Chachamim. Accordingly, the Gemara in Pesachim applied only before Rebbi Akiva's sin of not learning from Rebbi Eliezer. His skin was combed off due to the combination of the two sins. (This was because Rebbi Akiva was on a high spiritual level, and a person on such a high level is judged entirely with Midas ha'Din.) (Y. MONTROSE)
2) WHEN IS A BOY FIT TO BECOME A "BEN SORER U'MORER"
OPINIONS: The Mishnah states that a minor cannot be punished as a Ben Sorer since he is not obligated in Mitzvos. The Gemara asks two questions on this statement. First, if a Ben Sorer is killed "Al Shem Sofo," why does it matter whether or not he is a minor? Second, the word "Ben," or "son" (Devarim 21:18), implies that a minor can be punished as a Ben Sorer u'Moreh.
Rav Yehudah answers that there is a different way to learn the verse. The words, "v'Chi Yiheyeh l'Ish Ben" -- literally, "When there will be to a man a son" (ibid.), teach that the son ("Ben") is punishable as a Ben Sorer u'Moreh only when he approaches the strength of an adult ("Ish"). How does Rav Yehudah derive this teaching from the verse?
(a) RASHI here (DH v'Chi Yiheyeh) does not explain exactly how Rav Yehudah derives this teaching from the verse. However, Rashi on the Mishnah (DH she'Ne'emar) explains that this "strength" refers to the beginning of adulthood. Rashi apparently understands that the word "Ish" can be read as a description for the word "Ben," and it means that the son is near the beginning of adulthood.
The NETZIV (in EMEK HA'NETZIV to the Sifri, Parshas Ki Setzei, p. 239) explains that according to Rashi, it is clear that without the phrase "l'Ish Ben," one would have understood that the verse teaches that only a minor is liable for being a Ben Sorer, not an adult. Once the verse says "l'Ish Ben," it limits the novelty of the verse and teaches that the Ben Sorer is liable only if he has reached the age of Bar Mitzvah.
(b) TOSFOS (DH Ben Sorer) first asks that the Gemara seems to understand the verse to mean that the son must be right after his Bar Mitzvah in order to be punished as a Ben Sorer u'Moreh, since at that stage he is close to becoming an "Ish." Why does the Gemara not suggest that this means that he is right before his Bar Mitzvah? That age -- "Mufla ha'Samuch l'Ish" -- indeed is the age at which certain other Halachos apply to a minor, such as the minor's ability to make binding vows (Nidah 46a)? Tosfos quotes RABEINU TAM who answers that Rav Yehudah understands that the word "l'Ish" in this verse has a similar meaning to the way it is used in the verse, "v'Chazakta v'Hayisa l'Ish" -- "You will be strong and you will be a man" (Melachim I 2:2). This implies that the Ben Sorer must be strong "like a man." According to this explanation, how is the verse read? The YAD RAMAH explains that according to Tosfos, the verse reads, "And when there will be a son who is like a man" ("l'Ish" being an adjective for "Ben").
RAV YECHEZKEL ZILBER (in his footnotes to the Yad Ramah, note 4) explains that Tosfos does not merely define the "strength" to which the Gemara refers differently from Rashi. Tosfos has an entirely different approach to the Gemara. According to Rashi, once the verse gives the slightest indication that the Torah does not mean that a minor is killed ("l'Ish Ben"), it is clear that the Torah makes only a boy past the age of Bar Mitzvah liable for being a Ben Sorer u'Moreh. According to Tosfos, however, "l'Ish" should teach that the boy is liable when he is just before the age of Bar Mitzvah. Why does Tosfos make this assumption? Tosfos understands that the Gemara does not have any problem learning that a minor can become a Ben Sorer u'Moreh. Accordingly, Tosfos asks that the verse indeed should be understood as referring to a minor, the same way it is understood in the context of Nedarim. (Y. MONTROSE)