1) THE MINIMUM AMOUNT OF TIME FOR "SETIRAH"
QUESTION: The Gemara cites various opinions of the Tana'im with regard to the minimum amount of time necessary for the seclusion to be considered Setirah. The Gemara concludes that each Tana measured the amount of time based on personal experience. If each Tana measured based on personal experience, what is the argument? The amount of time clearly depends on each person!
(a) The CHAFETZ CHAIM in LIKUTEI HALACHOS (Ein Mishpat) seems to understand that the simple reading of the Gemara is that the Tana'im are not arguing about the Shi'ur of Setirah. Hence, the Shi'ur indeed may differ for each person.
(b) However, the Chafetz Chaim points out that the Rambam records one of the opinions as the Halachah. The Rambam apparently does consider the Tana'im to be in disagreement. Why, though, are they arguing if the opinion of each one is based on his own personal experience?
Perhaps the Rambam understands the words "b'Atzmo Shi'er" to mean not that each Tana measured the length of time of his own seclusion, but that each Tana had the same experience in terms of the amount of time of seclusion, and each one chose a certain average to serve as the standard amount of time which is considered a Halachic form of Setirah. When the Gemara says that each one measured the time according to his own experience, it means simply that because of considerations of modesty, the Tana'im did not survey the experiences of other people.
2) AGADAH: THE PUNISHMENT FOR PROMISCUITY
Rava says that a person who has relations with an Ishah Zonah will end up begging for bread. This theme is reflected in the verse, "v'Ro'eh Zonos Ye'abed Hon" (Mishlei 29:3), which teaches that one who involves himself in promiscuity will lose his money.
The KLI YAKAR (to Bereishis 42:55) explains that Rava's teaching is the reason why Yosef told the people of Mitzrayim to perform Milah to themselves at the outbreak of the years of famine (see Rashi there). The people of Mitzrayim were notorious for their licentiousness (see Rashi to Bereishis 12:19). Yosef was concerned that their promiscuity would cause them to suffer even more from the famine. Therefore, he ordered them to perform Milah, because Milah curbs the lust for promiscuity. The people would be less included to sin promiscuously and would therefore be able to retain whatever food they still had.
Why is poverty the punishment for promiscuity? Perhaps it is because promiscuity causes children to be born who do not know the identity of their father (see Yevamos 37b), and as a result they have no source of support. Measure for measure, the person who brings such children into the world is punished by losing his source of support.
3) EATING BREAD WITH WET HANDS
OPINIONS: The Gemara states that a person who eats his bread while his hands are still wet from washing them is considered like one who eats bread that is Tamei.
What is wrong with eating bread with wet hands?
(a) RASHI explains that "Tamei" here means that it is repulsive. Eating bread that has become wet and soggy from the water on one's hands is comparable to eating Tum'ah, which is also repulsive.
(b) RABEINU CHANANEL cited by the BI'UR HALACHAH (OC 158:12) explains that when one touches bread with wet hands, the bread becomes fit to become Tamei -- "Muchshar l'Kabel Tum'ah." If a person who is Tamei then touches the bread without washing his hands, the bread becomes Tamei. The Gemara means that since the person has enabled the bread to become Tamei by eating it with wet hands, he is considered as though he is eating bread that is Tamei.
(c) The BACH (OC 165, DH v'Af Al Gav) explains that the Gemara means that when a person fails to dry his hands after washing them, his act of Netilas Yadayim is incomplete and his hands are still considered Tamei. The Mishnah in Yadayim (2:1) teaches that when a person washes his hands for Netilas Yadayim with less than a Revi'is of water, the water becomes Tamei from his hands and he must pour additional water over his hands in order to be Metaher the water which remains on his hands from the first washing. If he does not pour water a second time, the food he eats becomes Tamei because of the Tamei water. The Gemara here, however, does not refer to this Tum'ah, because the Gemara says that it is "as though" the bread is Tamei, but not that the bread actually is Tamei. The Gemara refers to one who washes his hands with a complete Revi'is of water, in which case he does not need to wash off the water with a second pouring because a Revi'is of water itself is Metaher. Nevertheless, the Gemara recommends that he pour water over his hands a second time in order to remove the Revi'is of water, and if he does not pour water a second time it is as though he is eating bread that is Tamei.
The Bach explains that this is the reason for the requirement to recite a blessing on Netilas Yadayim before one dries his hands even though he washed with more than a Revi'is. One who washed with less than a Revi'is certainly must dry his hands in order to complete the Mitzvah of Netilas Yadayim, since the water which is Tamei must be removed (and thus drying is part of the Mitzvah; see OC 158:12). Why, though, is drying the hands part of the Mitzvah when one washed with a Revi'is? It must be that the Rabanan consider some degree of Tum'ah to be present even when one washes with a Revi'is, and thus he has not finished the Mitzvah until he dries his hands.