1) WHICH PARTS OF "PARSHAS SOTAH" ARE WRITTEN AND ERASED, ACCORDING TO REBBI YOSI
QUESTION: The Mishnah cites three opinions with regard to which verses of the Parshah of Sotah are written and erased in the Mayim ha'Me'orerim, as the Torah commands (Bamidbar 5:23). The Parshah of Sotah (Bamidbar 5:19-22) consists of two distinct sections. The first section is a Shevu'ah with an Alah. ("Alah" refers to a description of the punishment that will befall her if she sinned.) This section is comprised of the words "Im Lo Shachav Ish" (the second half of verse 19) until the end of verse 20. The second section is the Shevu'ah and an Alah, wherein the Kohen details to the woman what will happen to her if she sinned. Both sections begin with Tzava'os, introductory commands to the Kohen to administer the Shevu'ah. At the conclusion of the Parshah, the Torah tells the woman to answer "Amen, Amen" to the Alos.
Rebbi Yosi maintains that the Kohen writes the entire Parshah, both the first and second sections, as he derives from two separate sources. He derives from the letter "Heh" of "ha'Alos" (Bamidbar 5:23) that the first half of the Parshah must be written. The first half is referred to as the "Kelalos ha'Ba'os Machmas Berachos" (the curses implied by the blessings). He derives from the word "Es" in the phrase "Es ha'Alos" (ibid.) that the Kohen must write the second part as well, the Tzava'os and Kabalos (the commands to the Kohen to administer the Shevu'ah, and the command to the woman to answer "Amen, Amen").
Rebbi Yosi apparently maintains that the Kohen starts to write from the beginning of verse 19 ("v'Hishbi'a Osah ha'Kohen"), the command to the Kohen to administer the first Shevu'ah, which is the beginning of the Parshah of Sotah. However, RASHI on the Mishnah (DH Lo Hayah Mafsik) writes that even Rebbi Yosi agrees that the Kohen starts to write from the words "Im Lo Shachav Ish" (the second half of verse 19), which is the beginning of the actual Shevu'ah. He does not start from the beginning of the Parshah. This is also the opinion of the RAMBAM (in Perush ha'Mishnayos).
Why do Rashi and the Rambam not explain that the Kohen starts to write from the Tzava'ah of the Shevu'ah? If Rebbi Yosi indeed maintains that the first Tzava'ah is not written down (as they assert), what is Rebbi Yosi's source for differentiating between the two Tzava'os? The word "Es," which teaches that the Tzava'ah is to be written, is the article subordinate to the word "ha'Alos" which refers to both the Alah and the Shevu'ah, and therefore "Es" includes both Tzava'os and both should be written. The "Es" includes both the Tzava'ah of the Alah (the second Tzava'ah) and the Tzava'ah of the Kelalah (the first Tzava'ah) because the Kelalah itself is alluded to by the "Heh" of "ha'Alos."
ANSWER: Rashi understands from the wording of Rebbi Yosi in the Mishnah that Rebbi Yosi does not include the Tzava'ah of the Kelalah in what is written down by the Kohen. Rebbi Yosi heard Rebbi Meir say that the Kohen is to start writing from "Im Lo Shachav" (the beginning of the Kelalah) and then he is to skip the Tzava'ah between the Kelalah and the Alah. Rebbi Yosi disagrees and says "the Kohen does not skip anything" but writes everything from the point at which he started. Rebbi Yosi, however, does not argue that the Kohen starts earlier. Rather, he argues that once the Kohen has started writing the verses (from "Im Lo Shachav"), he continues without skipping. He agrees with Rebbi Meir that the Tzava'ah of the Kelalah is not written. He argues only about writing the Tzava'ah of the Alah.
How, though, does Rebbi Yosi deduce that the verse differentiates between the two Tzava'os?
The answer is that Rebbi Yosi maintains that the "Es" comes to add something to what is written openly in the verse, the Alos, but not to add something to what is only hinted to in the verse, the Kelalah (hinted to by the letter "Heh" of "ha'Alos").
2) WHICH PARTS OF "PARSHAS SOTAH" ARE WRITTEN AND ERASED, ACCORDING TO REBBI MEIR
QUESTION: The Gemara asks why Rebbi Meir insists that the verse "Im Lo Shachav" is to be written and erased. Rebbi Meir maintains that one cannot infer the inverse from a statement, and thus there is no point in writing the verse, "If no man has lain with you and you have not committed adultery...," because it is not part of the Kelalah which states that she will die if she sinned.
What is the Gemara's question? Rebbi Meir says that the "Heh" of "ha'Alos" teaches that the "Kelalos ha'Ba'os Machmas Berachos" must be written. Even if he maintains that the inverse cannot be inferred from a statement, the Torah here explicitly states that the verse must be written and erased in the water of the Sotah regardless of whether the inverse is implied!
(a) The NETZIV implies that the Gemara's question is that it is not logical for the inverse to be written and erased in the water of the Sotah unless it has some connotation of Kelalah, curse. Hence, the very fact that the verse here teaches that it should be erased implies that normally the inverse can be inferred from a statement.
(b) The Gemara's question may be as follows. Why does Rebbi Meir learn from the "Heh" of "ha'Alos" that the verse of "Im Lo Shachav," the first of the verses of Kelalah, is to be written? Perhaps the "Heh" adds only that the second verse, "v'At Ki Satis Tachas Ishech" (verse 20), is to be written! The fact that Rebbi Meir equates the first verse with the second and says that it is just as important to write "Im Lo Shachav" as it is to write "v'At Ki Satis" shows that Rebbi Meir maintains that logically the inverse can be deduced. Accordingly, the Gemara asks why this verse is different from all other verses, where Rebbi Meir maintains that the inverse cannot be deduced.
3) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE "TECHELES"
OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that in the merit of Avraham Avinu's declaration, "Im mi'Chut v'Ad Seroch Na'al" -- "I will not take from a thread to a sandal strap [and I will not take anything that is yours, lest you should say, 'I have made Avram rich']" (Bereishis 14:23), the Jewish people were rewarded with the Mitzvah of Techeles. The Gemara asks what is unique about Techeles such that it was given as the reward for Avraham Avinu's statement. The Gemara answers with the words of Rebbi Meir who says that Techeles is unique because the color of Techeles "is similar to the sea, the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the Kisei ha'Kavod," the throne of Hash-m's glory. What is the significance of this comparison?
(a) RASHI in Menachos (43b, DH v'Raki'a) explains the Gemara in the most straightforward sense. The Techeles ensures that its wearer will remember that Hash-m is above him by reminding him of the throne of Hash-m's glory.
(b) RASHI in Chulin (89a, DH Domeh) explains the Gemara based on the opposite logic. When Hash-m looks at His throne, He is reminded of the Mitzvah of Techeles that the Jews perform.
Perhaps the reason why Rashi in Chulin does not explain the Gemara as he does in Menachos is as follows. Rashi in Chulin apparently wants to explain what tangible benefits the Jewish people derive from Techeles, since the Gemara implies that the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Techeles bring glory to the Jewish people. If Techeles merely reminds the Jews of Hash-m's Throne, it does not necessarily lend the Jews prestige. Therefore, Rashi explains there that when Hash-m looks as His throne, He remembers the Mitzvos which the Jews perform and gives them honor.
(c) RASHI in Menachos (ibid.) offers another explanation. When a Jew wears the Techeles, he is considered as though he carries the holy throne of glory on his body, which certainly is a appellation of prestige.
(d) RASHI here (DH sheha'Techeles) explains the Gemara based on the Sifri (Shelach 115). The Techeles reminds the people that all who fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzis are considered to have greeted the Shechinah of Hash-m.
RAV YAKOV D. HOMNICK proposes an original approach to explain why Rashi in Sotah does not explain the significance of the Techeles the same way he explains its significance in Chulin.
The Gemara here and in Chulin opens with Rava's teaching that as reward for Avraham Avinu's statement, "I am earth (Afar) and ashes (Efer)" (Bereishis 18:27), his descendants merited the two Mitzvos of Efer Parah and Afar Sotah. The Gemara asks why Rava does not also mention the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam, since that Mitzvah also involves the use of earth. The Gemara answers that the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam involves only a Hechsher Mitzvah (preparation for a Mitzvah) but no actual Hana'ah (physical benefit), in contrast to the Mitzvos of Efer Parah and Afar Sotah. Rashi here explains (DH Hana'ah Leika) that since the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam involves no actual Hana'ah, it is not a form of reward for the descendants of Avraham Avinu. In contrast, the Afar Sotah provides benefit in that it brings peace, prevents the proliferation of Mamzerim among the people (if the woman is guilty), and causes the woman (if she is innocent) to have children and clears the reputation of her children from any doubts about their lineage. The Efer Parah provides benefit by making the people Tahor and by granting the people atonement for the sin of the Egel ha'Zahav.
Rashi here changes the order of the two Mitzvos from the way the Gemara mentions them. The Gemara says that the descendants of Avraham Avinu merited the two Mitzvos of "Efer Parah and Afar Sotah." Rashi, however, explains the reward of Afar Sotah first, and then he explains the reward of Efer Parah. Why does Rashi change the order?
The answer is that Rashi explains these two Mitzvos in the order in which Avraham Avinu said the words Afar and Efer in the verse, "I am Afar and Efer." The question, rather, is not on Rashi's order, but on the Gemara's order. Why does the Gemara mention Efer Parah before Afar Sotah? (Indeed, RAV YESHAYAH PIK in MESORAS HA'SHAS in the margin of the Gemara cites the Girsa as it appears in the Yalkut, which places Afar Sotah before Efer Parah, consistent with the order of the words in the verse.)
However, Rashi in Chulin explains the Hana'ah inherent in these two Mitzvos differently from the way he explains it here. Moreover, he follows the order of the Gemara and not the order of the verse and explains Efer Sotah before Afar Sotah. Rashi in Chulin explains that the Efer Parah provides Hana'ah in that it purifies a person from his Tum'ah. Rashi there makes no mention of the Efer Parah's atonement for the people for the sin of the Egel ha'Zahav, and he phrases the benefit of purification in the singular form ("it is Metaher him from his Tum'ah"), as opposed to the plural form he writes here ("it is Metaher them"). When Rashi in Chulin explains the Hana'ah inherent in the Afar Sotah, he explains merely that the Afar Sotah creates peace between a man and his wife, and causes her to have children. He makes no mention there of the Afar Sotah's benefit of preventing the proliferation of Mamzerim and clearing the reputation of the woman's children.
Why does Rashi in Chulin explain the benefit of the Mitzvos of Afar Sotah and Efer Parah as benefits for the individual Jew, while here he explains them as benefits for the entire Jewish people? Moreover, why does he follow the order of the Gemara there ("Efer Parah and Afar Sotah") and not the order of the verse ("I am Afar and Efer") as he follows here?
Apparently, the two Sugyos understand the verse of Avraham Avinu's statement differently. The Gemara here (according to Rashi's Girsa) understands Avraham Avinu's statement in its straightforward sense; he compared himself first to Afar and then to Efer. However, the Gemara in Chulin understands that Avraham Avinu's primary comparison of himself was to Efer, ashes. When he compared himself to "Afar and Efer," the second object that he mentioned was the primary one, and the first object was merely an addition. A precedent for reading the verse this way appears in the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (17b), which quotes the verse "v'Rav Chesed v'Emes" and expounds that Hash-m first decided to create the world with Emes and in the end chose to create the world with Chesed. Even though the word "Chesed" appears first in the verse, the Chachamim understand that when two items are linked in a verse with the letter "Vav" before the second word, the second word is to be interpreted as the primary item with the first word merely appended to it ("v'Rav Chesed v'Emes" means that "Chesed" is added to and joined with the pre-existing "Emes"). (See also RASHI to Shemos 16:20.)
Rav Homnick asserts that the two Sugyos disagree about whether Avraham Avinu made his statement about himself and his personal life, or whether he made a general statement about the meekness and frailty of mankind. The Gemara in Chulin understands that Avraham Avinu's statement was about his own life. He first compared himself to Efer, ashes, and added that he was also nothing more than Afar, earth. (Indeed, the continuation of the Gemara in Chulin (89a), which quotes Rebbi Elazar the son of Rebbi Yosi ha'Glili, clearly implies that Avraham Avinu's statement was a personal statement in which he declared his own inadequacy and his desire to decline the greatness which Hash-m sought to grant to him personally.) Avraham Avinu meant that the 99 years of his life which had already passed were as though they were burned and rendered into ashes (Efer), as though he accomplished nothing with them. Efer represents something which once had a purpose and a meaningful form, and then was burned and rendered useless. Avraham Avinu added that whatever time he has left in this world is nothing but Afar, earth, of no value and which will produce nothing. Therefore, the Gemara in Chulin puts Efer Parah before Afar Sotah, because Avraham Avinu said about himself that his own life was Efer in the past and Afar in the future.
In contrast, the Gemara here in Sotah understands that Avraham Avinu's statement was a general elegy about the frailty of mankind. Every man begins as Afar, earth, full of potential to produce and create, and in the end nothing remains of him but the ashes of a life wasted. His statement was not an expression of his own view of himself, but an all-encompassing expression about the condition of mankind, including himself: man begins as Afar and finishes as Efer. Therefore, the Gemara here puts Afar Sotah before Efer Parah (according to Rashi).
According to this distinction, the difference between Rashi's explanation in the two Sugyos may be understood as follows. Rashi in Chulin explains that the Mitzvos of Efer Parah and Afar Sotah benefit the individual. These Mitzvos were given to every individual of the Jewish people as reward for Avraham Avinu's words of humility about himself as an individual.
Rashi here in Sotah explains that the two Mitzvos benefit the entire Jewish people collectively, because the Gemara here understands that the two Mitzvos were granted as reward for Avraham Avinu's statement about the collective condition of mankind and not about the life of an individual.
This approach also explains the difference in Rashi's explanation of the significance of the Techeles. Rashi in Chulin explains that the benefit, Hana'ah, afforded by the Mitzvah of Techeles is it reminds Hash-m of the Mitzvah of Tzitzis which the individual Jew performs. This is a benefit which the individual experiences in practice. The individual Jew who wears Techeles on his Tzitzis arouses Divine attention to his deed, and he thus receives merit and blessing in his own life.
Rashi here in Sotah, however, explains that the Mitzvah of Techeles teaches that all who fulfill the Mitzvah of Tzitzis are considered to have greeted the Shechinah of Hash-m. The Gemara here understands that the merit of the Mitzvah does not require an actual benefit to the individual Jew. Rather, the fulfillment of the Mitzvah is considered the greeting of the Shechinah, and the greeting of the Shechinah is itself the reward (as the Gemara in Berachos 64a and elsewhere relates). It is not necessary for Rashi to find a secondary, physical form of benefit which the Mitzvah provides, since the Sugya here understands that the Mitzvah is a reward for Avraham Avinu's general statement about mankind and not about himself as an individual.
4) ACHIEVING CLOSENESS TO THE SHECHINAH IN THIS WORLD
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rebbi Meir who says that "Techeles is similar [in color] to the sea, the sea is similar [in color] to the sky, and the sky is similar [in color] to [Hash-m's] throne of glory, as it says (Shemos 24:10), 'They saw the G-d of Yisrael, and under His feet was something like a sapphire stone, bright as the color of the sky.'"
The reason the sky is included in the string of comparisons is easy to understand. Since no one has actually seen the Throne of Hash-m, Rebbi Meir must first bring textual proof for the color of the Throne before he asserts that its color is similar to the color of Techeles. The verse likens the color of the Throne to that of a much more familiar entity, the sky ("under His feet was something like... the color of the sky"). Rebbi Meir must point out that Techeles is sky-colored (as is empirically evident) before he concludes that the throne of Hash-m's glory is also sky-colored (as the verse states).
Why, though, does Rebbi Meir need to mention the sea as an intermediary step in this comparison? He could simply compare the color of Techeles directly to that of the sky, bypassing any mention of the sea.
(a) RASHI here explains that Techeles is not exactly the same color as the sky. It is more similar to the color of the sea. The color of the sea is somewhere between the color of Techeles and the color of the sky (the sky being the color of the Throne). Rebbi Meir, when he demonstrates that the Techeles is reminiscent of the Throne, needs to describe the similarity in stages. Techeles is similar to the sea; the sea, in turn, is similar to the sky, which is similar to the Throne. (TOSFOS SHANTZ offers the same explanation.)
This explanation, however, raises another question. If Techeles is not really the color of the Throne, why was Techeles chosen to be the color to represent the Throne? If the purpose of the colored thread in the Tzitzis is to remind the Jews of Hash-m's closeness, the thread should be colored with a dye that is sky-blue, rather than a color which is only reminiscent of the sky's color through a two-step comparison.
RAV HADAR MARGOLIN (of Har Nof, Yerushalayim) suggests the following answer. Rashi here refers to the Sifri (Shelach 115) which states that Rebbi Meir teaches that when a Jew performs the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, he is considered to have encountered the Shechinah. This explanation differs from the explanation of the Gemara in Menachos (43b) which formulates the theme in the context of a reward and not an experience: "Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai said, 'Whoever is careful to perform the Mitzvah [of Tzitzis] will, as a reward, merit to have an encounter with the Shechinah.'" The Gemara there refers to the encounter with the Shechinah as an ultimate reward for the Mitzvah, in the World to Come, while the Sifri says that the performance of the Mitzvah is tantamount to ("k'Ilu") an encounter with the Shechinah.
The Sifri's statement might explain why the color of Techeles is not identical to that of Hash-m's Throne. A true encounter with Hash-m is not possible in this physical world. Nevertheless, the Tzitzis strings which hang from our garments, and which remind us that the Divine Presence surrounds and supervises us from every direction, can elevate us to feel as though ("k'Ilu") we are in direct contact with the Divine Presence. This quasi-encounter with Hash-m is alluded to by the twice-removed comparison between the color of the Techeles thread and the color of Hash-m's Throne. The color of Techeles teaches that the Tzitzis strings grant us an appreciation of the Divine Presence even in the mundane world in which we live, where comprehension of His true essence is beyond our grasp.
(b) In his commentary to Menachos, Rashi seems to suggest another explanation for why Rebbi Meir mentions the color of the sea in connection with the Techeles. Rashi ((43b, DH Domeh) comments cryptically: "Techeles is similar [in color] to the sea" -- where miracles were performed for Yisrael.
What is Rashi's intention? What is the connection between the miracles performed at the Sea and the color of Techeles?
RAV YITZCHAK ISAAC HA'LEVI HERZOG zt'l (in an article on the subject of Techeles) suggests that Rashi may be alluding to a comment made by the Sifri (ibid.), "Why is [the color used in Tzitzis] called 'Techeles' (from the root Kaf-Lamed)? It is because the Egyptians were annihilated ('Kalu,' from the root Kaf-Lamed) in the Sea."
The color, as well as the name, of Techeles alludes to what happened at the Sea. Rashi explains that the color of the Techeles has a dual significance: it reminds us of Hash-m's Throne, and it also recalls the miracles Hash-m wrought for us at the Sea. This explains why Rebbi Meir mentions two similarities of color when he describes Techeles: "Techeles is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky (which is the same color as the throne of glory)." Both of these similarities are significant in their own right.
Rav Herzog's insightful comment that the two symbolisms of the color of Techeles are not unrelated is expressed by Rashi (to Shemos 15:2). When Hash-m led the Jewish people through the Sea, not only did He split the waters of the Sea but "He revealed himself to them in all His glory, until the people were able to point to Him and say, 'This is my G-d...'"
The purpose of the Techeles is to remind the Jewish people that they are able to raise themselves to a spiritual height at which they will perceive the Shechinah in this world. In order to substantiate this claim, the Techeles recalls the events which occurred at the Sea, during which the Jews indeed perceived the Divine Presence in this world. The resemblance of Techeles to the color of the sea teaches that one is able to perceive the Divine Presence even in this world.
TOSFOS here (DH Mipnei) quotes the Yerushalmi (Berachos 1:2) which presents another version of Rebbi Meir's statement, in which he first compares Techeles to the sea, then compares the sea to grass, and then grass to the sky, which is the color of Hash-m's throne of glory. Why is the color of grass added in the progressive comparison of colors?
In light of the explanation offered above for the words of Rashi in Menachos, the added mention of grass in Rebbi Meir's statement is especially appropriate. The Gemara earlier in Sotah (11b) relates that when the Egyptians came out to the fields to kill the infants hidden there, Hash-m caused the babies to be miraculously swallowed up into the ground, where they were protected from the Egyptians' evil intents. The Egyptians, in an effort not to be deterred, proceeded to plow up the ground. After they left, Hash-m miraculously caused the babies to sprout forth from the ground "like the grass of the field," as the verse says, "I made you as numerous as the grass of the field..." (Yechezkel 16:7). (See Insights to Sotah 11:1.)
Perhaps the color of Techeles is intended to remind us of this miracle as well. Techeles is similar in color to grass, which reminds us of the manner in which Hash-m miraculously protected the Jewish population during the Egyptian exile. The Gemara there says that when Hash-m revealed His presence to the Jews at the splitting of the Sea, it was these infants (now adults) who exclaimed (Shemos 15:2), "This is my G-d...." The infants who "grew as the grass" were the first ones to recognize Hash-m's Divine Presence because, as Rashi explains, they had already witnessed His glory on a previous occasion. These children experienced in Mitzrayim an encounter with the Shechinah on a level comparable to the one which the Jews experienced at the splitting of the Sea.
Accordingly, Rebbi Meir (in the Yerushalmi's version of his statement) mentions the color of grass in his list for the same reason he mentions the color of the sea. Recalling the story of the miraculous births in Mitzrayim helps to substantiate for us -- in the same manner as the miracles at the Sea -- that it is possible for a human being to experience a close encounter with Hash-m's Divine Presence in this world! (See Parshah Page, Shelach 5755 and 5756. For a discussion of the identity of the Techeles dye, see Insights to Menachos 44:1.)