1) TWO RESPONSES TO TROUBLE: FASTING AND BLOWING THE SHOFAR
QUESTION: The Mishnah (19a) teaches that when a city's crops face ruin as a result of being smitten with Shidafon, or when an illness of Yerakon (Rashi) threatens the townspeople, the residents of that city blow the Shofar ("Masri'in") in supplication and to arouse the people to repent. All other cities also blow the Shofar even though the threat has not yet reached their area. The Mishnah records an incident in Ashkelon where the elders decreed a Ta'anis because they saw that Shidafon had affected crops the size of the opening of an oven.
The Gemara here quotes a Beraisa in which Rebbi Akiva says that the Shofar is blown in a situation of Shidafon and Yerakon regardless of the quantity of produce which has been destroyed. The threat posed by Shidafon and Yerakon is so dire that emergency measures are taken even when the amount affected by the threat is miniscule.
RASHI points out that the incident in the Mishnah seems to contradict Rebbi Akiva's opinion. The Mishnah says that the elders reacted to a threat of Shidafon only when the crops affected were enough to fill the opening of an oven. Rebbi Akiva, however, says that any amount of Shidafon warrants reaction.
Rashi gives two answers. In his first answer, he says that Rebbi Akiva means that the Shofar is blown for any amount of Shidafon, but in order to declare a Ta'anis the amount must be enough to fill the opening of an oven. The Mishnah refers to the amount required to declare a Ta'anis.
The MAGID MISHNEH (Hilchos Ta'anis 2:11) asks why Rashi suggests that the Shofar is blown for any amount of Shidafon, while a Ta'anis is declared only when there is a certain minimum amount of damage. After all, the Mishnah states that fasting is a less severe reaction to a threat. For a lesser threat, a Ta'anis is declared without the Shofar, and for a greater threat, the Shofar is blown as well. Consequently, whenever the Shofar is blown, a Ta'anis is also observed. (This is true according to most Rishonim, and it is implicit in the words of Rashi on the Mishnah as well. See, however, the Ra'avad (cited by the Ritva and Rishonim) who understands the Mishnah differently.) It is unreasonable, therefore, to suggest that for a minute amount of Shidafon, the Shofar is blown without a Ta'anis.
(a) The SEFAS EMES answers that perhaps Rashi's intention is as follows. Rashi maintains that since Ashkelon -- where the incident in the Mishnah occurred -- was in Chutz la'Aretz (see Gitin 2a), it was necessary only to fast and not to blow the Shofar. This is what Rashi means when he says that the Mishnah refers to fasting; the Mishnah is discussing Shidafon in Chutz la'Aretz for which a Ta'anis is declared but the Shofar is not blown. Moreover, when the Shidafon is outside of Eretz Yisrael there must be a minimum amount of damage (enough to fill the opening of an oven) in order to declare a Ta'anis. Rebbi Akiva in the Beraisa is discussing Shidafon in Eretz Yisrael, in which case the Shofar is blown in addition to fasting. Just as Shidafon in Eretz Yisrael is more severe than in Chutz la'Aretz (in that both the Shofar is blown and a Ta'anis is declared), it is also more severe in that the Shofar is blown (and a Ta'anis is declared) for any amount.
(b) The Tana'im in the Mishnah argue about the cities near a city which is suffering from drought and famine. The Tana Kama says that the surrounding cities fast but do not blow the Shofar, while Rebbi Akiva says that those cities blow the Shofar but do not fast. Most Rishonim rule that those cities fast but do not blow the Shofar (like the Tana Kama).
Even though Rashi seems to rule like the Rishonim who say that first a Ta'anis is declared, and then, if the threat increases, the Shofar is blown, here Rashi says that first the Shofar is blown, and then a Ta'anis is declared if the threat increases. Rashi gives this explanation here because the Beraisa is expressing the opinion of Rebbi Akiva, and it is Rebbi Akiva in the Mishnah who says that the Shofar is blown without fasting. (Rebbi Akiva maintains that the blowing of the Shofar is a less severe reaction than the declaration of a Ta'anis.) Rashi is saying that Rebbi Akiva in the Beraisa is consistent with his opinion in the Mishnah. Since Rebbi Akiva maintains that the Shofar is blown before a Ta'anis is declared, he says that the Mishnah's incident -- in which a fast was declared only because a minimum amount of Shidafon was found -- refers specifically to fasting. The Shofar is blown even when a minute amount of Shidafon is found. The Chachamim, in contrast, maintain that both the Shofar is blown and a Ta'anis is declared only when there is enough Shidafon to fill the opening of an oven. (Rashi could have said that Rebbi Akiva argues entirely with the ruling of the elders in Ashkelon, just as he argues with the Tana Kama with regard to the Halachah, but Rashi preferred not to have Rebbi Akiva arguing with the Tana Kama about a factual occurrence.)
2) A DIVINELY-SENT BEAST
QUESTION: The Beraisa says that when a wild animal is at large and threatens the safety of the townspeople, the Shofar is blown only if that wild animal is "Divinely sent" ("Meshulachas"). The Shofar is not blown when the wild animal is merely roaming around naturally. The Beraisa describes at length what constitutes a wild animal which is Divinely sent and one which is not (see Chart).
The Beraisa says that a wild animal which kills two people and eats only one of them is Divinely sent, because a wild animal normally does not kill people unless it is hungry, in which case it eats whoever it kills. Therefore, if it kills two people and eats only one of them, this is a sign that the animal is Divinely sent. TOSFOS says that the animal is also Divinely sent if it kills two people and eats neither of them, and that the Beraisa is teaching a Chidush by saying that it is Divinely sent even when it eats a person (that is, one might have thought that since it ate a person, it was hungry and is not Divinely sent).
Why does the Gemara define "Divinely sent" as a beast that killed two people and ate only one of them? The Beraisa should say that it is Divinely sent if it killed even one person and did not eat him! The fact that it killed him but did not eat him shows that it killed due to Divine retribution and not because it was hungry. (GEVURAS ARI)
(a) The GEVURAS ARI answers that the Beraisa intends to teach a greater Chidush when it says that the beast killed two people. One might have thought that when a beast kills two people and eats only one of them, it is not considered Divinely sent because perhaps it was merely hungry and just happened to kill more than it needed (and had leftovers), as Tosfos suggests. The Beraisa therefore teaches that wild animals kill only as much as they need to eat and no more. Certainly the animal is Divinely sent if it kills one person and does not eat him, or kills two people and eats none.
(b) The SEFAS EMES argues and says that the animal is Divinely sent only if it kills two people and eats one. If it kills one and does not eat him, it is not Divinely sent. The reason for this is because the Gemara in Shabbos (151b) says that even a lion is afraid to attack two people. In contrast, when an animal sees a single person and is afraid of him, the animal does not necessarily run away; it might attack the person out of self-defense and not because it is hungry (and thus it will not eat the person). Therefore, if a wild animal kills (or pursues) a single person -- even if the animal does not eat its victim -- this is no sign that it is Divinely sent. Perhaps the animal killed him out of fear. In contrast, an animal does not attack two people out of fear, but only if it is hungry. Hence, if it killed two people because it was hungry, it should have eaten them both as well. The fact that it ate only one shows that it is Divinely sent.
3) FASTING ON BEHALF OF SOMEONE ELSE'S TROUBLES
QUESTION: When a city is in danger (for example, it is surrounded by Nochrim or by a flooding river), or when a boat is being tossed around by a violent storm at sea, a single person is permitted to "afflict" ("l'Sagef") himself by fasting, according to the Tana Kama of the Beraisa. Rebbi Yosi argues and says that one is not permitted to afflict himself by fasting because he might become sick and unable to work, and then he will have to resort to begging.
Apparently, all agree that when a city or person is threatened with mortal danger, there is no obligation for an individual to fast on behalf of that city or person (when no public Ta'anis has been declared). The Tana Kama and Rebbi Yosi argue only whether one is permitted to fast if he wants to do so.
This Beraisa seems to contradict the Mishnah earlier (18b) which states that if rain does not fall on one city, the surrounding cities fast for the city in distress. How is the Beraisa here to be reconciled with the Mishnah earlier?
(a) RASHI in the Mishnah (19a) answers that the cities around the city in trouble do not fast for the other city's trouble, but they fast for themselves. Since the residents of the drought-afflicted city must buy their food from the surrounding cities, those cities are also threatened by a depletion of their food supply.
However, the RAMBAN, RITVA, and other Rishonim there disagree with Rashi. They maintain that the surrounding cities fast in sympathy for the city in distress.
(b) The RAMBAN (cited by the Ran) answers that fasting for someone else's distress depends on what type of Tzarah threatens him. The Beraisa here refers to an immediate, mortal danger. In such a case, the people in danger are unable to fast themselves because they are occupied with worldly efforts to save themselves. Since they cannot fast, the people around them also have no obligation to fast because no fast is observed on behalf of someone who himself has no obligation to fast.
(c) The RAN answers that in a case of immediate danger, the people do not observe the normal series of Monday-Thursday-Monday fasts, but rather they observe consecutive fasts, day after day, until their prayers are answered. It is not possible to obligate surrounding cities to fast such consecutive Ta'aniyos. Therefore, in such a case of immediate danger, the Chachamim did not require the surrounding cities to fast at all. The argument between the Tana Kama and Rebbi Yosi is whether an individual is permitted to fast consecutive fasts one day after another. That is why they refer to an individual who fasts in such a case as "l'Sagef," literally one who "tortures" himself (as fasting for consecutive days is like torture).
The Ran's explanation answers another question. The Amora'im (11a) disagree about whether a person who observes a private fast is considered a sinner or a holy person. Why does neither opinion there cite support from the Tana'im in the Beraisa here? (See TOSFOS DH Rebbi Yosi.)
The Ran answers that the argument here between the Tana Kama and Rebbi Yosi is unrelated to the argument between the Amora'im there with regard to whether one who fasts acts properly or improperly. Everyone agrees that it is not good to fast for consecutive days, because such fasts may weaken the person to the point that he becomes unable to support himself. (An ordinary person is not physically strong enough to afflict himself in such a manner.)
(d) The RAMBAN (end of 19a) offers a different solution. He explains that the Chachamim did not institute that the public must fast when an individual (or individuals) are in danger. The public must fast only when the entire community is in danger. Rebbi Yosi and the Rabanan argue only about a case in which individuals are in danger, such as the case of a ship on stormy seas or a person being pursued by Nochrim. (They do not argue about the case of a city surrounded by Nochrim or by a river.)