In today’s daf (Pesachim 62b) reference is made to a now-lost work called the ספר יוחסין (literally, ‘a book of lineages’), which is explained by various commentaries to be a profound book that explained various ancestral roots and different spiritual values from verses and names found in sefer Divrei HaYamim (The Book of Chronicles).
We are told that Rabbi Simlai, who was then a young student, approached Rabbi Yochanan and asked to be taught the ספר יוחסין. Rabbi Yochanan first denied his request – seemingly because he felt that Rabbi Simlai would find information in this work about his ancestral roots that would make for uncomfortable reading.
However, Rabbi Simlai persisted with his requests and eventually Rabbi Yochanan agreed to his request. Yet it was at this point that Rabbi Simlai revealed his (then) immaturity to Rabbi Yochanan – because he asked that they complete their study of the ספר יוחסין over a three-month period. This angered Rabbi Yochanan who replied: ‘If Bruriah… who would learn 300 rulings each day from 300 different scholars (i.e. she was a remarkable scholar!) took over three years to complete her study of the ספר יוחסין, [it is a sign of your impertinence and immaturity that] you think you can complete it in three months?!’. Immediately after this, Rabbi Simlai asked Rabbi Yochanan a question relating to the offering the Korban Pesach ‘lishma’ (for the right intentions) and the status of such an offering which, when slaughtered, was intended both for individuals who can consume its meat, as well as those who – for a variety of technical reasons – cannot.
Some people might think that the request by Rabbi Simlai to study the ספר יוחסין, and his question to Rabbi Yochanan about the Korban Pesach, are unrelated. However, I believe they are completely connected to one another.
As mentioned, the ספר יוחסין listed various ancestral roots and this is why Rabbi Yochanan first refused Rabbi Simlai’s request to study this work – apparently because he felt that Rabbi Simlai would discover uncomfortable information in the ספר יוחסין about his ancestral roots (i.e. Rabbi Yochanan believed that there were ‘skeletons in the closet’ of Rabbi Simlai’s family which he was reluctant to share with him).
However, it seems that this is exactly what Rabbi Simlai was trying to understand. What were his roots? Where did he come from? He already had a hunch that there were some elements of his family’s past that were kept under wraps and that were shrouded in mystery. However, he himself was a sincere and well-intentioned young Torah scholar. Given this, he believed that while there may have been those in his family’s past who had acted improperly in one way or another, should this really impact on who he is and on his ‘kashrut’? This is why he approached Rabbi Yochanan to study the ספר יוחסין.
Yet, it was when he told Rabbi Yochanan that he wanted to complete his study in three months that Rabbi Simlai revealed his immaturity. Simply put, the study of the ספר יוחסין was deep and difficult learning which needed to be studied slowly and with care, and attempting to study this work in three months was indicative of the fact that Rabbi Simlai wished to approach this study with irresponsible rashness. The issue was no longer whether Rabbi Simlai could study the ספר יוחסין, but rather, whether he could handle the truths that it contained. And by wishing to quickly read this complex work, Rabbi Yochanan concluded that, at least at that moment in time, Rabbi Simlai couldn’t handle those truths.
Still, the same questions nagged at Rabbi Simlai – namely that if he came from a family with skeletons in the closet, and if he had the right intentions as a loyal servant of God, then what was his status? And this is why I believe Rabbi Simlai then turned to Rabbi Yochanan and asked him a question relating to the offering the Korban Pesach ‘lishma’ (for the right intentions) and the status of such an offering which, when slaughtered, was intended both for individuals who could consume its meat, as well as those who could not. And through his reply, it seems that Rabbi Yochanan was able to give Rabbi Simlai some desperately needed peace of mind.