July 12, 2022

Yevamot 122

Mazal Tov! Today, those studying Daf Yomi complete their study of Massechet Yevamot which has spanned 4 months! and which has challenged even the most experience of learners. For all those who were able to keep up during this tough stretch – great work!

For today’s thought for our final daf (Yevamot 122b) – thereby celebrating our siyum of Massechet Yevamot – I would like to share a beautiful idea taught by Rabbi Azriel Hildesheimer (1820-1899) on his completion of Massechet Yevamot (as found in ‘Chiddushei Rabbi Azriel’ p. 160).

Rabbi Hildesheimer begins at the end by referencing the final line of the Gemara where we are taught that: ‘Rabbi Elazar said in the name of Rabbi Chanina: “Torah scholars increase peace in the world, as it says: ‘וְכָל בָּנַיִךְ לִמּוּדֵי ה’ וְרַב שְׁלוֹם בָּנָיִךְ – And all your children will be students of God and great will be your children’s peace’ (Yeshayahu 54:13)”’ – with his three questions being: (i) What is the connection between this teaching (which, it should be noted, is also cited at the end of Brachot, Nazir and Keritut), and the other teachings found on our daf? (ii) Why are we taught that ‘Torah scholars increase peace in the world’ since surely everyone can do their bit to increase peace in the world?, and, (iii) Why does the verse speak of ‘students of God’ (למודי ה’) as opposed to ‘students of Torah’ (למודי תורה)?

He begins his answer by referring to the two previously recorded stories in our daf. The first tells a story about a woman who testifies about the death of her husband which concludes with Rabbi Tarfon – like Rabbi Akiva – not requiring further investigation about her testimony prior to a formal decision being made by a Beit Din. Contrasting this, the second tells a similar story concluding that Rabbi Tarfon does demand that a woman’s testimony about the death of her husband requires further investigation.

According to Rabbi Hildesheimer, the second story actually occurred first. But then, having consulted with Rabbi Akiva, Rabbi Tarfon changed his mind as reflected by the first story. Having interpreted our Gemara this way, Rabbi Hildesheimer explains that this teaches us how when two scholars – with different halachic views – come together and learn from each other, they can ‘increase peace in the world’ and reach therefore conclusions that are for the betterment of the lives of others. However, and here is where he addresses why the verse states למודי ה’ rather than למודי תורה, this requires that each scholar must approach their discussion with a deep awareness that they are both servants of God and that their intentions are לשם שמים – ‘for the sake of heaven’.

Having explained this, Rabbi Hildesheimer then elegantly returns to the beginning of Massechet Yevamot where we were taught in the opening Mishna about the prohibition of marrying צרות (rival wives) which is the position of Beit Hillel, while in contrast, Beit Shammai permit such marriages. Yet notwithstanding this substantive disagreement we are then taught (see Yevamot 14b) that ‘despite these disagreements, Beit Shammai did not refrain from marrying women of Beit Hillel, and Beit Hillel [did not refrain from marrying women] of Beit Shammai, to teach us that each group treated each other with affection and kinship in fulfilment of the verse “וְהָאֱמֶת וְהַשָּׁלוֹם אֱהָבוּ – love truth and peace” (Zechariah 8:19)’.

Overall, and this is what I hope I have conveyed in my daily commentary on Massechet Yevamot, while there are many different ways to approach Torah, the ideal approach should be one that is rooted in our deep awareness of God, and that seeks to foster peace and the betterment of the lives of others.

Mazal Tov & הדרן עלך מסכת יבמות!

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