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Broken Tablets

讗指诪址专 专址讘 讬讜止住值祝, 转旨指谞值讬 专址讘旨执讬: 讛指讬讜旨 砖讈职诇止砖讈指讛 鈥 讗植住讜旨专执讬谉 讗植诪址专 诇职讛讜旨 专址讘 讘旨执讬讘执讬: 诇指讗 转旨职爪执讬转讜旨 诇值讬讛旨, 讗植谞指讗 讗址诪职专执讬转址讛旨 谞执讬讛植诇值讛旨, 讜旨诪执砖旨讈职诪值讬讛旨 讚旨职专址讘 讗址讚旨指讗 讘旨址专 讗址讛植讘指讛 讗址诪职专执讬转址讛旨 谞执讬讛植诇值讛旨, 讛讜止讗执讬诇 讜址讗植谞执讬 拽讜止专值讗 讘旨指讛侄谉 专址讘旨执讬诐 讘旨址讞执讬爪讜止谞指讛. 讗指诪址专 专址讘 讬讜止住值祝: 诪指专值讬讛旨 讚旨职讗址讘职专指讛指诐! 状专址讘旨执讬诐状 讘旨职状专址讘旨执讬状 讗执讬讞址诇旨址祝 诇执讬.

“Rav Yosef said: Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi teaches that if there were three they are prohibited from carrying without an eiruv. Rav Beivai said to the Sages: Do not listen to him, as he is mistaken. I told it to him, and I told it to him in the name of Rav Adda bar Ahava, not Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi, but due to his illness, Rav Yosef forgot this detail. When he heard this, Rav Yosef said in astonishment: Master of Abraham! I mistook the word Rabbi for the word many [rabbim].” (Eruvin 75)

On this page of Eruvin we have a story that seems commonplace enough. Rav Yosef presents a law in the name of Rabbi Judah the Prince: Rebbe, but it seems he has misheard and it is not Rebbe but rabbim, many. Mishearing something or even misremembering it is a common occurrence and we would not have thought much of it except that Rashi explains:

讻砖砖讻讞转讬 讛讚讘专 讘讞诇讬 “When I forgot the matter in my illness”

It seems Rav Yosef had been sick and due to his illness, he forgot much of what he had taught. The story gets sadder but before we dive into it, let us understand who was Rav Yosef.

Rav Yosef bar Hiyya was a third-generation Amora in Babylonia (late 3rd 鈥 early 4th century CE). His main teacher was Rav Yehuda, the founder of the yeshiva in Pumbedita.

Pumbedita was located where modern day Fallujah, Iraq is (Wikipedia)

When Rav Yehuda died, Rav Yosef was meant to be his successor. However, 聽his contemporary Rabba bar Nahmani 专讘讛 was also a worthy candidate. Rav Yosef was known as Sinai, someone who contains within him all the Torah from Mount Sinai, and Rabba as Uprooter of Mountains 注讜拽专 讛专讬诐, a sharp and analytical mind. They sent to the rabbis of Israel to ask which candidate is preferable and the answer was Sinai, Rav Yosef. Having all the Torah at your fingertips is a more useful quality for the head of a yeshiva than an analytical bent, extraordinary as it may be. Despite this, Rav Yosef deferred to Rabba and made him become the Rosh Yeshiva. Only when Rabba died decades later did Rav Yosef become the head of Pumbedita. During that whole time, he treated Rabba with extraordinary respect.

Rav Yosef鈥檚 main students were Abaye and Rava 专讘讗. two of the most important and most quoted Amoraim in the Babylonian Talmud. They each treated him with great respect, Abaye even stood up when he saw Rav Yosef鈥檚 donkey approaching, even before Rav Yosef himself came into view. Rav Yosef was wealthy and owned fields and vineyards and gave much charity. Despite all this honor, Rav Yosef remained a very humble man and one who greatly respected other scholars. He understood that Torah learning had given him his high position in society:

“Rav Yosef, on the day of Shavuot, would say: Prepare me a choice third-born calf. He said: If not for this day on which the Torah was given, how many Yosefs would there be in the market?” (Pesachim 68b)

Besides being a repository for mishnayot and beraitot (he is quoted numerous times as bringing a Tannaitic source 转谞讬 专讘 讬讜住祝), Rav Yosef was also well versed in Tanakh and its meaning. All this knowledge made him a significant resource in the days when everything was oral. And then came the downfall.

Nedarim 41 has a long discussion about sickness and how it affects people. It is there that we hear the story of Rav Yosef:

“Rav Yosef himself fell ill and his studies were forgotten. Abaye restored his studies by reviewing what he had learned from Rav Yosef before him. This is the background for that which we say everywhere throughout the Talmud, that Rav Yosef said: I did not learn this halakha, and Abaye said to him in response: You said this to us and it was from this baraita that you said it to us.”

Some form of sickness affected Rav Yosef鈥檚 memory and he forgot that huge store of learning. And indeed, eight times in the Babylonian Talmud (interestingly, five times out of the eight are in Eruvin) we have a dialogue between Rav Yosef and Abaye, his pupil. Rav Yosef says I don鈥檛 know this halacha and Abaye gently reminds him, no Rebbe, you are the one who taught it to us, here is what you said. On our daf as well we do not have the dialogue with Abaye, only the embarrassment of Rav Yosef when he hears his error. Rav Yosef partly remembers the halacha, but he is confused. Then it comes back to him and all is clear.

Rav Yosef鈥檚 illness was compounded by the fact that at some point he became blind. Imagine this brilliant man, who contained so much Torah inside him, reduced to blindness and to having his own teachings explained to him by his student. And yet, Rav Yosef is not a tragic or pathetic figure in the Talmud. He is respected, even becomes Rosh Yeshiva at the end of his life, and continues to learn and to teach. Perhaps his humility and his understanding that Torah was much greater and all-encompassing than one person was a source of comfort to him. Or perhaps the fact that he had such patient and loving students, who remembered his glory days and still respected him in his illness, was the reason. Either way, Rav Yosef tells us of this powerful statement about memory and old age:

聽转谞讬 专讘 讬讜住祝 诪诇诪讚 砖讛诇讜讞讜转 讜砖讘专讬 诇讜讞讜转 诪讜谞讞讬谉 讘讗专讜谉 诪讻讗谉 诇转诇诪讬讚 讞讻诐 砖砖讻讞 转诇诪讜讚讜 诪讞诪转 讗讜谞住讜 砖讗讬谉 谞讜讛讙讬谉 讘讜 诪谞讛讙 讘讝讬讜谉

“Rav Yosef teaches a baraita: This verse teaches that both the tablets of the Covenant and the pieces of the broken tablets are placed in the Ark. One should learn from here that with regard to a Torah scholar who has forgotten his Torah knowledge due to circumstances beyond his control, e.g., illness, one may not behave toward him in a degrading manner.” (Menachot 99a)

May we all merit to honor the greatness in our midst, even when it isn鈥檛 immediately obvious to us.

 

Shulie Mishkin

Shulie Mishkin made Aliyah from New York with a Master's degree in Jewish History from Columbia University. After completing the Ministry of Tourism guide course in 1997, she began guiding professionally and has since taught and guided all ages, from toddlers to retirees. Her tours provide a complete picture of the land of Israel and Jewish heritage, with a strong reliance on sources ranging from the Bible to 19th century travelers' reports. Alongside her regular guide work, she teaches "tour and text" courses in the Jerusalem institutions of Pardes and Matan as wel as the Women's Bet Midrash in Efrat and provides tours for special needs students in the 鈥淒arkaynu鈥 program. Shulie lives in Alon Shvut with her husband Jonathan and their five kids. Shulie Mishkin is now doing virtual tours online. Check out the options at https://www.shuliemishkintours.com/virtual-tours
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