Chanukah essay: Lighting one lamp from another on the Chanukah Menorah - Tribute to Rabbi Lord Sacks

Thursday, 2 December, 2021 - 11:07 pm

Menorah BL Add 15250.pngIn a lecture by Rabbi Sacks to the international Chabad Shluchim rabbinic conference in 2011,[1] he touched on a Talmudic dispute in tractate Shabbat,[2] regarding whether one may light one lamp from another on the Chanukah Menorah. He summarised the subject as follows: The sage Rav maintains it is forbidden to light one lamp from another, while his contemporary Shmuel says that it is permitted. The reason for this dispute is that Rav argues that when one lights one candle from another it diminishes the mitzvah (ka makchi-sh mitzvah) - oil may spill from the first candle.[3] Shmuel, however, is not concerned about this. In all cases, the law follows Rav in disputes with Shmuel,[4] besides three cases, one of which is this one.[5] Rabbi Sacks proceeded to explain that the underlying argument of Rav and Shmuel may be found in the debate within the Jewish world: when one shares one spiritual connection with G-d with another, does it diminish one’s own connection? To be a Chassid is to follow Rav, that by sharing one’s own spiritual light with another, not only it does not diminish one’s own light but it creates more light.



In this essay, we will explore further this teaching of the Talmud, which requires more detailed analysis, but due to the nature of Rabbi Sacks' public address, only focused on a single approach and was limited in scope. We will delve more deeply into the rationale of the opinions and arguments of these two great sages, Rav and Shmuel, in the context of their argument about the Menorah, and demonstrate how this local argument is in fact connected to a much broader, long-running argument between these two sages that runs through many tractates of the Talmud.


Two reasons – diminish and demean


In the Talmud, there is not one but two reasons given for the view of Rav and Shmuel, whether one may light a lamp from another lamp on the Menorah. The first reason is the concern for the diminishment of the mitzvah. Talmudic sage, Rav Ada Bar Ahavah, however, disagreed with this reason and said the reason is out of concern that by transferring light from one lamp to another it demeans the mitzvah. The Talmud presents the practical difference between these two reasons: if one uses a wooden chip to light the flame from the first lamp, there remains concern of demeaning of the mitzvah, and also diminishing the mitzvah, while if one transfers the lamp directly there is only concern for diminishing but not demeaning, as one is lighting a second mitzvah directly. 


The Talmud then proceeds to challenge the reasoning of diminishing: since one finds that in the Temple they in fact transferred light from one lamp to another, this would reject the concern of diminishing as a valid concern. The conclusion of the Talmud is the question: what is the final ruling regarding the transfer of light on a Menorah from one lamp to another? The Talmud answers it depends on the dispute whether the mitzvah is to kindle the Menorah or to place the Menorah in a place that is seen by others to publicise the miracle of the lights, in which case the kindling is merely a prerequisite. Since, in the final analysis, the mitzvah is to kindle the Menorah, one may light one lamp from another, as there is no interruption of a non-Mitzvah action, between the first Mitzvah (kindling the first light) and the second Mitzvah (lighting the second light). 


Unresolved question regarding a chip of wood


Despite the fact that the Talmud concludes that it is permissible to light one lamp from another, the precise nature of the permissibility remains unresolved and continued to be so through the Middle Ages up until today. The question is: does the Talmud follow the view that Shmuel permits the transfer of light also via a chip of wood or only directly from one lamp to another. This question hinges on whether the Talmud ultimate upholds the reason of concern of diminishing the mitzvah or rejects this reason. If it rejects the reason, as it appears to do by the question from the Temple lighting, then the dispute between Rav and Shmuel concerns demeaning of the mitzvah via a wooden chip. Since the halacha follows Shmuel, who permits the transfer of light on a Menorah, this extends also to transfer via a chip of wood. If the reason of diminishment is not ultimately rejected, but rather merely queried and then reopened in the final stage of the Talmudic discussion pertaining to what the actual law is, then Shmuel's permissibility only extends to directly lighting of the second lamp from the first lamp, but would be in agreement with Rav regarding a lighting with a chip of wood, that it is demeaning and therefore prohibited.


Since the Talmud does not make itself crystal clear regarding how one should be reading the text, this question whether one may light via a chop of wood remains a matter of unresolved dispute. The rabbis in Spain, France and England all had views of this subject. 


Menorah MS. Huntington 452, Fol 7a.pngProhibits lighting a chip of wood – Maimonides, Nachmanides, Rashba


A brief overview of the opinions of this subject in the Middle Ages: Maimonides had the view that only direct transfer of light was permitted. The Mishneh Torah, Laws of Chanukah (4:9), states: ‘It is permissible to light one Chanukah candle from another Chanukah candle' - without elaborating whether this refers to directly or also with a chip of wood.


The Magid Mishneh and Lechem Mishneh clarify, however, that Maimonides refers only to direct transfer of the flame, but does not extend to a chip of wood. This view of Maimonides is consistent with his view in laws of Temidin u-Musafim:[6]


How are [the lamps of the Menorah] kindled? One should pull its wick out until he kindles it [from another one of the lamps]. He must extend the wicks,] because the lamps are permanently affixed within the Menorah. And he may not use another lamp, because that would be disrespectful.'


The reason given for Maimonides' view is, as cited by Magid Mishneh: since when lighting a chip of wood, one is not performing a mitzvah. The Talmud only states: 'one may light from one lamp to another lamp,' similar to the case the Talmud cites pertaining to the lighting of the Menorah in the Temple, whereby they would use long wicks to light the adjacent lamp, since the lamps were fixed on the Menorah.


Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet, known as the Rashba (1235-1310), followed the view of Maimonides that transfer of flame with a chip of wood is prohibited. Likewise, Rabbi Moses ben Nachman, known as the Ramban (1194-1270)[7] ruled that lighting one lamp from another with a chip of wood is prohibited. The reason he gives is since the Talmud concludes that if the mitzvah is to place the Menorah, as opposed to kindling, one would be prohibited from transferring a candle from one lamp to another, since the lighting itself is not a mitzvah but merely a mundane prerequisite to the placing of the Menorah that constitutes the mitzvah itself, thus demeaning the mitzvah during the lighting. Ramban argues that lighting the flame with a chip of wood should be considered no less a demeaning of the mitzvah than lighting the second candle, according to the view that the lighting of the candle is itself not the mitzvah - in both cases, the person is demeaning the mitzvah by transferring the flame via a chip of wood that is not itself a mitzvah.[8]


As the Spanish rabbis prohibit indirect transfer of the flame, the French Tosafist on the Talmud also cites the view that transfer of the flame is prohibited when done through a non-sacred item. This follows the view that the conclusion of the Talmud is to in fact follow the view of Rav (See Biur Hagra on Shulchan Aruch 674:1). If the transfer of flame is done directly, both Rav and Shmuel agree it is permitted.


Permits lighting a chip of wood


Rabbi Abraham ben David, known as the Ra'avad (1120-11980, in his gloss on Maimonides, writes, according to most versions, three words: 'and with a chip of wood (v'al ye-dei kinsa).' With this addition, he is highlighting his view in contrast with Maimonides, that one may transfer the light from a lamp on the Menorah via a chip of wood, and that it does not constitute a demeaning of the mitzvah, following Shmuel in the Talmud. The same is an alternative view presented in the French Tosafist commentary on tractate Shabbat (23a), recorded also by French Tosafist Rabbi Baruch ben Isaac (c. 1140-1212) in his work Sefer ha-Terumah. Likewise, writes Rabbi Isaac of Cobeil (d. 1280) in Sefer Mitzvot Katan (Semak): one is permitted to light a chip of wood from a Chanukah Menorah to light a Shabbat candle and vice versa, as well as to light a Chanukah candle from another Chanukah candle and to light a Shabbat candle to light a Shabbat candle. This is permitted as long as one intends to light from the chip of wood another light that is a mitzvah. The same is the view of R. Jacob ben Judah Chazzan of London, in his legal work Etz Chaim.[9]While following the text of Maimonides’ Mishneh Torah in the laws of Chanukah, he diverges in this case by adding: ‘one may light a candle of Chanukah from another candle of Chanukah, and may even light a non-sacred candle, if it is for the purpose of lighting a candle of a mitzvah.’ This would reflect the custom in England in the 13th century. This is also the view of German Tosafist, Rabbi Meir Ha-Kohen, in his legal work Hagahot Maimuniyut.[10] Hagahot Maimuniyut concludes however that while the French Tosafist rule that it is permitted to transfer a light even with a chip of wood, it is customary to be stringent and one should not change this custom.


Rabbi Aaron Ha-levi of Bareclona (Ra'ah), cited by Rabbi Nissim of Gerona, known as the Ran,[11] also argues, that following the conclusion of the Talmud that the mitzvah is the kindling and not the placing of the Menorah, one may transfer from one lamp to another in any event. The presenting of this distinction in the Talmud between kindling and placing, in his view, stating that the mitzvah is the lighting and not the placing of the Menorah, is specifically intended to imply that the permission to transfer a flame from candle to another extends also to lighting with a chip of wood, following the view of the Ra'avad.


Rabbi Joseph Karo – two views


Reflecting the opposing views on this subject, and the two ways to read the text of the Talmud, 16th century codifier of Jewish law, Rabbi Joseph Karo, in his Shulchan Aruch,[12] cites both opinions: the view of Nachmanides that lighting with a non-sacred candle is prohibited, before citing the view of Rabbi Baruch ben Isaac and the Ran that it is permitted. Rabbi Moses Isserles in his gloss cites the view of Rabbi Meir Ha-Kohen that one should be nonetheless stringent not to even transfer a flame directly, since the core mitzvah is only to kindle a single lamp; transferring to a second lamp is demeaning of the core mitzvah.


Sharing is not diminishing


Rabbi Sacks posed a question: why does the halacha follow Shmuel in this case and not Rav, as it does in the vast majority of cases, where Rav and Shmuel argue? He suggested that it is to teach that when one shares light with another, it does not only not diminish one’s own light but creates more light. The rejection of the idea that lighting a second candle diminishes the first is found in the 17th century by R. Ya'akov Moshe Ashkenazi (1630-1700),[13] where he references this idea in the context of the Chanukah Menorah, with the midrashic teaching regarding Moses not being diminished when sharing his greatness with Joshua:[14]


Now if you say, “Since the elders had their prophecy from what belonged to Moses, might it not have lessened his prophecy somewhat?” [The answer is] no. To what may Moses be compared? To a lamp which was lit andSifre to Numb. 11:17 (93). everyone lights up from it; yet its light is in no way diminished. So also in the case of Moses. Although the prophets took of his prophecy, the prophecy of Moses was in no way diminished. [It is so stated] (in Deut. 34:10), “And never again did there arise in Israel a prophet like Moses.”


Menorah MS. Kennicott 1.pngRashi – appearance of diminishing


According to Rashi, the concern is only that it may appear to diminish the oil from the first candle,[15] when its light is used to light a second candle, but not that there is an actual loss. Nevertheless, according to R. Ya'akov Moshe Ashkenazi, this applies also to the sharing of the spirit from Moses to Joshua. Accordingly, just as this concern of loss of light is rejected in the midrash in the context of Moses being diminished when sharing his spirit with Joshua, the same is the case regarding the lack of concern that lighting of one candle from another even gives an appearance of diminishment of the first candle.


Reason for dispute


What is the underlying reason why Shmuel is not concerned about the transfer of one flame to another, while Rav is concerned? The question may be asked more broadly: is there an undercurrent that may connect the reasoning of Rav and Shmuel in other disputes throughout the Talmud that may be relevant to the case of the lighting one candle from another? There are three theories to the underlying reasoning for the disputes between Rav and Shmuel throughout the work of the Talmud. Rabbi Reuven Margaliot (1889-1971) writes in Shem Olam[16] that Rav follows the simple understanding of the biblical text - p’shat, while Shmuel follows the midrashic.[17]17th century German Rabbi Yair Chaim Bacharach (1639-1702) suggested that the intellectual difference between Rav and Shmuel is that Rav was extremely erudite (sinai), while Shmuel was sharp (oker harim).[18] This is reflected in the dispute about whether should prefer the study of Mishna over Talmud or vice versa:


The Talmud states in Bava Batra[19] that Rav preferred the study of Mishnah:


Rabbi Zeira says that Rav says: What is the meaning of that which is written: “All the days of the poor are terrible; and for the good-hearted it is always a feast” (Proverbs 15:15)? “All the days of the poor are terrible”; this is referring to the master of Talmud, who is wearied by the difficulty of his Talmud study. “And for the good-hearted it is always a feast”; this is referring to the master of Mishna, who recites the mishnayot by rote and is not wearied thereby.


In the Talmud in tractate Chagigah[20] it states that Shmuel preferred the study of Talmud:


“Neither was there any peace to him that went out or came in due to the adversary” (Zechariah 8:10). Shmuel said: This is referring to one who leaves the study of Talmud to learn Mishna. Whereas the reasoning of the Talmud is relatively clear, the Mishna cites legal rulings without explaining their reasoning.


Pertaining to Shmuel, the Talmud cites the adage:[21] ‘This explains the folk saying that people say: One spicy pepper is better than a basketful of squash, as the single pepper has more flavour than all the squash combined.


In a similar vein, the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,[22] presents a theory that Shmuel looks at the broader context when interpreting a biblical verse, even when it diverges from the simple meaning, while Rav insists on the simple meaning.


This would explain the reason for Rav and Shmuel, whether one may light one candle from another. When looking at any particular situation, does one only look at what meets the eye in the present, or does one look at its broader context, taking into consideration at times also purpose. Shmuel would argue that one must always look at the case at hand in view of its broader context and purpose, while Rav looks only at the reality in the present. In the case of the transfer of the lamps of the Menorah, one can look at it in two ways: in the view of Rav, one is focused on the present act - removal of a light from a mitzvah to another lamp via a chip of wood. This is demeaning of the first mitzvah. Shmuel would argue, that since it is being used for the purpose of lighting another mitzvah, it is not considered demeaning at all. 


Maimonides agrees


Based on this delineation of the reasoning of Rav and Shmuel, we may present an alternative view of Maimonides regarding the transfer of light on the Chanukah Menorah. While we stated earlier that Maimonides prohibits the transfer of fire on the Menorah via a chip of wood, some read the gloss of the Ra'avad as arguing the opposite:[23] the view of Maimonides is that it is permitted to light via a chip of wood, and Ra'avad argues that it is prohibited. A support for this consideration is from the view of Maimonides on a different but related subject. Maimonides writes in Laws of Kings[24] that it is prohibited to leave Israel, besides to marry, study Torah or livelihood. The Talmud,[25] however, gives an additional case: to greet one's mother when coming to Israel. A reason why Maimonides does not cite this additional case is since Maimonides would not view this as leaving Israel at all, since it is for the purpose of greeting one’s mother arriving into Israel; there would be no need to even mention such a case.[26] Similarly, Maimonides would argue that lighting a candle from another candle on the Menorah is permitted even via a chip of wood, since it is for the purpose of lighting another mitzvah.


Comprehensive disputes between Rav and Shmuel


This reasoning of Rav and Shmuel regarding the above dispute may explain a great number of other disputes between Rav and Shmuel, found throughout the work of the Talmud. The following our cases where Rav and Shmuel dispute in a similar manner:


1. Limb or womb projection – (Eruvin 53a):

The Talmud cites a dispute with regard to the mishna’s terminology. Rav and Shmuel disagreed: One taught that the term in the mishna is me’abberin, with the letter ‘ayin,’ and one taught that the term in the mishna is me’abberin, with the letter ‘alef.’ The Talmud explains: The one who taught me’abberin with an ‘alef’ explained the term in the sense of limb [ever] by limb. Determination of the city’s borders involves the addition of limbs to the core section of the city. And the one who taught me’abberin with an ‘ayin’ explained the term in the sense of a pregnant woman [ubbera] whose belly protrudes. In similar fashion, all the city’s protrusions are incorporated in its Shabbat limit.


2. The Machpelah Cave (Eruvin 53a):

With regard to the Machpelah Cave, in which the Patriarchs and Matriarchs are buried, Rav and Shmuel disagreed. One said: The cave consists of two rooms, one farther in than the other. And one said: It consists of a room and a second story above it. The Gemara asks: Granted, this is understandable according to the one who said the cave consists of one room above the other, as that is the meaning of Machpelah, double. However, according to the one who said it consists of two rooms, one farther in than the other, in what sense is it Machpelah? Even ordinary houses contain two rooms. Rather, it is called Machpelah in the sense that it is doubled with the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, who are buried there in pairs.


3. Nimrod and Amraphel – (Eruvin 53a):

They disagreed about this verse as well: “And it came to pass in the days of Amraphel” (Genesis 14:1). Rav and Shmuel both identified Amraphel with Nimrod. However, one said: Nimrod was his name. And why was his name called Amraphel? It is a contraction of two Hebrew words: As he said [amar] the command and cast [hippil] our father Abraham into the fiery furnace, when Abraham rebelled against and challenged his proclaimed divinity. And one said: Amraphel was his name. And why was his name called Nimrod? Because he caused the entire world to rebel [himrid] against God during his reign.


4. A new king over Egypt – (Eruvin 53a):

They also disagreed about this verse: “There arose a new king over Egypt, who knew not Joseph” (Exodus 1:8). Rav and Shmuel disagreed. One said: He was actually a new king, and one said: He was in fact the old king, but his decrees were new. The Gemara explains. The one who said he was actually a new king based his opinion on the fact that it is written in the verse that he was new. And the one who said that his decrees were new derived his opinion from the fact that it is not written: And the king died, and his successor reigned, as it is written, for example, with regard to the kings of Edom (Genesis 36). The Gemara asks: And according to the one who said that his decrees were new, isn’t it written: “Who knew not Joseph”? If it were the same king, how could he not know Joseph? The Gemara explains: What is the meaning of the phrase: “Who knew not Joseph”? It means that he conducted himself like one who did not know Joseph at all.


5. Joseph went to do his work - (Sotah 36b):

With regard to the phrase “when he went into the house to do his work,” Rav and Shmuel engage in a dispute with regard to its meaning. One says: It means that he went into the house to do his work, literally. And one says: He entered the house in order to fulfill his sexual needs with her.


6. In the days of Ahasuerus – (Megillah 11a):

The verse states: “And it came to pass [vayhi] in the days of Ahasuerus” (Esther 1:1). Rav said: The word vayhi may be understood as if it said vai and hi, meaning woe and mourning. This is as it is written: “And there you shall sell yourselves to your enemies for bondsmen and bondswomen, and no man shall buy you” (Deuteronomy 28:68). The repetitive nature of the verse, indicating that no one will be willing to buy you for servitude, but they will purchase you in order to murder you, indicates a doubly horrific situation, which is symbolized by the dual term vayhi, meaning woe and mourning. And Shmuel said his introduction from here: “And yet for all that, when they are in the land of their enemies, I will not reject them, nor will I abhor them, to destroy them utterly, and to break My covenant with them; for I am the Lord their G-d” (Leviticus 26:44). Shmuel explains: “I will not reject them”; this was in the days of the Greeks. “Nor will I abhor them”; this was in the days of Vespasian. “To destroy them utterly”; this was in the days of Haman. “To break My covenant with them”; this was in the days of the Persians. “For I am the Lord their God”; this is in the days of Gog and Magog.


7. The name Ahasuerus (Megillah 11a):

The Talmud continues with its explanation of the book of Esther, beginning with a discussion of the name Ahasuerus. Rav said: The name should be viewed as a contraction: The brother of the head [aḥiv shel rosh] and of the same character as the head [ben gilo shel rosh]. Rav explains: The brother of the head, i.e., the brother of the wicked Nebuchadnezzar, who is called “head,” as it is stated: “You are the head of gold” (Daniel 2:38). Of the same character as the head, for he, Nebuchadnezzar, killed the Jews, and he, Ahasuerus, sought to kill them. He destroyed the Temple, and he sought to destroy the foundations for the Temple laid by Zerubbabel, as it is stated: “And in the reign of Ahasuerus, in the beginning of his reign, they wrote to him an accusation against the inhabitants of Judah and Jerusalem” (Ezra 4:6), and he ordered that the construction of the Temple cease. And Shmuel said: The name Ahasuerus should be understood in the sense of black [shaḥor], as the face of the Jewish people was blackened in his days like the bottom of a pot.


8. From Hodu to Cush – (Megillah 11a)

The opening verse continues that Ahasuerus reigned “from Hodu to Cush.” Rav and Shmuel disagreed about its meaning. One said: Hodu is a country at one end of the world, and Cush is a country at the other end of the world. And one said: Hodu and Cush are situated next to each other, and the verse means to say as follows: Just as Ahasuerus reigned with ease over the adjacent countries of Hodu and Cush, so too, he reigned with ease from one end of the world to the other.


9. From Tiphsah even to Gaza - (Megillah 11a)

On a similar note, you say with regard to Solomon: “For he had dominion over all the region on this side of the river, from Tiphsah even to Gaza” (I Kings 5:4), and also with regard to this Rav and Shmuel disagreed. One said: Tiphsah is at one end of the world, whereas Gaza is at the other end of the world. And one said: Tiphsah and Gaza are situated next to each other, and the verse means to say as follows: Just as Solomon reigned with ease over the adjacent Tiphsah and Gaza, so too, he reigned with ease over the entire world.


10. Abraham planted an Eshel - (Sotah 10a)

And Abraham planted an Eshel: Rab and Samuel differ as to what this was. One said it was an orchard from which to supply fruit for the guests at their meal. The other said it was an inn for lodging in which were all kinds of fruit.[27]


11. Second Temple was taller than the First Temple (Bava Batra 3a-3b)

The Talmud comments: And from where do we derive that the Second Temple was taller than the First Temple? As it is written: “The glory of this latter house shall be greater than that of the former” (Haggai 2:9). Rav and Shmuel disagree about the meaning of this verse, and some say it was Rabbi Yoḥanan and Rabbi Elazar who disagreed as to its meaning. One of them said that it means that the Second Temple will be greater in the size of its structure, i.e., taller. And one of them said hat it will be greater in years, meaning that the Second Temple will stand for a longer period of time than the First Temple. And the Gemara comments that this is true and that is true, meaning that the Second Temple was taller than the First Temple and also stood for a longer period of time.


12. Nearby location - (Shabbat 151)

The mishna taught that if a gentile brought something from a nearby location on Shabbat, a Jew is permitted to make use of it. The Talmud asks: What exactly is considered to be from a nearby location? Rav said: Something that is from a location that is actually nearby, meaning that we know with certainty where the object was brought from. And Shmuel said: Even if we do not know exactly where it was brought from, we are concerned that it may have stayed overnight just outside the city wall, which is still within the Shabbat boundary, and no prohibition was violated for the sake of the object. Therefore, it would only be prohibited to use such an object if it was known with certainty that it had been brought from outside the Shabbat boundary. Thus, Rav and Shmuel disagree with regard to a situation in which we do not know where the object was brought from on Shabbat.


13. Impurity of liquids - (Pesachim 13a)

With regard to the Tosefta, the Talmud asks: And does Rabbi Elazar maintain that liquids have ritual impurity by Torah law at all? Wasn’t it taught in a baraita that Rabbi Elazar says: There is no impurity for liquids at all by Torah law. Know that this is so, as Yosei ben Yo’ezer of Tzereida testified about the grasshopper called eil kamtza that it is kosher and may be eaten; and he testified about liquids in the slaughterhouse in the Temple that they were ritually pure, as there was no decree of impurity issued with regard to them. The fact that these liquids are ritually pure indicates that by Torah law liquids cannot transmit impurity at all. Instead, that type of impurity is by rabbinic law, and rabbinic decrees of impurity were not in effect in the Temple. The Talmud adds: This works out well according to the opinion of Shmuel, who said that in this context the term ritually pure means that they do not transmit impurity to other items; however, they themselves can become impure. If that is Rabbi Elazar’s opinion, he indeed holds in accordance with the statement of Rabbi Meir that liquids transmit impurity by rabbinic law but themselves become impure by Torah law, as stated in the baraita above. However, according to Rav, who said that Yosei ben Yo’ezer holds that the liquids are actually ritually pure and they themselves cannot be rendered impure, what can be said? According to Rav, Rabbi Elazar maintains that there is no impurity at all by Torah law with regard to liquids. In what sense does he hold in accordance with the opinion of Rabbi Meir, who said that liquids themselves can become impure by Torah law?


14. Damaging wine - (Gittin 52b)

Mishna: With regard to one who renders another’s food ritually impure, or one who mixes teruma with another’s non-sacred produce, or one who pours another’s wine as a libation before an idol, in each of these cases causing the other a monetary loss, if he acted unintentionally, he is exempt from paying for the damage. If he acted intentionally, he is liable to pay. Talmud: It was stated that the amora’im disagreed with regard to the meaning of the word pours mentioned in the mishna. Rav says: It means that he actually takes the wine and pours it as a libation before an idol. And Shmuel says: It means that he mixes together kosher wine with wine that had been used in rites of idolatry, so that now it is prohibited to drink or derive any other benefit from the mixture.


15. What did he see? - (Sotah 46b)

The verse further states with regard to the same incident: “And he turned behind him and saw them, and he cursed them in the name of the Lord” (II Kings 2:24). The Talmud asks: What did he see? There are four explanations offered. Rav says: He literally saw, i.e., he stared and bored his eyes into them, as it is taught in a baraita: Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says: Wherever it states that the Sages placed their eyes upon a certain person, they brought upon that person either death or poverty. And Shmuel says: He saw their essential nature, that all their mothers became pregnant with them on Yom Kippur, when conjugal relations are forbidden.


16. Miracle - (Sotah 47a)

The verse states: “And two she-bears came out of the forest and tore forty-two children from them” (II Kings 2:24). Rav and Shmuel had a dispute with regard to this episode. One says there was a miracle, and one says there was a miracle within a miracle. The Talmud explains: The one who says there was a miracle claims that there was already a forest in that place but there were no bears, and the miracle was the appearance of bears. The one who says it was a miracle within a miracle claims that neither was there a forest nor were there bears in that area. The Talmud asks with regard to the second opinion: Why was a double miracle required? And let there be bears and no forest; the forest served no role in the story, so why was it created? The Talmud explains: The forest was necessary, as bears are frightened to venture into open areas but will attack people in their natural habitat, a forest.


17. An ox passing by fell forward into it - (Bava Kamma 52b-53a)

The mishna teaches: If a man was digging or widening a pit, and an ox passing by fell forward into it in fright due to the sound of the digging, he is liable. If it fell backward into the pit due to the sound of the digging, he is exempt. Rav says: The term forward means literally forward, and the term backward means literally backward, and both this and that refer to where it fell into the pit itself, but nevertheless if it fell backward, he is exempt. The Talmud notes: Rav conforms to his line of reasoning, as Rav says: Damage classified as Pit for which the Torah obligates him to pay is referring specifically to damage caused by the pit’s lethal fumes, such as if an animal suffocates inside it, but not to damage caused by the impact of hitting the ground, for which he is exempt from paying compensation. Since the ox in this case fell backward on its back, the owner of the pit is exempt from paying compensation, as the ox wasn’t killed by the lethal fumes of the pit, but by the impact of the fall. And Shmuel says: If the ox fell into the pit, whether it fell forward or whether it fell backward, he is liable. The Talmud notes: Shmuel conforms to his line of reasoning, as Shmuel says: With regard to damage classified as Pit, the Torah holds one liable for damage caused by its lethal fumes, and all the more so for damage resulting from the impact of the fall. The Talmud asks: But according to Shmuel, what are the circumstances concerning which the mishna stated that if the ox fell backward into the pit due to the sound of the digging that one is exempt? The Talmud answers: This applies, for example, where the ox stumbled on the pit, and then fell behind the pit and was injured outside the pit.


18. Fire crossed a river - (Bava Kamma 61a)

The mishna teaches: Or if the fire crossed a river, he is exempt. Rav says: The term stream means an actual river. And Shmuel says: This term means a water channel. The Talmud explains their dispute: The one who says that it is referring to an actual river, Rav, deems exempt one whose fire crosses a riverbed even when there is no water in it, since it is sufficiently deep and wide to prevent a typical fire from crossing it. But the one who says that it is referring to a water channel, Shmuel, holds that if the fire crosses a water channel that has water in it, yes, the one who kindled the fire is exempt. But if the fire crosses a water channel that does not have water in it, he is not exempt.


19. Leah’s eyes were weak [rakkot] - (Bava Batra 123a)

The Talmud explains this answer: What does it mean that Leah advanced ahead of Rachel with mercy? As it is written: “And Leah’s eyes were weak [rakkot]” (Genesis 29:17). What is the meaning of “rakkot”? If we say that her eyes were literally weak, is it possible that the verse would say that? The verse there did not speak to the disparagement of even a non-kosher animal, as it is written: “From the pure animals and from the animals that are lacking purity” (Genesis 7:8). The verse states: “That are lacking purity” rather than stating explicitly and disparagingly: That are impure. If that is so with regard to animals, did the verse speak here to the disparagement of the righteous? Rather, Rabbi Elazar says: The term alludes to the fact that her gifts, i.e., the gifts given to her descendants, e.g., the priesthood and the monarchy, were long-lasting [arukkot], as they were passed down from generation to generation. Rav says that there is a different explanation of the verse: Actually, the verse means that her eyes were literally weak, and this is not a denigration of her but a praise of her. As she would hear people at the crossroads, coming from the land of Canaan, who would say: Rebecca has two sons, and her brother Laban has two daughters; the older daughter will be married to the older son, and the younger daughter will be married to the younger son. Rav continues: And she would sit at the crossroads and ask: What are the deeds of the older son? The passersby would answer: He is an evil man, and he robs people. She would ask: What are the deeds of the younger son? They would answer: He is “a quiet man, dwelling in tents” (Genesis 25:27). And because she was so distraught at the prospect of marrying the evil brother, she would cry and pray for mercy until her eyelashes fell out. Since the weakness of her eyes was due to this cause, characterizing her eyes as weak constitutes praise. This is Leah’s prayer for mercy to which Rabbi Yonatan referred.


20. The dead that Ezekiel revived – (Sanhedrin 92b)

The Talmud asks: And who are the dead that Ezekiel revived? Rav says: These were the descendants of Ephraim who calculated the time of the end of the enslavement and the redemption from Egypt and erred in their calculation. They left before the appointed time and were killed, as it is stated: “And the sons of Ephraim; Shuthelah, and Bered his son, and Tahath his son, and Eleadah his son, and Tahath his son. And Zabad his son, and Shuthelah his son, and Ezer and Elead whom the men of Gath that were born in the land slew, because they came down to take their cattle” (I Chronicles 7:20–21), and it is written: “And Ephraim their father mourned many days, and his brothers came to comfort him” (I Chronicles 7:22). And Shmuel says: These dead that Ezekiel revived were people who denied the resurrection of the dead, as it is stated: “Then He said to me: Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say: Our bones are dried and our hope is lost; we are cut off” (Ezekiel 37:11). God tells Ezekiel that these were people who had lost hope for resurrection.


21. What happened to Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah? – (Sanhedrin 93a)

The Talmud asks: And with regard to the Sages, Hananiah, Mishael, and Azariah, where did they go after their miraculous deliverance, as there is no further mention of them? Rav says: They died as the result of the evil eye, as everyone was jealous of their deliverance. And Shmuel says: They drowned in the spittle of the nations of the world who held the Jewish people in contempt due to their failure to serve God in the appropriate manner.[28]


22. Where did Daniel go? - (Sanhedrin 93a)

The Talmud asks: And where did Daniel go? He certainly did not bow to the graven image, and he was not cast into the furnace. Apparently, he was elsewhere. Rav says: He went to dig the great river in Tiberias. And Shmuel says: Daniel went to bring choice alfalfa seed from a distance, and therefore he was not in Babylonia.[29]


23. What is the meaning of sarisim? – (Sanhedrin 93b)

Isaiah prophesied to Hezekiah: “And of your sons that shall issue from you, they shall be taken away; and they shall be officers [sarisim] in the palace of the king of Babylonia” (Isaiah 39:7). The Talmud asks: What is the meaning of sarisim? Rav says: It means literally eunuchs, whom the Babylonians castrated to render them suitable for employment in all aspects of the king’s service. And Rabbi Ḥanina says: It means that idol worship was emasculated during their lifetime, as it became clear to all that it lacks substance.


24: A High Priest rends his garments from below – (Horayot 12b)

Mishna: A High Priest rends his garments from below when he is in mourning, and an ordinary priest rends his garments from above like a non-priest. Rav says: From below, written with regard to the High Priest, means actually from below, from the bottom of the garment, and from above means actually from above, from the top of the garment. And Shmuel said: From below means from below the neckline, and from above means from above the neckline, i.e., from the neckline itself, and both this High Priest and that ordinary priest rend their garments at the neck of their garment.


25. From where did the dog become mad? – (Yoma 83b)

It was taught that in the case of one whom a mad dog bit, one does not feed him the lobe of its liver. The Talmud clarifies the concept of the mad dog. The Sages taught in a baraita: Five signs were said about a mad dog: Its mouth is always open; and its saliva drips; and its ears are floppy and do not stand up; and its tail rests on its legs; and it walks on the edges of roads. And some say it also barks and its voice is not heard. The Talmud asks: From where did the dog become mad? Rav said: Witches play with it and practice their magic on it, causing it to become mad. And Shmuel said: An evil spirit rests upon it.


26. Kiddush in the synagogue– (Pesachim 101a)

The Talmud continues to discuss the halakhot of kiddush: With regard to those people who recited kiddush in the synagogue, as was customarily done at the conclusion of the prayer service on Shabbat night, Rav said: They have not fulfilled their obligation to recite a blessing over wine. That is, the blessing over the wine in the synagogue does not enable them to drink wine at home without an additional blessing. However, they have fulfilled their obligation of reciting kiddush. And Shmuel said: Even the obligation of kiddush they have not fulfilled, and they must recite kiddush again at home. And Shmuel follows his line of reasoning, as Shmuel said: There is no valid kiddush except in the place of one’s Shabbat meal.


In all the above cases, one can delineate the reasoning of Rav and Shmuel following the reasoning mentioned above, as explained regarding the dispute about the transfer of light from one Chanukah lamp to another: does one interpret a word or a situation by its context or broader understanding or must one view only the present reality or the plainest meaning of a particular biblical word.[30]  




[1] Time: 27.56.

[2] Talmud Shabbat 22b.

[3] Rashi on Shabbat 22b.

[4] Pesachim 101a, Bechorot 49b, Rosh on Bava Kamma 4:4, Sha-a lot u-Teshuvot Chavot Yair 94.

[5] Talmud Pesachim 101a qualifies this principle, that this is only when Rav is more stringent.

[6] 3:14.

[7] Chidushei haRamban on Shabbat 22b.

[8] Ramban concludes his comment by citing the opinion of the Ra'avad, who permits the lighting via a chip of wood, but rejects it. 

[9] Etz Chaim, vol. 1, p. 397.

[10] Hagahot Maimuniyut, Laws of Chanukah 4:9.

[11] Chudushei ha-Ran on Shabbat 23a.

[12] Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 674:1.

[13] See Yedei Moshe on Numbers Rabba 15:19.

[14] Numbers Rabba 15:19; Numbers Rabba 13:20; Numbers Rabba 21:15: Numbers 27:18: “and lay your hand upon him,” like one who lights a candle from a candle. Rashi on Numbers 11:17. Likkutei Sichot 8:75.

[15] Rashi on Talmud Shabbat 22b.

[16] Shem Olam, ch. 38.

[17] Likkutei Sichot 16:8, f.58: An argument against this theory applying to all cases where Rav and Shmuel argue is from the dispute, cited in Rashi on Exodus 1:8: ‘Now there arose a new king (that know not Joseph): ‘Rav and Samuel differed in their interpretation of these words. Rav said that he was really a new king; Shmuel said that it was the same king but he made new edicts.’ The fact that Rashi does not cite Shmuel’s view as midrashic - as he usually does before citing a midrash, suggests that Shmuel’s view is in fact also p’shat, and not midrashic.

[18] Chavot Yair 94. See this distinction also between Raba and Rav Yosef in Berachot 64a. Likkutei Sichot 16:2, f. 12.

[19] Bava Batra 145b.

[20] Talmud Chagigah 10a.

[21] Talmud Chagigah 10a.

[22] Likkutei Sichot 16:2.

[23] See shinu’ei nus’chaot in Frankel edition of Mishneh Torah, laws of Chanukah 4:9.

[24] Mishneh Torah, Laws of Kings 5:9.

[25] Talmud Kiddushin 31b.

[26] LIkkutei Sichot 25:150.

[27] See Rashi on Genesis 21:33.

[28] And Rabbi Yoḥanan says: They ascended to Eretz Yisrael and married women and fathered sons and daughters.

[29] And Rabbi Yoḥanan says: He went to bring the high-quality pigs of Alexandria of Egypt.

[30] In almost all the cases, the consistency of rationale between Rav and Shmuel is self-evident, whereby Rav follows a more literal understanding and Shmuel allows for broader interpretation, based on context. The same is the case regarding the last case mentioned: Shmuel says: There is no valid kiddush except in the place of one’s Shabbat meal. Rav would hold that the rabbinic law that Kiddush should be made over wine means that wine alone is sufficient for one to fulfil one’s obligation for the Kiddush on Shabbat. Shmuel, however, argues that we must look at the wine in the context of the fact that the wine is intended to be and is usually drunken as part of a Shabbat meal. This would inform the intention of the institution of the Rabbis that indeed a ‘valid kiddush’ is only defined as a kiddush in the place of one’s Shabbat meal.





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