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Daf 25a continued

  • Rav Michael Siev


Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev

Sukka 03 - Daf 25a

A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at: (You can find a scan with larger print by going to the homepage and selecting sukah 25a)

Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them. 

From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a

red pause box
 It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions. I am working on a way to have your computer melt if you don't, but as of yet, the technical details are still beyond me.

Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.

An integral part of the learning process - any learning process, but especially when it comes to our gemara shiur - is review (chazara). There are three reasons for this: 1) One needs to review in order to retain information. 2) The shiurim build off each other - it is therefore necessary for previous shiurim to be fresh in your mind. 3) We are trying to develop skills for independent learning of gemara. The only way to effectively learn how to read gemarot is to learn a piece of gemara well and to then review it, reading it in the original. The more re-reads the better.

That having been said, we will start our shiur this week with some chazara.

Please take time to review the shiur and gemara from last week. Do not worry - we will not start today's shiur until you are ready!

I assume that it is now fresh in all our minds that the mishna teaches that one who is actively engaged in performing a mitzva is not obligated to stop his activities in order to fulfill the mitzva of sukka. We also know that this is an application of a broader concept called ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva, one who is involved in a mitzva is exempt from performing other mitzvot. In addition, the commentators debate the scope of this dispensation. Tosafot claim that the dispensation from the second mitzva applies only when one is unable to perform both mitzvot. Ran argues that one is not obligated in the second mitzva even if one can perform both, as long as one is actively engaged in the first mitzva.

Let's think about this a little further. When we learn gemara, we always attempt to understand not only what it is that the gemara is teaching but also the nature of the principle that stands behind any particular rule or concept that we encounter. In particular, we must always consider the ramifications of machlokot. Does a particular machloket - in our case, the disagreement between Tosafot and Ran - stem from differing understandings of the principle being discussed?

Take a moment to consider this point. How does Tosafot seem to understand the exemption -the p'tur - of one who is involved in a mitzva? What about the Ran? Are there any practical differences between the two?

According to Tosafot's view that the osek b'mitzva is exempt only if the second mitzva will preclude his fulfillment of the original mitzva he was involved in, the reason for the exemption seems clear. He cannot accomplish both mitzvot and therefore must pick only one of the two - since he was already engaged in one of them, that is the one he should complete. It would be disrespectful to the first mitzva, so to speak, if he were to abandon its performance in order to fulfill a different mitzva. According to this understanding, it follows that not only is the osek b'mitzva exempt from performing a second mitzva - he should not interrupt the first mitzva, or may even be forbidden to suspend his completion of that mitzva in order to fulfill another. 

According to the view of Ran, it cannot be the triage factor that exempts the osek b'mitzva from other mitzvot - the principle applies, after all, even when performance of the second mitzva does not preclude one's satisfactory completion of the first. Osek b'mitzva must be a more general exemption. Halacha wants us to be active in avodat Hashem. Once a person is actively involved in Divine service, halacha does not overburden him with multiple obligations at the same time. According to this explanation, although one is not obligated to take on the second mitzva, there is is no reason he cannot choose to do so on his own, and thereby fulfill as many mitzvot as he possibly can.

The chatan

Let's go back to some of the details of our gemara. If you think back to our last shiur, you will recall that the b'raita learned from one phrase in sh'ma that ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva and from another that a bridegroom is also exempt from reciting sh'ma. When we speak of a bridegroom in this context, we refer not to someone who is actually standing under the chupa right now performing the wedding ceremony, but to a bridegroom who has come home from his wedding with his bride and is preoccupied with concern over the consummation of their marriage. That being the case, our gemara begs a question: Why do we have a special source to exempt the bridegroom? If his preoccupation is considered a mitzva, his exemption should be included in the first source exempting an osek b'mitzva. If it is not, why is he exempt at all?

As usual, Rashi (s.v. uvlecht'cha, first longer line of Rashi) provides the answer. A bridegroom's preoccupation is considered to be a mitzva, but one could have thought that the rule of ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva does not apply to such a case. The standard case of someone involved in a mitzva is where the person is actually physically engaged in performing some action that fulfills a mitzva. In contrast, the bridegroom is not currently engaged in any action at all; he is only mentally preoccupied with thoughts of a mitzva that he will soon perform. One could easily have distinguished between the cases and argued that only one actively engaged in a mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot. Therefore, the gemara needed a separate source to teach us that even the bridegroom is exempt.

We will now continue with the gemara, which will discuss the issue of the chatan. We begin with אי הכי, which is the beginning of the line about two thirds of the way down the page on 25a in the standard printings of the gemara. Remember that the gemara has just established the principle that ha'osek b'mitzva patur min hamitzva and that the b'raita exempts specifically a bridegroom who has married a virgin. (And remember that the provided translation is for the most part literal and we will explain it more clearly afterwards!)

If so, even one who marries a widow as well!

One who marries a virgin is preoccupied; one who marries a widow is not preoccupied.

And all times that one is preoccupied he is also exempt?

So from here if one's ship sank in the sea, that he is preoccupied, here also he is exempt?

And if you say it is also so - but R' Abba bar Zavda said in the name Rav: a mourner is obligated in all mitzvot stated in the Torah except for tefillin for it says about them glory (=they are a sign of glory)!

Here he is preoccupied with a mitzva-preoccupation, there he is preoccupied with an optional-preoccupation.

אי הכי, אפילו כונס את האלמנה נמי!

כונס את הבתולה - טריד, כונס אלמנה - לא טריד.

וכל היכא דטריד הכי נמי דפטור?

אלא מעתה טבעה ספינתו בים דטריד, הכי נמי דפטור?

וכי תימא הכי נמי - והאמר רבי אבא בר זבדא אמר רב: אבל חייב בכל המצות האמורות בתורה, חוץ מן התפילין, שהרי נאמר בהן פאר! 

הכא טריד טירדא דמצוה, התם - טריד טרדא דרשות.  

The gemara questions why it is that only a groom who has married a virgin is exempt from k'riyat sh'ma that night - it is, after all, no less a mitzva to marry a widow than to marry a virgin! The gemara explains that the difference has to do with the extent to which the groom is distracted after the wedding. Again, we are not dealing with a groom at his wedding. He is a classic osek b'mitzva and in such a case there is in fact no difference between one who marries a virgin and one who marries a widow. The case under discussion is the groom after his wedding, and he is exempt because he is distracted by thoughts of consummating his marriage. Since this is the basis for the exemption, it clearly only applies if the groom is in fact preoccupied by such thoughts. The gemara explains the difference between the groom who has married a virgin and one who has married a widow by asserting that only the groom who has married a virgin is preoccupied by the forthcoming consummation of their marriage.

Having clearly stated that the exemption of the groom is based on the extent of his preoccupation, which explains the difference between one who marries a virgin and one who marries a widow, the gemara now challenges the very premise that mental preoccupation can exempt one from mitzvot. The gemara thus asks: Is anyone who is preoccupied exempt? Should we say that one who is distraught by the loss of is property is exempt from k'riyat sh'ma because he too is preoccupied?

The gemara assumes that it is obvious that such a person is not exempt from k'riyat sh'ma. Nevertheless, we do not have a ruling anywhere that specifically states that to be the case. The gemara therefore must be ready for any challenge to the assumption of the question. "And if you say it is also so" - that the businessman whose ship has been lost at sea really is exempt from k'riyat sh'ma - I will prove that he is obligated by way of comparison to a different ruling that we have. R' Abba bar Zavda taught in the name of Rav that a mourner is obligated to perform all mitzvot with the exception of tefillin (from which he is exempt on the first day of mourning), because tefillin are "glorious." A mourner is a perfect example of someone who is distraught and distracted. Nevertheless, his mental preoccupation does not exempt him from the performance of mitzvot. So too, the businessman who has lost a ship, or the groom on his wedding night, should also be obligated to recite k'riyat sh'ma.

The gemara must now explain the distinction between a groom, whose preoccupation exempts him from the obligation to recite k'riyat sh'ma, and the mourner, whose preoccupation does not affect his obligation. The gemara explains that the groom's preoccupation is considered to be a mitzva while the mourner's preoccupation is optional. That explains the difference in halacha. A mitzva-preoccupation exempts one from performing a different mitzva; an optional preoccupation does not.

Note the progression in the gemara's understanding of the p'tur of the chatan. At first the gemara assumed that it was based on the fact that he is engaged somehow in a mitzva. The gemara therefore asked why one who marries a widow is not exempt, and concluded that the exemption is based on the groom's preoccupation. The gemara therefore asked why other distracted people are obligated and the chatan is not. The gemara concludes that it is only the combination of the two factors - the chatan being distracted by thoughts related to a mitzva - that exempts the groom from k'riyat sh'ma.

The gemara has assumed that a chatan's being distracted by thoughts of consummating his marriage is a mitzva while the mourner's preoccupation is not. Why is is this true? Granted that consummating one's marriage is a mitzva, but there is also a mitzva for a mourner to mourn. If thinking about consummating one's marriage is a mitzva-preoccupation, shouldn't being emotionally engaged in the experience of mourning also be considered mitzva-preoccupation?

Let us begin to grapple with this question - as usual - by learning Rashi. His comment is three lines from the bottom of the page (s.v. tirda dirshut).

Optional-preoccupation - for even though he is obligated to practice mourning of shoes, washing and anointing (i.e. he may not do any of these activities) to show honor to his deceased, he is not obligated to be distressed.

Rashi asserts that the mitzva of avelut relates only to the world of action. One must withhold certain regular, pleasurable activities as a sign of respect for the deceased. That does not mean that one must be emotionally upset. While that may be a natural reaction, it is not part of the mitzva and it therefore cannot exempt one from performing other mitzvot.

Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, based on other sources, had a different conception of the mitzva of avelut. In his view, the emotional aspect of the mourning experience is in fact a critical component of the mitzva of avelut. In fact, he divided the mitzva into two components. 1) The ma'aseh hamitzva, the action component of avelut. This includes sitting on the floor, removing one's leather shoes and not washing or anointing. 2) The kiyum hamitzva, the real fulfillment of the mitzva. The action component of avelut is meant to help one undergo an emotional experience - that of sorrow and grief over one's loss. It is this emotional experience that is the real fulfillment of avelut.

According to this view, sorrow and distress is not only part of the mitzva - it is the very essence of the mitzva. How then can we understand our gemara which calls it optional-preoccupation?

We must say that although the mourner's grief is a mitzva, avelut does not mean that one should be so distressed that one cannot perform other mitzvot. When the gemara says that a mourner's distress is optional and not a mitzva, it refers not to the experience of grief as a whole, but to the grief that does not allow him to perform mitzvot. That extra level of sorrow is not part of the mitzva of avelut.

We may be able to say even further - a mourner's inability to perform mitzvot may in fact be a deficiency in his mourning. Avelut includes the emotional response of grief - but it includes as well the theological response of accepting God's will. That is why the mourner must say the b'racha of dayan ha'emet, which affirms the justness of God's judgment. That may also be why the mourner must ensure that while he experiences sorrow for the loss of his relative, he must also be able to perform mitzvot. Sorrow that prevents the mourner from fulfilling mitzvot is antithetical to one of the main points of the mourning experience - and certainly cannot be considered a mitzva.