Bava Basra

Bava Basra 111a: Think Before You Ask

Bava Basra 111a: Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah asked Rabbi Yannai: From where do we derive that a son takes precedence over a daughter in inheriting their mother’s property? He replied: The Torah says, “Any daughter who inherits property from tribes” – this equates the tribe of the mother with the tribe of the father. Just as when inheriting from a father, the son precedes the daughter, so too when inheriting from a mother, the son precedes the daughter. Rabbi Yehuda Nesiah asked: If so, perhaps the firstborn son should take a double portion of his mother’s property, just as he takes a double portion of his father’s. Rabbi Yannai said to his servant, who was leading him, “Pull me away – this man doesn’t want to learn.”

בבא בתרא קיא ע”א: בעא מיניה: מנין לבן שקודם לבת בנכסי האם? אמר ליה, דכתיב: מטות, מקיש מטה האם למטה האב, מה מטה האב ־ בן קודם לבת, אף מטה האם ־ בן קודם לבת. א״ל: אי מה מטה האב ־ בכור נוטל פי שנים, אף מטה האם ־ בכור נוטל פי שנים. אמר ליה לשמעיה: גוד, לית דין צבי למילף.

Reb Elchonon Wasserman, in Kovetz Shiurim on this Gemara, gives two possible approaches.

  1. “This man doesn’t want to learn” from me, because he surely knows the answer already, and is just troubling me with unnecessary questions.
  2. “This man doesn’t want to learn” on his own. He genuinely doesn’t know the answer, but if he were to work at it himself, he would figure it out, as Chazal say, “If a person claims he did not work hard and yet understands the Torah, do not believe him.” Understanding the Torah always takes work. Out of laziness, he is asking me.

Reb Elchonon prefers the second approach. Indeed, in his own learning Reb Elchonon exemplified this trait. When learning in Telshe under Reb Shimon Shkop, Reb Elchonon did not burden his rebbe with ordinary, simple questions. First he would seek to follow the implications of every explanation to its very end, in order to understand the plain meaning of the text in depth, not merely superficially. He would never submit a question to Reb Shimon before having pondered at length himself and failed to find the answer.

And that was quite often. Rebbetzin Shkop related later: “All the Telshe yeshiva bochurim who were attached to Reb Shimon and would come to the house at all odd times caused me distress, but I suffered most from the Boisker (Reb Elchonon) who would not leave him, and even would come and ask questions when Reb Shimon was resting.”

Source:  Reb Elchonon (Artscroll), p. 27

[What is fascinating is that immediately after this story, the Gemara tells of three Amoraim – Abaye, Rav Nachman bar Yitzchok, and Rava – who try to answer the question. The first two answers are refuted and only Rava’s answer stands. It seems the answer was not so obvious after all! Clearly the Gemara wants to demonstrate just how far one must go with his own reasoning to answer a question before presenting it to his rebbe.]

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