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.]

Bava Basra

Bava Basra 21a: Good jealousy and bad jealousy

Bava Basra 21a: Jealousy of scholars leads to more scholarship.

בבא בתרא כא ע”א: קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה

A couple once came to Rabbi Shmuel Berenbaum with a question: the wife wanted to buy an expensive luxury car, but the husband was worried that this might give rise to jealousy and ayin hara. Reb Shmuel lifted his eyes from the sefer he was learning and asked the man a seemingly unrelated question, “Do you already know Nashim and Nezikin?” “The rosh yeshiva sees that I don’t sit and learn all day,” the man replied. “Do you know at least one masechta well?” asked Reb Shmuel. “No,” said the man softly. “Do you know at least one daf Gemara by heart?” The man lowered his eyes and admitted, “Unfortunately, although I try to be kovea itim for Torah, I don’t learn it well enough to know the Gemara by heart.” “If so,” Reb Shmuel said, “you have nothing to worry about. You can buy the car – no one has anything to be jealous of you for.”

[We know that there are two types of jealousy: jealousy of physical possessions, which is wrong and may cause ayin hara, and jealousy of someone else’s Torah accomplishments, which is good and admirable, as our Gemara says, and will not lead to ayin hara. In this story, it seems that Reb Shmuel was not afraid of jealousy of the first kind – he assumed people are above that level. But what if the man had replied that he was a talmid chacham who knew Shas? Why then would Reb Shmuel have told him not to buy the car? If people are above jealousy of a car, why would they suddenly be jealous of it if he knew Shas? And if people would be jealous of him for knowing Shas, then good – קנאת סופרים תרבה חכמה!

The answer, explained Rabbi Elya Boruch Finkel (Mishulchan R’ Eliyahu Boruch, Parshas Vayikra) is that there is a third type of jealousy: jealousy of another person’s Torah accomplishments or mitzvos that he was able to do because Hashem granted him more money or a better mind. This, says the Ibn Ezra, is why the Torah says that the middle level of a קרבן עולה ויורד is to bring both a chatas and an olah – unlike the wealthy man, who brings only a chatas. The olah is to atone for the sinner’s thoughts of envy toward the wealthy sinner, who has the means to bring a nicer korban. But why wasn’t he envious of his possessions until now? The answer is that we don’t assume he is on such a low level. It doesn’t bother him that someone else has a nicer house or car. But it does bother him that he has a nicer korban.

Reb Shmuel’s point was that it’s good to be jealous of someone for knowing Shas, because that will motivate you to learn better. But if you see a man driving a luxury car who knows Shas, you might think, “The only reason he has time to sit and learn so much is because he has money. If I had money I would also become a talmid chacham.” That is the wrong kind of jealousy, the kind that might cause ayin hara.]