This week’s daf continues to discuss the obligation to stand up before a sage. The baraita had taught that one does not need to rise if it will cause a financial loss.
The Talmud clarifies a line in the baraita. We might have thought that while a person does not need to spend money to honor a sage, he should stand before a sage even if this involves a loss of money through cessation of work. The Talmud clarifies that it does not. A person should not stop working to stand before a sage.
The last line provides a context for this—an artisan. An artisan is working for someone else, but not on an hourly basis. For instance, a cobbler making a pair of shoes. We might have thought that he could stop working because he’ll just continue working later, and he is not cheating his employer of his paid time. The Talmud says that even this is not allowed because it takes up time in which he could be completing the project. I think there is an important message in this piece, one that is very hard to observe these days, with all of the distractions in our lives. When we are working, we are working for others and we owe them the best that we can do. It is a value and we need to take it seriously (I am not lecturing you, my readers, I am mostly confessing to my own sins).
The Talmud cites a source that refers to the farmers bringing their first fruits to Jerusalem. As they enter the city, artisans stand before them and greet them. This implies that artisans are allowed to stop working to stand up in honor of other people coming through.
The resolution is that artisans can stop working to greet the farmers going to the Temple, but they may not do so to greet sages.
R. Yose b. Abin draws a lesson from the fact that artisans can stand before the farmers but not before the scholars—a mitzvah being performed in its proper time is a higher value, even then the respect due to scholars.
But the Talmud notes that this may not be the proper explanation of why artisans are allowed to stand before the farmers. It might be that if they are not greeted properly, they will not return the following year. In other words, it is not the value of what they are currently doing, it is the fact that they need encouragement, and maybe scholars do not need as much encouragement.
Today’s sugya deals with two more lines from the baraita about standing before a sage.
The baraita states teaches that one does not need to rise before a sage in a bath-house or bathroom (toilet). Nevertheless, R. Shimon son of Rabbi [Yehudah Hanasi] is offended when R. Hiyya does not stand in front of him even though he is in a bath-house. He even goes and complains about it to his father.
Again, another sage does not stand up in front of R. Shimon b. Rabbi and the latter gets upset. Rabbi provides an excuse for why the sage might not have stood in front of his son, but the principle remains—the sage should have stood up.
The Talmud resolves the difficulty—in the inner rooms, one need not rise in front of a sage. But in the outer rooms, he must.
The idea that Bar Kapara was in an outer room is also logical, for if he were in the inner room, he would not have been allowed to even think about Torah.
However, this last support for the resolution is not certain. It is possible that Bar Kapara was in the inner chamber and was thinking about Torah, even though he should not have been doing so. After all, one does not always have control of one’s thoughts.
The baraita does not really need to tell people not to close their eyes to ignore a sage once the sage comes into view. The baraita is not addressing people who would willfully break the law. Rather the baraita is addressing one who might close his eyes before the sage is even close enough such that the obligation to rise kicks in. Technically this would be allowed. Therefore the Torah states “you shall fear.” A person should not intentionally put himself in a position to avoid fulfilling a commandment.
How close to one’s teacher must one be for one to be obligated to rise? The baraita rules four amot, but Abaye restricts this to a regular teacher. If the teacher is his primary teacher, he must rise if he is anywhere within his sight.
The story here seems to illustrate that while some rabbis took this mitzvah seriously, not all did.
The baraita had taught that the sage should not trouble the people to rise in front of him. Abaye adds that a sage will live longer by not making other people rise. It seems that there is some sort of “measure for measure” reward in this idea. Making people stand in order to honor oneself means using their energy, in a sense shortening their lives. Avoiding using other people for one’s own ends brings one longer life.
Evidently being in the presence of a rabbi requires one to cover one’s head. R. Yirmiyah of Difti calls a man chutzpadik for not covering his head in his presence. But, it turns out that if you are from a place full of rabbis, then maybe you have an excuse.
The halakhah follows Issi who said that one must stand before any old person, not just a sage.
Some rabbis even rose up in front of non-Jewish elders. After all, the non-Jewish elder has undergone just as many life experiences as has the Jew. Rava found a compromise and would show them respect but not rise up.
These other rabbis found other ways to help the elders. Abaye would give them a hand so that they could lean on him. R. Nahman does not want to help them himself and instead finds agents to do so. He reasons that his Torah learning is irreplaceable and therefore it is better for him to perform the mitzvah through others.
Jews recite the Shema in praise of God twice a day. A Torah scholar should not rise before his teacher more than twice a day so that the teacher’s honor not supersede that of God. I think we can sense here that rabbis were accorded a high level of honor, and that there was a fear that this honor would exceed proper boundaries and perhaps the students would revere their teacher’s more than God. It is this mentality that R. Yannai is trying to curb.