The answer is that the case of Rabbi and his bet midrash referred to the study of an individual. Temple service takes precedence over the study of an individual. But in the case of Joshua and the men with him, Torah study of the many takes precedence over Temple service.
The Talmud now raises a difficulty on the notion that the study of an individual is not so important. The source brought here has to do with mourning practices on a holiday. The festival is treated most seriously—on a festival women may make a dirge but not beat their chests or wail. Rosh Hodesh, Hanukkah and Purim are lesser holidays than a festival so they may beat their chests, but they still do not wail.
Rabbah b. Huna said that if the person being mourned is a Torah scholar, then all of these restrictions are suspended. That is to say, he is fully mourned, even on a festival.
This implies that we do not take the Torah study of an individual lightly, a difficulty on the conclusion stated above.
The Talmud resolves this by saying that this is not an issue of study but honor. The honor accorded to an individual scholar is indeed of grave significance. But when it comes to the study itself, the individual is still less significant than the many, as we saw above.
In today’s section Rava makes a series of statements concerning which mitzvah takes precedence over which other which other mitzvah when two mitzvoth come into conflict.
Here Rava makes reference to what we learned yesterday—hearing the Megillah takes precedence over both Temple service and the study of Torah.
A “met mitzvah” is a body that is found and there is no one to bring it to a proper burial. Taking care of a “met mitzvah” is an extremely important mitzvah in Judaism, and it takes precedence even over the study of Torah. A Torah scholar who is walking on his way, learning Torah and encounters a met mitzvah, must immediately stop learning Torah to bring the body to burial.
The same is true for helping a bride enter a canopy, meaning attending a wedding. Helping the bride and groom rejoice at their wedding also takes precedence over the study of Torah.
The issue here is whether one may defile oneself ritually by taking care of a met mitzvah even if this will prevent him from offering a pesah sacrifice. The answer is derived from a midrash on the word “or for his sister” stated in the context of the prohibitions of a nazirite. A nazirite may not defile himself no matter who dies, even if it is a close relative. So why then does the verse need to specifically mention his sister? The midrash uses this superfluity to teach that one does not defile himself to take care of his dead sister even if he is on the way to offer the pesah sacrifice or circumcise his son, both mitzvoth that must be taken care of immediately. I think the assumption is that someone else can take care of burying his sister. However, if a met mitzvah lies before him, he does defile himself, even if this means missing the opportunity to offer the pesah or to circumcise his son at the proper time.
When it comes to the conflict between reading the Megillah and burying a met mitzvah, the latter takes precedence. Respect for human beings overrides even negative commandments, and even the reading of the Megillah, which itself takes precedence over the study of Torah and Temple service.
This section returns to discuss the law we saw in last week’s daf, that any area close to the city that reads on the fifteenth also reads on the fifteenth.
The text explains that if the area next to the city is adjoined to it, meaning it is close by, but is not seen with it, then it still is reckoned with the city. This could occur with a city on the top of the hill. The area could be visible with the city, even though it is not right next to it. But how do you have an area that is adjoining but not visible. The answer is that the city is in the valley. The area near the city might not be able to be seen with it.
If a city was first settled, meaning people lived there, and then only later it was surrounded by a wall, it is reckoned as if it was a village. This means it would read on the fourteenth.
The Talmud backs this up with a midrash from a totally unrelated realm of halakhah. The verse refers to selling a house in a walled city. But the Talmud reads this as if first the city was walled and then it was settled. If the city was first settled and then walled, it is not treated as a walled city but rather as a village.
A city in which there are not men of leisure, meaning ten men who do not have jobs to attend to, then it is reckoned as a village. It seems that people who don’t work are a sign of a certain socio-economic level. There are ten men rich enough so that they don’t need to work.
The same law was also taught in a baraita, causing the Talmud to ask why R. Joshua b. Levi even needed to state this. The answer is that he had to emphasize that ten men of leisure must actually be permanently located in that city. Many people of leisure come into the city, for that is where the marketplace is located. But these men of leisure do not count towards the required ten for the city to read the Megillah on the fifteenth.
If a city (with a wall) was laid waste and then resettled it still counts as a city. The problem with this rule is that if we imagine that “laid waste” refers to the walls being destroyed, then it implies that if the walls are not standing, it is not treated as a city. But this contradicts a baraita that says that as long as the city had a wall (at the time of Joshua) it continues to be treated as a walled city.
Therefore, they reinterpret “laid waste” to refer to the last halakhah stated by R. Joshua b. Levi. If the city had ten men of leisure, but then these men of leisure either moved or gained employment, the city retains its status as a city.