This section is merely a different way of ordering the previous one. As far as content goes, they are identical.
R. Marion (or some other sage) identifies the “thorn palms of the Iron Mountain.” In Jerusalem, on the western side of Mt. Zion is the Hinnom Valley, in Hebrew “Gehinnom.” This is the valley that is today between the Cinemateque theater and Mt. Zion. In the Bible we find that child sacrifice occurred here (II Chronicles 28:3, 33:6), and therefore it was considered to be a cursed place. It appears already in the Mishnah as the bad place where the wicked receive their punishment (see Kiddushin 4:14, Avot 1:5, 5:19-20). In a later period, Gehenna came to be synonymous with hell.
Today’s section deals with how long the lulav, hadas and aravah must be. This sugya does contain a little bit of math, but I think you will be fine, so no worries.
Here we can see that all amoraim agree that the hadas and aravah must be three handbreadths. They also all agree that despite the fact that the mishnah says that the lulav needs to be three handbreadths, it actually needs to be four. They disagree whether the whole lulav needs to be four, or that the spine, which ends before the top of the lulav, needs to be four. This would make the whole lulav longer.
The mishnah says that the lulav needs to be only three handbreadths, sufficient to wave with it. This is a difficulty on all of the amoraim who said that it needs to be four handbreadths.
To resolve the difficulty the Talmud adds a “vav” to the mishnah. Instead of saying “three handbreadths, long enough to wave” it reads, “three handbreadth and long enough to wave.” The “and” implies that the “long enough to wave” is in addition to the three handbreadths. Now each of the amoraim from above can debate how much longer this is—one handbreadth beyond three, or one handbreadth of the spine beyond the three. But both can resolve the mishnah.
This baraita is assumed to be a difficulty on R. Yohanan who holds that the spine of the lulav must be four handbreadths. At first we assume that the four handbreadths referred to in the baraita includes the leaves, meaning the part of the leaves that goes beyond the spine. However, the Talmud quickly resolves that we can understand the baraita to refer to just the spine. The four handbreadths does not include the part where the leaves go beyond the spine.
R. Tarfon seems to say that the hadas and aravah need to be a full cubit consisting of five handbreadths. Rava, a Babylonian amora, complains bitterly about this. In his day people seem to have had trouble finding even a smaller hadas, one of four cubits, so how can R. Tarfon require an even larger one.
R. Dimi reinterprets R. Tarfon’s statement such that his stringency is reduced. R. Tarfon doesn’t say that they must be five handbreadths. Rather he says that the handbreadths used here are not handbreadths in which there are six in a cubit, but rather five in a cubit. This means that each handbreadth is 1 1/5 of the handbreadths in a six handbreadth cubit. The result is larger handbreadths (if you’re having trouble understanding, think of what would happen if there were 10 inches in a foot—each inch would be bigger than it is now).
So if we reckon this in 6 handbreadth to a cubit handbreadths, the hadas needs to be only 3 3/5 (3 x 1 1/5). The lulav will be 4 4/5. This is not such a huge stringency.
The amora Shmuel seems to contradict himself. On the one hand he rules that the hadas and aravah need only be three normal handbreadths. On the other hand, he holds that R. Tarfon says that the hadas and aravah need to be 3 3/5 handbreadths.
The Talmud tries to answer by saying that Shmuel’s statement wasn’t precise. He said three, but what he meant was really 3 3/5. However, this is not a satisfying answer. It is one thing not to be precise in order to create a stringency (to say that it must be 3 3/5 when it only needs to be 3), but an amora should not create a leniency through lack of precision.
Rabin, a different amora, offers an alternative explanation of R. Tarfon’s words. R. Tarfon said to take a cubit measured with five handbreadths and then turn it into six. Each handbreadth when measured against the old handbreadth will now be 5/6 of the length. Three of these are used for the hadas, making it 2.5 handbreadths (3 x 5/6). The extra fourth handbreadth goes for a lulav.
Now when Shmuel said that the hadas needs to be 3 handbreadths his imprecision lead to a stringency. In reality, the hadas needs to be only 2.5 handbreadths (halakhah is according to R. Tarfon), so when he said that it needs to be 3 handbreadths, it was a small stringency.
Today’s section moves on to the next mishnah, one concerning the hadas.
The first two lines are the same as the previous mishnah concerning a lulav. The remainder of the mishnah is specific to the physical qualities of the hadas. The Talmud will discuss these as we proceed over the next few pages.
As the Talmud did with regard to the various parts of the lulav, it asks how we know that the Torah refers to the myrtle. After all Leviticus 23:40 only states “the branches of a thick tree.” How do we know that the tree is a myrtle?
The word for “thick” can also mean “interwoven.” So an olive branch is ruled out because its leaves are not “wreathed” or “interwoven.”
The plane tree is ruled out because the branches must cover the trunk in order to be a “thick” tree.
The oleander is ruled out because its branches are thorny. This is the same reason that the spiky parts of the palm cannot be used. The Torah’s mitzvoth are pleasant and peaceful. Using a thorny branch to perform a mitzvah would not be pleasant.
The first section of this baraita is an interpretation of the word “avot” from Leviticus 23:40. “Avot” means plaited and like a chain—these are the leaves of the myrtle (hadas).
R. Eliezer b. Yaakov says that the leaf (anaf) and the wood (etz) must taste the same and this, in his opinion, is true of the hadas.
A baraita says that the hadas must be “avot” the word used to describe the hadas in the Torah.
R. Judah says that “avot” means that three leaves must all grow from the same spot. Today, the best hadasim have this quality. But R. Kahana says that a hadas where two leaves grow together and then one is separate is either also okay, or perhaps even better. R. Aha, a later amora, seeks out such a hadas because he holds R. Kahana in such esteem.
The section ends though, with Mar b. Amemar telling R. Ashi that a hadas that doesn’t have three leaves coming out of one spot is a wayward hadas. It seems that such a hadas would not be valid.
The baraita seems to contradict itself. How can a hadas have most of its leaves fall off and still be plaited? Usually there are three leaves per “nest” (spot on stem). So if 2/3 fall off, the plaited look will certainly be gone!
Abaye solves the problem by saying that the baraita refers to an Egyptian hadas which begins with seven leaves per nest! Even if four fall off, the hadas is still plaited by the three leaves in one spot.