The rabbis in the above baraita used the plural form in the verse to prove that one could use any aravah, not just one that grows by the brook. But this left them without a source for the Temple aravah ritual. So, the Talmud asks, from where do they derive that halakhah?
R. Yohanan answers that this ritual is a “halakhah from Moses from Sinai.” Throughout rabbinic literature this term means that the tradition is very old and is assumed to have come from Sinai. It always means that there is no source for it from the Torah. Thus they don’t need the midrash on the plural form “willows.”
R. Yohanan mentions three halakhot. The first is “the laws of ten plants.” This refers to Mishnah Sheviit 6:1 concerning a field that has ten plants in it. I refer you to the Mishnah Yomit commentary to understand this mishnah.
The other two halakhot are connected with Sukkot. The first is the aravah ritual in the Temple. And the second is the water libation, which is discussed later in chapter four.
The mishnah that opened this week’s daf ruled that a willow called a “tzaftzefah” cannot be used as part of the lulav. Our sugya deals with how we know that this type of aravah cannot be used.
The Torah calls the aravah a “willow of the brook.” Since the “tzaftzefah” willow grows in the mountain, it cannot be used.
R. Zera explains the source of this halakhah. He reads the verse in Ezekiel as having two halves. The great eagle (this is the actor in the verse, which is speech God makes to Ezekiel) plants some seed “beside the waters” and then in the second half of the verse he “sets it as a tzaftzefah.” The structure of the verse implies, to R. Zera, that a “tzaftzefah” is not beside the waters.
Abaye critiques R. Zera’s reading of the verse. How do we know that the first half and second half are two different “placings.” Couldn’t it be that the second half is just an interpretation of the first half? This would mean that a “tzaftzefah” is a willow that grows on water. And if so, why can’t one use it for his lulav?
The Talmud rejects Abaye by saying that the verb in the second half of the clause “he set it” implies that the two halves refer to different “settings.” Thus the first half refers to a willow placed on water and the second half to the “tzaftzefah” which is not found by the water.
R. Abbahu offers an independent theological reading of the verse, an interpretation not connected to the discussion above. God says: I gave Israel a position next to the waters, which are symbolic for Torah. But they went away from my waters to the mountain, like the tzaftzefah, a willow that grows in the mountains.
There is no substantive difference between this version and the above version. The only difference is that in the first version R. Zera cites the verse and Abaye raises the difficulty. Here, the verse is part of a baraita and R. Zera raises the difficulty. Other than that there is no difference. We should note that this is not that uncommon. The Talmud preserves two different organizations of a chunk of material, without any substantive difference between the two. This probably shows us that the organization of the words of the rabbis is very important to the editors. To use Marshall McLuhan’s famous maxim—”the medium is the message.”
This baraita provides identifying marks to distinguish between a valid aravah and the invalid tzaftzefah.
The first baraita in this section describes a tzaftzefah as having a serrated edge like a sickle. Thus a willow like a sickle would seem to be invalid. But a different baraita says that a willow that is like a sickle is valid. These two baraitot seem to contradict each other.
Abaye answers that the second baraita was taught in reference to a “rounded aravah” and not a tzaftzefah. If a rounded aravah has an edge like a sickle it is valid.
Abaye goes on to deduce from here that the rounded aravah is valid for use with the lulav on Sukkot, as a “hoshanna.”
This seems to be obvious—why would we think that such an aravah is invalid? The answer is that it is an “accompanying name.” As we have seen elsewhere, sometimes if something has an “accompanying name” it cannot count as part of the category, in this case the category of “aravah.” That’s why Abaye had to.
Finally, the Talmud asks why such an aravah is valid. They answer with a midrash. The Torah uses the plural form of “willow” to include other willows besides the normal type. Thus a rounded willow is valid.
This long section is a list of things whose name has changed since the destruction of the Temple. I will try to explain them one at a time.
1: Halafta—aravah. This is the topic of our sugya and is the reason why this sugya is here.
2. Shifora—hatzotzratah. The shifora is bent or twisted and is valid for use on Rosh Hashanah. The hatzotzratah is straight, does not come from a ram and should not be used on Rosh Hashanah.
3. Patorta—patora. A big table or a small table. The reason why it is important to know the difference is in a case where one is selling or buying a table.
4. Huvlila—be kase. Parts of the stomach. Identifying the parts of the stomach is significant for if a needle is found in a certain part the animal is a “trefe” and cannot be eaten.
5. Borsif—Babylon. The names of various regions in Babylonia. This is important to know because when one brings a get from Babylon to Israel he need not testify “It was written and signed in front of me.” We can assume that a get written in Babylon was executed properly because it is an area rich in Torah. Borsif was not known for its Torah learning, so gittin originating in Borsfi were distrusted. But now that the names have switched, the halakhah is switched. A person delivering a get from Babylon must say, “It was written and signed in front of me.” But from Borsif he need not make such a declaration.