Today’s section deals with various halakhot concerning the aravah.
R. Ami states three rules with regard to the aravah. It must be of a minimum size, it must be taken alone, not with the lulav, and one cannot fulfill his obligation with the same aravah that is in the lulav.
The problem with R. Ami’s statement is that the second two rules seem to be superfluous. If the aravah must be taken by itself, then obviously you can’t use the one in the lulav.
The answer is that the two statements emphasize that even if one would pick up the lulav once, then put it down and then pick it up again, thereby proving that he is doing so only for the sake of the aravah, this still does not fulfill the mitzvah. The aravah must be picked up alone.
R. Hisda disagrees—one can fulfill his obligation with the same aravah used in the lulav. [The words in the parentheses, “on the first day of the festival,” seem to be a mistake, for the aravah is a special mitzvah on the last day of the festival, not the first. I have not translated them.].
The Talmud now turns its attention to the minimum measure of the aravah. R. Nahman says it must include three twigs, each twig having at least one leaf.
R. Sheshet, after a bit of clarification, holds that even one twig with only one leaf on it is sufficient.
In these two stories we see that the amoraim did not bless over the aravah because they hold that it is a custom of the prophets, not an institution of the prophets.
We should note that I have translated the word “חביט” as shake. This accords with Rashi. However, the Rambam understands the word to mean “beat.” Today Jews follow this custom and beat their aravot at the end of the Hoshana Rabbah service.
At the end of yesterday’s section an amora named Aibu participated in a few stories connected with the aravah. Today’s section continues with stories about Aibu, but without any connection to the aravah, our larger topic.
The question here is whether the man can allow the people of the city to eat the Sabbatical year olives. The problem is that one is not supposed to use these olives to pay wages. He should make the available to everyone. The question is—is this informal arrangement improper?
R. Elazar is impressed with the man’s piety. He could have, after all, continued to do as he had done before without asking R. Elazar what to do.
The man even goes so far as to come back and ask R. Elazar what the proper thing to do would be. R. Elazar answers that he should declare the olives ownerless and pay the people to hoe the vineyards. Note how much more money this would cost him—he would lose the value of the olives and he would have to spend money on the hoeing. But the man seems to be quite righteous, willing to do what the Torah demands, even if this costs him.
The Talmud raises a difficulty—how can R. Elazar allow any hoeing at all on the Sabbatical year? The rabbis read Exodus 23:11 as explicitly prohibiting hoeing.
R. Ukba b. Hama resolves the difficulty—there are two types of hoeing. Closing the fissures is allowed because these fissures expose the roots and their exposure might cause the tree to die. One is allowed to prevent a tree from dying during the Sabbatical year. On the other hand, one is not allowed to aerate the soil because that is done to improve the tree. Thus as a general rule one can take an action to preserve the life of the tree, but one cannot take an action to improve the tree. The type of hoeing that R. Elazar allowed was only to preserve the life of the tree.
The final section contains another statement by Aibu.
Aibu says that on Friday a person should not walk more than three parasangs. The exact length of a parasang is unknown, but a good estimate may be four kilometers. Thus this is about 12 km (7-8 miles). The problem with going so far on erev Shabbat is that he might not make it home. Rather, he should stop and prepare food for Shabbat wherever he is.
R. Kahana says that this is so only if he is going home. They won’t know that he is coming and they won’t prepare food for him. This will make him angry. But if he is going to an inn, he won’t expect them to make food for him, so he’ll be okay with eating whatever food he might have with him.
There is another version of what R. Kahana said. In this version he says that Aibu’s statement refers even to one traveling to his own home. We might have thought that at home, they would give him whatever food they have. But Aibu says nevertheless a person shouldn’t surprise his family by popping in unexpectedly on Friday night. All the more so, one should not go to an inn, where he won’t find any food whatsoever.
The sugya closes with a story in which R. Kahana himself arrives at an inn on Friday night and there’s no food for him. Not even a small dish of fried fish.