We have now seen two opinions as to where the wine libations drain off—into the abyss or into the pits. The Talmud analyzes a mishnah in light of this dispute. The mishnah says that if one makes use of drink-offerings before they have been poured out on the altar he has committed sacrilege—illicit use of a holy item. But once it has been poured out, sacrilege is not committed by use of the wine. The Talmud suggests at first that this must accord with R. Elazar b. Zadok because the rabbis hold that the wine drains off into the abyss. There would be no reason to say that one who uses it commits sacrilege if there was simply no access to it.
The Talmud resolves that the mishnah could follow the rabbis (the wine drains into the abyss) if a person put a vessel there to collect the wine before it drains into the abyss.
I should note that this mishnah shows that in normative/halakhic texts the rabbis picture the wine draining off into a place from which it may be collected. It is in aggadic texts that they consider the wine as going down the abyss. We shall see more about this concept later.
The Talmud now notes that in a different sense the mishnah may accord better with the rabbis who hold that the wine drains off into the abyss. For according to R. Elazar b. Zadok we might think that if one were to derive benefit from the wine after it drains off into the space between the altar and the ascent he has still committed sacrilege. After all, this congealed wine must be burned. So how can the mishnah accord with R. Elazar b. Zadok.
The answer is that even R. Elazar agrees that once the mitzvah to pour the wine out onto the altar has been fulfilled, one who uses the wine has not committed sacrilege.
Today’s section continues the discussion of the libations that would drain out into the pits underneath the altar.
Resh Lakish reads the verse concerning the wine libation as if it requires stopping up the pits while the wine is actually being poured on the altar. As occurred in yesterday’s section, it is not entirely clear how this verse proves what Resh Lakish claims it does. This will be clarified now.
R. Papa explains that Resh Lakish’s halakhah comes from the word “shekhar” which I have translated as “strong drink.” The word, according to R. Papa also means satiation. When the wine is poured out onto the altar and stays there while the pits are stopped up, the altar looks satiated.
From this, R. Papa also learns the proper way to drink wine. According to Rashi, R. Papa suggests that one will feel more satiated if he fills his mouth with a large quantity and then swallows it all at once. Taking small sips will leave him feeling less full. Interesting to note that in our day, since we have plenty of wine (and most of our other needs) we usually aim for the opposite—to eat and drink in a manner so that we won’t feel bloated.
The section concludes with Rava’s advice to rabbis who don’t have enough money to afford lots of wine. They should gulp their wine down. Rava even did so with the “cup of blessing” the cup used with birkat hamazon. This was a way to show how much he wanted to fulfill the mitzvah. Funny, Rava also claims to have drunk wine all day on erev Pesah. Seems to have been quite a character.
This section continues with derashot (sermons) on Song of Songs.
Rava expounds upon the verse in Song of Songs, as usual interpreting it to refer to the children of Israel and God. The Talmud also expresses surprise that only Abraham is mentioned, and not Isaac and Jacob. The answer is that Abraham was the first convert. The word for “prince” is to dedicate. Rashi explains that Abraham “dedicated” his heart to be the first person devoted to God.
The School of R. Anan compares Torah to the thigh. Just as the thigh is usually hidden by one’s clothing, so too the study of Torah should not be done publicly in a manner intended to draw attention to one self. One should not sit on the top of a hill and study Torah so that all the people of the town could see. Rather, one should act humbly and study Torah in a more modest setting.
The same lesson is drawn from R. Elazar’s statement. Micah uses the phrase “walk humbly” to describe mitzvoth that are done in public because they involve helping others. If, R. Elazar says, we are to walk humbly in the performance of such public mitzvoth, all the more so we should be humble when engaging in a more private act, the study of Torah.
This statement expresses a common rabbinic idea, probably related to the fact that the Temple no longer stood. Charity is greater than sacrifice. We should note that this does not imply, as it is sometimes taken to, that sacrifice is worthless. The idea is that both have value, but that charity is the greater of the two.
R. Elazar now ranks acts of loving kindness, gemilut hasadim, a category which includes all sorts of ways in which one person can help another person, above charity, which is more limited to simply donating money to another person. This is derived from the fact the when it comes to charity the verb is “to sow” whereas when it comes to gemilut hasadim, the verb is “to reap.” Reaping guarantees food to eat, sowing does not.
In this statement R. Elazar combines the two, charity and acts of loving kindness. The reward one gets for charity depends on the level of kindness with which one performs it. Charity performed with love may not be better for the receiver than charity performed without love, but it is certainly better for the giver.
Again, gemilut hasadim is preferred over charity. Charity, giving of money, is performed only with one’s bank account, it can only be given to the poor (one can give money to the rich, but they don’t need it). And charity can only be given to the living, whereas one can perform an act of loving kindness by helping bury the dead.
A few more statements by R. Elazar concerning charity and acts of loving kindness. R. Elazar admits that it’s not easy, it is precious, difficult. Nevertheless, for someone who fears the Lord, it is not so difficult. It seems that God makes things easier for those who fear him.
Today’s section continues with more exhortations concerning acts of loving kindness.
R. Hama b. Papa expounds upon the same verse found at the end of yesterday’s section. One who has the grace of God must be one who fears God.
In describing the “woman of valor (eshet hayil)” Proverbs 31 uses the phrase the “Torah of loving kindness.” This, to the Talmud, doesn’t make sense for there is no such thing as a Torah which is not of “loving kindness.” To solve the problem the Talmud asserts that when Torah is studied for its own sake, it is a Torah of loving kindness. But when Torah is studied for an ulterior motive, such as in order to use it to gain power to rule over others, it is not a Torah of loving kindness.
Alternatively, when Torah is studied in order to teach others, it is a Torah of loving kindness, meant to be shared with others. But when it is not studied in order to teach, it is not a Torah of loving kindness.
The fiftieth (!) daf of Sukkah deals with the mishnah from daf mem het which said that when they drew the water from the Shiloah to be used on Shabbat, they would leave it overnight in the Temple in a non-sanctified vessel.
The mishnah had stated that when they bring the water for the water libation to the Temple on Friday to be used on Shabbat, they bring it in a non-sanctified vessel. The Talmud asks about this curious detail—why the necessity to bring it in a non-sanctified vessel.
The answer according to Zeiri is that as soon as the water is put in the ministering vessel (a vessel used in the Temple) it all becomes holy, even if the intent was not for it to become holy immediately. There is no fixed amount of water needed for the water libation, and therefore it would all become holy. Holy things that are meant to be sacrificed cannot be left over in the Temple overnight. This would mean it would be invalidated because it spent overnight in the Temple.