By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Yevamos 96 – Full Circle
Why is it, asks the Gemara, that our Mishna says yibum can be done with his second wife? This man did yibum as a nine year old child with his brother’s widow. When he became an adult he married a second woman. If he was never intimate with his yevama from the time he became an adult, the zikas-yibum of her original husband never became neutralized. Now that this man, who was meyabeim her when he was nine years old, has died, she effectively has two zikos-yibum making her subject to yibum. When a woman has two zikos-yibum on her, we do not allow the surviving brother to do yibum. Yet, this Mishna is allowing him to do yibum with her co-wife, whereas the Mishna in the third perek seems to forbid such a thing as well.
Rabi Yochanan explained that, indeed, these two Mishnayos do not agree with one another. The Mishna in the third Perek holds that our main concern is that he not come to do yibum with the co-wife since that may lead people to think in general that when a brother dies and he left behind two widows, the surviving brother can do chalitza to the first and yibum to the second, which is actually assur. Our Mishna over here, though, explains Rabi Yochanan, holds that the reason we do not allow one to do yibum with a yevama who has two zikos-yibum on her has nothing to do with her co-wife, and is an inherent issue in of itself. That is why this Mishna does allow yibum to be done with the co-wife of the yevama who has two zikos-yibum on her.
Rabi Elazar (the Amora), who was a talmid-muvhak of Rabi Yochanan, repeated this explanation of the machlokes between the Mishnayos in the Beis Medrash. However, he did not mention that he had heard this explanation from Rabi Yochanan. Because of this omission, Rabi Yochanan got upset. The lips of a talmid chacham whose words of Torah are repeated in his name move in the grave as if he is talking. Rabi Yochanan felt deprived of this as a result of Rabi Elazar’s omission.
Why Rabi Yochanan got upset specifically about this point, and not the general idea that anyone who quotes his sources brings redemption to the world, is a fascinating point of study in of itself, and is discussed by the Maharsha. For the moment, though, I’d like to focus on a seemingly ancillary part of this account.
When Rabi Yochanan got upset, Rabi Ami and Rabi Asi went to talk to him to try to appease him. They reminded him of the time when Rabi Elazar (the Tanna) and Rabi Yosi had gotten into such a heated argument about whether or not a certain item can be used on Shabbos to lock a door that the Seifer Torah that they were using jointly got inadvertently torn when each one was pulling it in his direction. Upon witnessing this terrible mishap, Rabi Yosi ben Kisma said, “I would be shocked if this Shul does not eventually wind up becoming a house of idolatry!” That is in fact what came to pass.
Rabi Ami and Rabi Asi were trying to indicate to Rabi Yochanan the great danger of getting upset. However, their attempt only made things worse. Rabi Yochanan became even more upset and said, “You even want to make him into my chevrusah?!” In other words, “How could you bring a proof that I should not be upset from what happened with Rabi Elazar (the Tanna) and Rabi Yosi? They were contemporaries and indeed should not have allowed themselves to get so upset with one another. Rabi Elazar (the Amora), though, is my talmid and he was in fact out of line by not quoting me!”
So, someone else stepped in. Rabi Yaakov bar Idi. He took a completely different angle. “The pasuk says that Yehoshua did every single thing in accordance with what he had received from Moshe who had been commanded by Hashem. Obviously, there is no way that Yehoshua could repeat ‘This is what Moshe told me’ for every single thing he said. Rather, Yehoshua would sit and darshen and everyone knew that everything he said was from Moshe Rabbeinu. So too, your talmid Rabi Elazar sits and darshens and everyone knows that it is your words of Torah that he is repeating.”
Upon hearing this, Rabi Yochanan said to Rabi Ami and Rabi Asi, “Why don’t you know how to appease like the son of Idi my friend?!”
That is precisely the question I’d like to focus on. Obviously, Rabi Ami and Rabi Asi had the same thing in mind as Rabi Yaakov bar Idi. They wanted to appease Rabi Yochanan and make shalom between him and his talmid Rabi Elazar. They certainly were just as much l’sheim Shamayim in their intention as Rabi Yaakov bar Idi. So why is it that specifically Rabi Yaakov bar Idi merited the siyata d’Shmaya to get it right?
I think that the answer to this question lies in the manner by which Rabi Yochanan referred to Rabi Yaakov bar Idi. He called him bar Idi chaveireinu, the son of Idi my friend. Apparently, Rabi Yochanan saw fit to pin the significance of Rabi Yaakov bar Idi’s success in appeasing him on the fact that he was the son of Idi, Rabi Yochanan’s friend.
Who was this friend of Rabi Yochanan’s called Idi?
The Gemara in Chagigah (5b) fills us in on this information. I add a bit of literary embellishment to make the storyline fuller, but the basic facts of the account are precisely as recorded in the Gemara.
A man by the name of Idi lived way out in the sticks – a really distant and isolated place in the middle of nowhere. The closest Beis Midrash to him was a distance of three months (!) travel. Idi really wanted to have the zechus to engage in some serious, top-level limud ha’Torah, though, so he undertook the journey. The only problem was that after just one day of being able to learn in the Beis Midrash, a dismaying and mercilessly unambiguous realization dawns on Idi and practically knocks the wind out of him: if he does not immediately set out to return for home, he will miss spending the upcoming Yomtov with his family and he will miss so much work that his family’s financial situation will collapse. So, without any alternative, Idi sets out once again – this time to return home – on yet another arduous, three-month journey; after having completed such a journey only 24 hours prior!
A long time passes, close to half a year to be more precise, until Idi discovers his next window of opportunity to leave home and journey to the Beis Midrash to be able to do some more serious Torah learning. Living in a time and place that technological advances in the field of travel were non-existent, the journey once again takes up a full three months of Idi’s precious time. And, yes you guessed it, once again after merely 24 hours of basking in the light of full-intensity limud ha’Torah, poor Idi realizes that he has no choice but to immediately head home and to face yet another journey of three months. The truth is, he knew it in his heart before even setting out, but he decided that it was still worth it for him to undertake the six months of round-trip travel to be able to have the zechus to spend even just one day in the Beis Midrash.
Life goes on this way for many years with Idi progressing, albeit at his own pace, in his acquisition of chochmas ha’Torah – spending half the year at home and work, and half the year at travel in order to be able to spend but one day per year in the Beis Midrash engaged for that single day in full-time, intensive limud ha’Torah together with some of the greatest Talmidei Chachamim of his time.
Apparently, despite the relatively sparse amount of time that he could be in the Beis Medrash, Idi managed to accomplish quite a lot, because the Gemara actually refers to him as Rav Idi. Not only that, but this Rav Idi managed to eventually raise a son who became known as Rabi Yaakov bar Idi.
For how many years Rav Idi lived this way, and why he did not relocate, the Gemara does not disclose. But what is clear from the Gemara is that this situation persisted for enough time that Rav Idi earned the not-quite-so-flattering appellation of “Bar Bei Rav D’chad Yomah”, which loosely translates as “The One Day Yeshiva Guy”. It wasn’t exactly intended as an expression of praise; and, as could be expected, it made Rav Idi feel terrible. So terrible, in fact, that he applied to himself the pasuk in Iyov that says, “I became my friends’ joke”.
Upon hearing Rav Idi’s expression of distress, Rabi Yochanan said to him, “I beg of you, please do not bring down punishment upon the Rabbanan.” Thereafter, Rabi Yochanan went to the Beis Midrash to deliver a special shiur. He quoted the pasuk in Yeshayahu that says, “They seek me out day by day, and they desire knowledge of My ways,” and posed the following question: do we only seek out Hashem by day and not by night? The answer, explained Rabi Yochanan, is that the double lashon of “yom yom” in the pasuk is not to imply the exclusion of night; rather, it is to convey that even if one engages in Torah for but one day per year, the pasuk considers it as if he has spent the entire year doing so.
With that, Rabi Yochanan simultaneously boosted Rav Idi’s morale and put an immediate end to the teasing to which he had been subject. Rav Idi had started to feel really dejected, and Rabi Yochanan – with his impromptu derasha – completely restored his peace of mind. Is it any wonder, then, that years later Rabi Yochanan’s own peace of mind was restored by Rabi Yaakov the son of Idi?
The pasuk in Koheles says, “Cast out your bread upon the face of the water for in the abundance of days you shall find it.” From this we learn that a good deed never goes unpaid.
Think about it, when he gave that impromptu derasha, Rabi Yochanan was quite possibly sticking out his neck in more way than one. The other Chachamim in that Beis Medrash were no lemelach, and by sticking up for Rav Idi, Rabi Yochanan may well have been opening himself up to potential disapproval and ridicule.
Obviously, those Chachamim who had appended the appellation of “The one-day-a-year Yeshiva guy” to Rav Idi were not doing so with an intent to hurt his feelings. Firstly, they may have felt that it was just the most natural way to identify him, much like the way it was commonplace in the European Yeshivos to refer to a bachur by the town from whence he hailed (for example, Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz was known as der Stuchiner because he was from the town of Stuchin).
If Rabi Yochanan censured them for this, they may have been inclined to feel that he was making a big deal for nothing. They may very well have felt that Rav Idi getting upset over being called what he in fact was, a “Bar Bei Rav D’Chad Yoma”, would be like Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz getting upset that he was called der Stuchiner. To their mind, perhaps, the way to have dealt with it is to just tell Rav Idi that his appellation fits and there is no reason for him to be upset; and not go generate a whole chiddush and interrupt the learning seider to darshen it just to make him feel better. They may have therefore thought that Rabi Yochanan’s extreme reaction was uncalled for and was grounds for reassessing how exactly they ought to react to things the “elderly Rav” has to say in the future.
Furthermore, there may have been another intention to this appellation of “Bar Bei Rav D’Chad Yoma”. They may have justifiably felt that Rav Idi’s highly unusual “schedule” may weaken the whole foundation of true application to Torah. “Having this guy come in one day a year,” they may have thought, “and act as if he is part of the chaburah, may chas v’shalom cause a ripple effect of terrible laxity in Torah-learning!” They may have therefore deliberately called Rav Idi “Bar Bei Rav D’Chad Yoma” in order to generate a general sense of disapproval of such an approach to Torah study, and thus strengthen the sense that “to be truly respected as a talmid chacham you have to really be one. And you can’t really be one if you only spend one day a year in the Beis Medrash.”
If that was their intention, Rabi Yochanan’s chiddush and derasha to protect Rav Idi may not only have aroused a latent decrease of respect for him, but may have even brought about outright ire! For all Rabi Yochanan knew, his chiddush and impromptu derasha may have sparked a serious challenge to his authority, seeing that the other Chachamim may have felt that his words present a serious potential to undermine full application to learning Torah!
Rabi Yochanan, though, paid all of this no heed. Not to say that he didn’t consider it and realize that he was possibly putting himself out for Rav Idi; not at all. Rabi Yochanan was obviously a highly intelligent and shrewd individual. He surely knew very well what he may be getting himself into. He understood, though, not only the truth of his chiddush and that it would not in any way ill effect application to Torah study, but also that this situation of Rav Idi feeling teased was untenable, dangerous, and must be immediately stopped. Rabi Yochanan placed the restoration of Rav Idi’s honor and peace of mind as a top priority and succeeded in so doing.
Rabi Yochanan had cast his bread out upon the waters, and with the passage of many days, he eventually found it. Rabi Yaakov bar Idi emerged as the singular individual who was zocheh to the siyata d’Shmaya to find the right words to set Rabi Yochanan’s mind at ease. Years earlier, Rabi Yochanan had set Rav Idi’s mind at ease, not by critiquing or correcting him, but by darshening a chiddush that fully justified his behavior and even praised it. So too did Rav Idi’s son Rabi Yaakov manage to set Rabi Yochanan’s mind at ease not by pointing out to him that it’s inappropriate to be upset, but by darshening a chiddush that implies total justification for Rabi Yochanan’s deep concern and, at the same time, allays that concern by demonstrating that what he desired would not be withheld from him.
It can happen that we are faced with situations such as Rabi Yochanan was faced with when he overheard Rav Idi self-commiserating and feeling miserable. Part of us may feel like it is not worth it. “Don’t get involved and make a whole big deal for nothing. Just tell him to pay it no attention. It’ll blow over. If I try to fix the problem it may just blow up in my face. Better not to make a mountain out of a molehill.” We may hear that voice in our head. But, maybe, deep in our heart we know that the correct thing to do is to stand up for what’s right. Sometimes you truly are not in a position to correct the matter. After all, not just any chacham could have gotten up and given that derasha that Rabi Yochanan gave. But sometimes you are in that position, and deep down you know it. That may mean putting your own neck on the line. Your standing in the community. Or maybe your job. Whatever it may be. In your heart, though, you know what you have to do. What we see from this saga of Rabi Yochanan, Rav Idi, and Rav Yaakov bar Idi that spanned many years, is that, ultimately, one never loses out from standing up for what’s right when that’s what is called for. On the contrary, you only gain. Because you never know, it may just be that precisely when you need it, things will come full circle and someone will step in to help you just as you once stood up to help someone else.
Cast your bread upon the water, for in the abundance of days you will find it.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.