Their father died, and there isn’t much of a yerusha to speak of. Not even enough to support all of the children for twelve months. Of course, mi’d’Oraysah the halacha is that the male children inherit, not the girls. However, in this type of situation, Chazal made a takana that the girls are sustained from whatever the yerusha can provide, and the boys will have to go knocking on doors if necessary.
That is brought as the first, stam opinion. Then the Mishna brings Admon’s words: “What, because I am a male I should lose out?!” Rabban Gamliel, the Mishna concludes, concurs with the opinion of Admon.
Tosafos points out that we are going to soon learn that wherever Rabban Gamliel concurs with Admon, that is the psak halacha l’maaseh. However, Rabbeinu Tam says that this instance is an exception. He points to numerous sugyos that clearly take for granted that when there is a small yerusha such as described in our Mishna, the halacha is that the girls get it, not the boys. Then Rabbeinu Tam explains why this is so. “For over here Admon is not coming to argue on the words of the Chachamim, rather just to express his wonderment; and Rabban Gamliel, as well, who concurred with Admon, was not expressing a psak din, but just emphasizing that, yes, there definitely is reason to express wonderment over this takana.”
In other words, Rabbeinu Tam is saying that both Admon and Rabban Gamliel agree that the halacha is as the Chachamim say – when it is nechasim muatim, it goes to the girls – just they were expressing the fact that this is a very difficult takana to comprehend.
Now, I think the following question is patently obvious: what exactly is the point of that? If you agree that the halacha is as the Chachamim say, what are you trying to accomplish by expressing your wonderment? And in the Mishna yet!
I think that perhaps the following story can shed a lot of light on this matter.
Rav Yaakov Yosef Lerner is the author of numerous, impressive sefarim. One of them is the two volume set called Shemiras Ha’Guf V’ha’nefesh. In the introductory chapters, he has a section (chapter 6 in the mevoh) that addresses the dichotomies that exist between the medical norms as expressed by Chazal and those of contemporary science and medicine.
One of the points mentioned there is the opinion of Rav Shreirah Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham the son of the Rambam who both say that Chazal’s scientific and medical statements were based on the most up-to-date knowledge of their time, and that we therefore follow contemporary medicine where it does not concur with what Chazal said. He then references a comment of Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach zt”l mentioned in Seifer Nishmas Avraham that this opinion of Rav Shreirah Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben Ha’Rambam ought to be cited as a yeish omrim (“there are those that say”) and not as the primary reason why we generally follow the opinion of modern medicine.
Rav Lerner continues that he wrote to Rav Shlomo Zalman asking who is it that argues on Rav Shreirah Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben Ha’Rambam. Rav Shlomo Zalman wrote back, “At the moment, I do not recall if there is anyone that really argues or even if there is anyone who can argue on them, but it is possible that my intention (in the comment he wrote on Seifer Nishmas Avraham) was that since many [Achronim] have written that the reason [we generally follow the opinion of contemporary medicine] is that nature has changed, and they did not make any mention of improved and more advanced knowledge of contemporary medicine, therefore I brought to [that author’s] attention that it is more suitable to write their opinion as a yeish omrim, particularly since there are those that allow melachos to be done on Shabbos [in situations defined by Chazal as sakanah] even when contemporary medicine does not consider the situation to be a danger to life.”
A fascinating footnote to this is something I heard directly from Rav Lerner. “Some members of Rav Shlomo Zalman’s family did not want me to publish that response because they maintained it is a lack of kavod to the gadol ha’dor that it should be widely published that he didn’t know the answer to the question if there is anyone who explicitly argues on Rav Shreirah Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben Ha’Rambam. So, I went to Rav Shlomo Zalman myself and asked him if I should in fact publish it or not. He told me, ‘Of course you should publish it. Right now, neither you nor I know if there is anyone who [explicitly] argues on Rav Shreirah Gaon and Rabbeinu Avraham ben Ha’Rambam on this matter. If you publish it, maybe someone who does know of such a source will see what you published, and then inform you of the source, and we will all become smarter as a result.’ In fact, that is precisely what happened!”
What we see from this enchanting anecdote is twofold: “I don’t know” is an inherent part of the dynamic process of limud ha’Torah, and cultivating the humility to own up to that is ultimately a key to great achievement.
My Rebbi, Rav Moshe Twersky zt”l Hy”d, once described this dynamic process like this: “Learning Torah and teaching Torah is not a vocation; it’s not a calling. It is, first of all, the essence of life. Everybody can have a cheilek in it. Teaching also is something that everybody can engage in. When you explain to your chevrusah pshat in a Rashi or a Rambam, you’re teaching. When you point out a mareh makom, you’re teaching. By being involved in teaching, you’re involved in the great process of kol ha’melamed ben chaveiro Torah k’ilu yaldo. The tachlis of the briah of the olam is to bring everybody to Olam Ha’Bah. The Rambam says aviv v’imo meviim oso l’chayei Olam Ha’Zeh v’Rabo mevio l’chayei Olam Ha’Bah. Everybody, everybody can have a cheilek of that great, great process of lilmod u’lelamed.”
In other words, learning Torah is not just an individual undertaking; there is also a facet – perhaps the primary one – in which learning Torah is a broad, overarching communal endeavor that belongs to all of Klal Yisrael.
That is one of the reasons that it is so crucial to make note of and keep record of the “I don’t know”. And, also, the “I don’t understand”. Because by doing so, perhaps eventually someone will come along who does know or who does understand. Whether you personally will be there to be filled in on the information or hear the explanation is not the most critical matter; the fundamental point is that your self-effacing willingness to point out lack of knowledge or understanding can facilitate the eventual increase of Torah knowledge in Klal Yisrael. And that is a very major accomplishment, indeed.
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.