An Expression Unique in Shas
“I Am Neither Wise…”
In our sugya, R. Nachman bar Yitzchak wished to support a halachic ruling that he had made. He added: “I am neither a wise man, a seer, nor an independent authority. Rather, I am a receiver and compiler of tradition. The accepted ruling in the Beis Medrash is according to my opinion.” Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk (Or Samei’ach, Hilchos Shabbos 29:12) comments that this is an unusual expression, not found elsewhere in Shas.
Who Compiled the Talmud Bavli?
Some understood from this expression that R. Nachman bar Yitzchak assisted in compiling the information, from which Ravina and Rav Ashi would later compose the Shas. Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak was a student of Rava (not to be confused with R. Nachman bar Yaakov, Rava’s rebbe – see Tosefos on Gittin 31b, s.v. Ana lo). He was also one of the principal figures in organizing the correct traditions of teachings of previous generations, which were passed down by word of mouth and often misquoted. After he began determining the most accurate versions of these traditions, his work was continued in subsequent generations until Rav Ashi composed the Talmud Bavli that we now have. This is the meaning of Rabbi Nachman bar Yitzchak’s expression, “I am a receiver and compiler of tradition.”
In many places in Shas, we find R. Nachman bar Yitzchak determining the correct wording of phrases (Bava Kama 60a, Beitza 35a), or presenting mnemonic devices to help remember the correct tradition (Erchin 11b, Nida 45b, Shabbos 66b. See Doros Rishonim II, 60). These demonstrate his important role in the determination and preservation of the authentic tradition of Oral Law.
A Receiver And Compiler
The above declaration helps us understand the second half of R. Nachman bar Yitzchak’s statement, “I am a receiver and compiler.” What is the meaning of the first half, “I am neither a wise man, a seer, nor an independent authority?”
In order to more fully understand, we examine the halachic ruling in reference to which it was said. R. Nachman bar Yitzchak ruled that if a person has only one cup of wine for Shabbos, he should use it for Kiddush on Friday night. Even though the day meal is more important, it is still better to make Kiddush over wine at the first possible opportunity. We thus show our love for the mitzvah.
An objection was raised from a halacha which states that if a person wishes to eat a meal on motzaei Shabbos and he has only one cup of wine, he should not make Havdala first. Rather he should wait until after the meal and use the cup for both Birkas Hamazon and Havdala (this is according to the opinion that Birkas Hamazon must be recited over wine). This seems to contradict R. Nachman bar Yitzchak’s ruling. Is it not better to make Havdala at the first possible opportunity? Why would the mitzvah of Havdala be pushed off?
For Love Of Shabbos
R. Nachman bar Yitzchak answered that we begin Shabbos with Kiddush and conclude it with Havdala. By making Kiddush at the first possible opportunity, we show our love for Shabbos. The opposite is true with Havdala; we postpone Havdala to show that we are reluctant to part with Shabbos.
Why did R. Nachman bar Yitzchak add his puzzling comment to support this argument? This week in Daf Yomi, we also find a discussion of Yom Tov that occurs on motzaei Shabbos. Should Kiddush for Yom Tov be recited first, or Havdala for Shabbos? The Amoraim offer many opinions on the matter. According to Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya, Shmuel, Rabba and Rabbi Yehoshua, Havdala should be recited first. According to Rav, Levi, Rabanan, and Mar brei D’Ravina, Kiddush should be recited first.
When we examine which Sages were involved in this debate, we find that many of them had earned prestigious titles: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya was introduced to the scholars of Athens as the “wise man of the Jews” (Bechoros 8b); Shmuel was known for his prowess in astrology (Berachos 58b), and could be considered a seer of stars; Rabba said of himself that he was uniquely knowledgeable in the ritual impurity associated with tzaraas and ohalos (the spread of impurity throughout a roofed structure, Bava Metiza 86a). In this regard, he was an independent authority; Rav was Rosh Yeshiva in Bavel. The Gemara refers to this title as the “Reish Sidra,” which literally means the head of the compilation (Chullin 137b); Levi was called a “student before the wise,” since he studied under Rebbe and received his wisdom (Sanhedrin 17b); R. Nachman bar Yitzchak said of himself that he did not agree with the wise man (Rabbi Yehoshua ben Chananya), the seer (Shmuel) or the independent authority (Rabba), who held that Havdala should be recited first. He agreed with the receiver (Levi) and compiler (Rav), who held that Kiddush should be recited first. By pushing off Havdala for later, we show our love for Shabbos and our reluctance to part with it. Just as Havdala should be postponed until after Kiddush for Yom Tov, so too should it be postponed until after Birkas Hamazon when necessary (Or Samei’ach, ibid).