On occasion, agreements to buy and sell something are unclear. The Mishna on today’s daf presents a case where the seller says “I am selling you half of my field” without specifying which half was for sale. The Mishna rules that they arrange to have the field evaluated and the purchaser receives half of the field. Similarly, if the seller says “I am selling you the southern half of my field,” the field is evaluated and the southern half is given to the purchaser.
In the Gemara, Rabbi Hiyya bar Abba quoted Rabbi Yoḥanan as ruling that the seller gets to keep the more valuable half of the field and then followed it with a question. If the field is first evaluated to ensure that the two halves are of equal value, how can we discuss which half is the “better” one? Rabbi Yoḥanan responded with a word of rebuke – “while you sat and ate the flowers of the date palm (kafniyata) in Babylon, we were answering this question.” As the second case of the Mishna makes clear, even when we know that the southern half of the field is being sold, we still need to evaluate the field to ensure that the two halves of the field will be of equal value. Nevertheless, the difference between the quality of the different parcels of land remains, and the seller gets to keep the better quality land.
Rabbi Yoḥanan’s rebuke to his Babylonian student effectively meant – “while you were wasting your time with things of no value, I was exerting myself in an attempt to understand the Mishna.” The kafniyata, or date palm flowers, are attached to the small branches of the palm tree. While they are young, these flowers are juicy and edible. Since date palms are either male or female, and only the female palms produce dates, ordinarily only the flowers from male trees would be eaten in order not to disturb the development of the dates on female trees.