In the context of discussing the mitzva of kisuy ha-dam – the halakha that requires the blood of wild animals and birds to be covered after ritual slaughter (see 17:13), which is the focus of the current perek – the Gemara tells a story about Rabbi Ḥiyya. Rabbi Ḥiyya’s flax became infested with moths, and Rabbi’s advice to him was to slaughter a bird over the tub of water in which the flax was soaked, so the moths would smell the blood and abandon the flax. While the Gemara is initially concerned with why Rabbi suggested slaughtering a bird over water with no apparent concern for the obligation of kisuy ha-dam (ultimately the Gemara received testimony that Rabbi’s suggestion was to kill the bird in a manner that would have rendered it non-kosher, and therefore free of the obligation to cover its blood), eventually the Gemara turns to another question: How could such a thing happen to Rabbi Ḥiyya?
And could moths have infested his flax? But doesn’t Ravin bar Abba (and some say Rabbi Avin bar Sheva) say: From when the people of the Exile ascended to the Land of Israel there ceased to be meteors, earthquakes, storm winds and thunder in Israel, the people’s wine did not sour, and their flax was not stricken with an infestation of moths; and the Sages placed their eyes upon (i.e. credited) Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons?
The Gemara responds that although the whole world benefited from their merits, they, themselves, did not.
Rabbi Ḥiyya bar Abba was one of the last of the Tanna’im – a pupil and colleague of Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi. Originally from Babylonia, his family genealogy was linked to King David. His twin sons, Yehuda and Ḥizkiyya, were known for their piety; his twin daughters, Pazi and Tavi, headed families of important scholars.
We learn of the importance of the family from the statement of Reish Lakish (see Sukka daf 20a) who taught that when Torah was forgotten in Israel, Ezra came from Babylon and reestablished it; when it was forgotten a second time, Hillel the Babylonian came and reestablished it; when it was forgotten a third time, Rabbi Ḥiyya came and reestablished it. Furthermore, the Gemara in Bava Metzia (85b) suggests that they were parallel to Avraham, Yitzḥak and Yaakov, and had they strengthened themselves in prayer, they could have brought the Messiah before his time.