ט״ז באדר א׳ ה׳תשע״ט (February 21, 2019)

Hullin 86a-b: The Benefits of Piety

On yesterday’s daf we learned of Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons in whose merit “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 ” once they moved from Babylonia to the Land of Israel, even though they, themselves, did not personally benefit from their piety. The Gemara on today’s daf compares this to a similar situation –

Even as Rav Yehuda said in the name of Rav: Every day a Divine Voice emerges and says, ‘The entire world is sustained with food in the merit of my son Ḥanina, and yet for my son Ḥanina one kav of carob fruit is sufficient to sustain him from one eve to the next.’

The reference in this story is to Rabbi Ḥanina ben Dosa, a student of Rabbi Yoḥanan ben Zakkai, who was well known for his piety and his miraculous deeds. Few of his teachings have been preserved – and those that have are mainly aggadic traditions. He is known mainly for the many stories of his religious devotion. Throughout the Gemara he is presented as the archetype of someone who is righteous in all his ways (see, for example, Ta’anit 24b-25a).

The Ḥatam Sofer interprets the fact that Rabbi Ḥanina was “satisfied with one kav of carob fruit from one Shabbat eve to the next” as indicative of his patience and acceptance of his lot in life. In his Torah Ḥayyim, Rabbi Avraham Ḥayyim Shor takes a different approach to this story. Opening with the obvious question – why should Rabbi Ḥanina not have benefited from his own merit, just as others did? – he explains that the world is judged both on a level of middat ha-din – the attribute of law – and middat ha-raḥamim – the attribute of mercy. When Rabbi Ḥanina, who, due to his piety and righteousness is equated with the entire world, receives the strict judgment of middat ha-din, it allows the rest of the world to receive the more lenient judgment of middat ha-raḥamim.