ח׳ באב ה׳תשע״ה (July 24, 2015)

Nedarim 62a-b: Using the Crown of Torah

In his Mishneh Torah (Hilkhot Talmud Torah 3:10-12), the Rambam states in very strong terms that a Torah scholar cannot rely on his study as a means of support, rather that he should work to support himself. Among the proofs that he brings for this ruling (see his commentary on the Mishna, Pirkei Avot 4:7) is a story that appears on our daf .

As we learned on yesterday’s daf, once the maktzuot were put away, the fig harvest was considered to be over. Our Gemara quotes a baraita that teaches how at that point, figs that were left in the field were considered to be ownerless and could be taken and eaten by anyone. Based on this ruling, Rabbi Ṭarfon was once out walking in the field, and ate some leftover figs, as was the halakha. The owner of the field, who had been plagued by a thief throughout the year, did not recognize Rabbi Ṭarfon, and, seeing someone eating his remaining figs, believed him to be the thief. He pounced upon Rabbi Ṭarfon and put him in a sack, planning to throw him in the river. Upon realizing his precarious situation, Rabbi Ṭarfon moaned aloud “Woe to you, Ṭarfon, that this man will kill you.” When he realized that it was a Sage, Rabbi Ṭarfon, in his sack, the man left him and ran away.

The Gemara brings Rabbi Abbahu who quoted Rabbi Hananya ben Gamliel as saying that from then on Rabbi Ṭarfon felt bad that he had made use of his name and his title (i.e. he had made use of the crown of Torah) to save himself, when he could have offered to pay the man instead.

Based on this exchange, the Rambam concludes that we can see how even in desperate straights felt it inappropriate to make use of the Torah for mundane purposes.