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Bekhorot 6a-b: Learning From Every Word

One of the most common words in the Hebrew language cannot be translated into English. The word et introduces many words in the Torah, and according to many Sages, we can use it as a source to learn new laws.

One such case is Rabbi Shimon’s derivation of the law forbidding consumption of milk from a non-kosher animal. As he teaches on today’s daf, in the course of listing forbidden animals, the Torah writes et hagamal (“the camel” see 11:4); the addition of the word et teaches that the prohibition applies also to its milk.  According to others we must learn this from elsewhere, since they do not believe that the word et can be used to teach halakhot.

These positions are found in a baraita that brings the teachings of Shimon (some say Neḥemia) HaAmasoni, who was known to learn halakhot from every et that appeared in the Torah.  When he reached the passage of et HaShem Elokekha tira ( 6:13), which teaches that you should be in awe of God, he could not think of an appropriate thing to learn from the word et, and he stopped making such . In reply to his students’ question of “What will happen to our earlier teachings?” he responded that he would now receive reward for distancing himself from this methodology, just as he did when he made use of it. Finally Rabbi Akiva made use of that et to teach that Torah scholars should be included in the list of those whom the students should hold in awe.

One of the popular questions asked by the rishonim about this baraita is, why did Shimon HaAmasoni encounter difficulties only when he reached this passage? Shouldn’t the passage in 6:5v’ahavta et HaShem Elokekha, that you should love Hashem your God – have presented the same type of problem? The Maharsha suggests that Shimon HaAmasoni had no doubt that there was an obligation to love Torah scholars which could be derived from that pasuk. His only question was whether the same rule could apply to awe, as well, a question that Rabbi Akiva eventually related to.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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