Bava Batra 108a-b

December 07, 2009

The eighth perek (=chapter) of Masechet Bava Batra, Perek Yesh Nohalin, begins on today's daf (=page). The focus of this perek is the laws of inheritance, and generally speaking, how a person's property is divided up after his death. 

The laws of inheritance are stated in a clear manner in the Torah (see Bamidbar 27:6-11). In response to the request made by the daughters of Tzelafhad to receive their father's inheritance in the absence of any male children, the Torah delineates how an estate should be divided. Nevertheless, there is a need to clarify details of these laws and to investigate questions like: are these laws obligatory, or can - perhaps even should - the patriarch divide his worldly possessions according to his own priorities and desires? 

The first Mishnah opens by stating that some relatives both receive an inheritance and pass it on to others, some receive but do not pass on, some pass on but do not receive and some neither receive nor pass on. The first two cases of relatives who both receive an inheritance and pass it on to others are a father, who receives an inheritance from his children and passes it on to them, and a son who receives an inheritance from his father and passes it to him. 

The Gemara queries why the first case that the Mishnah chooses to teach is one of tragedy - a father who receives an inheritance from his son. For such a case to happen, a double tragedy must occur - the child must die in his father's lifetime, and he could not have had any offspring of his own. The Gemara suggests that a better case to be first would have been a son who inherits from his father, since that is the way of the world. 

The Gemara answers that the law granting the father the right to receive an inheritance from his son is not clearly written in the Torah, and the author of the Mishnah preferred to offer a teaching based on a rabbinic derivation rather than a law that is simply stated in the Torah.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the TalmudTo learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here. 

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