Ta'anit 22a-b

January 30, 2007

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Marilyn and Edward Kaplan

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There is a series of stories, which appears in this perek (=chapter), whose focus is the piety of average Jewish people. Our daf (=page) features a number of such stories.


Two of them occurred in the marketplace of Be-lefet, a place frequented by Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah, who often met Eliyahu ha-Navi there. On one occasion, Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah asked Eliyahu whether anyone who was in the market at that time was a ben olam ha-ba - someone who was assured a place in the world-to-come. Eliyahu pointed out a person who was not dressed in a Jewish manner (he was not wearing tzitzit and was wearing black shoes - which was not the Jewish custom). Upon questioning him, Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah discovered that he worked for the non-Jewish government as a jail keeper, where he carefully kept men and women separated and protected Jewish women who were put into prison. Furthermore, he kept his Jewish identity secret so that he could influence the government on issues having to do with the Jewish community and warn the Jews of any impending decrees that would affect them.


Eliyahu then pointed out another couple who were assured a place in the world-to-come. Rabbi Beroka Hoza'ah approached them and asked what their profession was. They told him that they were professional jesters, who entertained people who appeared to be sad or depressed, or who worked to make peace between people who had been angry at one another.


Although the well-known Mishnah in Sanhedrin (see 10:1) teaches that every Jewish person has a share in the world-to-come, the intention there is that after a person is purged of his sins, having received the punishment that is due to him, he will merit olam ha-ba. Our Gemara is discussing people whose behaviors assure them of being a ben olam ha-ba - someone whose actions in this world guarantee him immediate entrance into the world-to-come. The commentaries here discuss how the activities of these people, which benefited the public at large, ensured that they would not succumb to sin in the future.

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

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Next: Ta'anit 23a-b