Bava Batra 10


Over the last few pages, the talmudic discourse was focused on how best to make donations to charity and the merits of doing so. These passages, like the one we read at the very end of yesterday’s page, seek to inspire readers to increase their altruism and take care of those in need:

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi says: Anyone who is accustomed to performing acts of charity merits blessing; they will have children who are masters of wisdom, masters of wealth, and masters of aggadah.

According to Rashi, this last phrase means they will be people who have the ability to interpret biblical verses in a way that inspires others and earns them respect. As the conversation continues on today’s daf, we read a tale about Rav Pappa that shows us a stick rather than offering us another carrot. 

Rav Pappa was once climbing up a ladder when his foot slipped and he almost fell. He thought: Is it possible that I am liable like Shabbat desecrators and idol worshippers?

If something like this happened to me, I imagine that I would pause, calm myself and continue up the ladder at a slower pace, taking extra care to make sure my feet are firmly planted on each step. On my way up, it’s more than likely that I would have words with myself about the momentary lapse in attention that had almost catastrophic consequences. Rav Pappa, however, does not consider that he might simply have been careless and suspects that he has committed a particularly egregious transgression. Violating Shabbat and worshiping idols both carry a biblical penalty of stoning. By the time of the Talmud, this was not enforced by rabbinic courts. Instead, it was presumed that God would arrange for these transgressors to meet the fate they deserve. Rashi reminds us of a teaching we encountered back on Ketubot 30 that seems to speak directly to Rav Pappa’s experience:

One who was liable to be executed by stoning either falls from the roof or a beast tramples him.

But while Rav Pappa suspects these capital offenses are the reason he almost fell, Hiyya bar Rav of Difti suggests another possibility:

Perhaps a poor person once approached you and you did not sustain him. As it was taught in a beraita: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korha says: Anyone who turns his eyes away from one seeking charity is considered as if he worships idols.

This incredible source equates turning a beggar away with idol worship. Rav Pappa does not respond to Hiyya bar Rav’s challenge, and neither does the Gemara, leaving open the possibility that it has merit. 

Rav Pappa seems to have gotten off with a warning. We might not be as fortunate, suggests the Gemara, if we turn aside from those in need.

Read all of Bava Batra 10 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 5, 2024. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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