Talmud

Gittin 52

Words appearing in dreams.

When a child becomes an orphan, rabbinic law dictates that a steward be named to oversee the minor’s affairs until they reach the age of majority. On today’s daf we encounter beraita that enumerates regulations to which a steward must adhere, including:

Stewards are not permitted to sell fields and use the proceeds to purchase slaves.

Given that land holds its value longer than slaves, stewards are prevented from selling the former to acquire the latter in order to protect the value of their charge’s estate over time.

The Gemara recounts a related anecdote:

A certain steward in Rabbi Meir’s neighborhood who was selling land belonging to the orphans and purchasing slaves with the proceeds, and Rabbi Meir did not allow him. 

They showed him (Rabbi Meir) in his dream the words: I wish to destroy and you build? 

Even so, Rabbi Meir paid no heed to his dream, and said: Words appearing in dreams do not bring up and do not take down.

While the Gemara is not crystal clear here, it seems to be telling us about heavenly desire to bring financial ruin to the orphans by having their lands traded for slaves and that Rabbi Meir’s interference prevented this from happening. Or, at least, that is what he dreamed about. 

If indeed the dream was a supernatural attempt to interfere in the legal process and change the decision of Rabbi Meir and the fate of the orphans, it was not successful as Rabbi Meir explicitly chooses not to take his dreams into account when making legal decisions.

The Gemara then shares another anecdote involving Rabbi Meir and a supernatural being:

There were two people who, incited by Satan, would argue with each other every Friday afternoon at twilight. Rabbi Meir happened to come to the place where they argued. He stopped them from fighting three Friday afternoons at twilight, until finally he made peace between them. He then heard Satan say: Woe, that Rabbi Meir removed that man (i.e. Satan) from his house. 

Here, the Gemara is clearer. Satan has sown discord between two neighbors and Rabbi Meir intervenes, as Shabbat is coming in, for three consecutive weeks, ultimately convincing the pair to reconcile and thwarting Satan’s efforts. 

In rabbinic literature, Satan often appears as God’s adversary, stirring up some kind of trouble and interfering with the peace and harmony of the world. In his efforts to bring peace between the arguing neighbors, Rabbi Meir does his part to bring the world closer to how God wants it to be.

It’s possible to read Satan into the first anecdote. Who else would seek to stir the pot by having a steward bring financial ruin to an orphan? If this is the case, then Rabbi Meir plays a similar role in both stories — an agent of peace who keeps Satan at bay.

But what if the unnamed character in the first story who wished to destroy the orphans is not Satan, but God? While Satan gets involved to cause trouble, God does so for the sake of justice. If the orphans are indeed deserving of the punishment, or if some other cosmic goal is served by their ruin, then shouldn’t Rabbi Meir get out of God’s way?

No, says Rabbi Meir. This law is in place to protect the orphans and should be upheld, even when God seeks to circumvent it. The Talmud gives accolades to Rabbi Meir, who brings peace to his neighborhood and whose judgements are not influenced by those who seek to use their power and influence to sway them, even those who reside in the heavenly court.

Read all of Gittin 52 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on July 7th, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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