Today’s daf offers all kinds of advice on how to live a safe and stable life: economic advice, military advice, parenting advice and more. But as is so often the case, we can learn as much from how the rabbis speak as we can from what they say.
Much of the advice offered is framed as a father speaking to his son.
Rav said to Hiyya, his son: Do not drink medications. And do not leap over a ditch. And do not pull out a tooth. And do not provoke a snake. And do not provoke a gentile.
Rav gives his son Hiyya advice aimed at fostering physical health. After all, no one wants to fall into a ditch and break something, or be bitten by a snake! Hiyya would grow up to be a great Torah scholar himself, and we can imagine that Rav’s advice is designed to make sure he stays healthy and safe while he does so. But Hiyya isn’t Rav’s only son, and he’s not the only son to whom Rav gives advice. Later on in today’s daf, we read:
Rav said to Ayvu, his son: I struggled to teach you halakhah but my efforts did not succeed. Come and I will teach you about mundane matters: Sell your merchandise while the dust from the road is still on your feet. Anything you sell might later cause you to regret the sale, except for wine, which you can sell without regret. Open your purse to accept payment, and only then open your sack. It is better to earn a kav from the ground than a kor from the roof. If there are dates in your storeroom, run to the brewery.
Because Ayvu does not seem to have the capacity or temperament to learn Torah as Rav had hoped, the father’s advice here is all about how to succeed in business: what to invest in, how to close a sale and what kinds of inventory last. It’s a different form of wisdom — and one that will hopefully benefit this child.
Not all of this business advice has aged so well — at least not in the specifics. Most of us don’t do business on foot and the dust of the road isn’t a helpful measure for us. We have refrigeration and don’t have to worry that dates will go bad quickly.
But many of us do still have children, and sometimes those children aren’t interested in or likely to thrive by pursuing the dreams we initially had for them.
Rav initially wanted the same things for both his sons: to become great Torah scholars. For the rabbis, shaping future generations of Torah scholars was one of the most important things they could do. But Rav eventually recognized that this dream isn’t Ayvu’s path. Rav offered his second son a different avenue to stability and success — one in which he might more naturally thrive.
Rav loved Torah, and wished all his sons would follow that path — he didn’t pretend otherwise. But he also wisely knew there are many ways to measure success and to live a good life.
Read all of Pesachim 113 on Sefaria.
This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on March 14th, 2021. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.