Sotah 44

Order of operations.

For several days now, we have been discussing the Torah’s instruction that three kinds of people are exempted from fighting Israel’s battles: The one who has built but not yet dedicated their house; the one who has planted a vineyard but not yet harvested its fruit; and the one who has just married but not yet lived with his new wife. 

One might expect that people first marry, then build a home and (maybe) only after plant a vineyard. As such, the order these three are presented in the Torah is insignificant. But beraita cited on today’s daf suggests just the opposite. 

The Torah taught the desired mode of behavior: A person should build a house, plant a vineyard and afterward marry a woman. 

According to the beraita, a person ought to purchase a home and establish a livelihood before getting married and starting a family. The Gemara then cites proof that this is the preferred order from the writing of King Solomon

Even Solomon said in his wisdom: “Prepare your work outside, and make it fit for yourself in the field; and afterward build your house” (Proverbs 24:27).

The sages explained: “Prepare your work outside”; this is a house. “And make it fit for yourself in the field”; this is a vineyard. “And afterward you shall build your house”; this is a wife. 

On first glance, this seems like yet another example of the rabbis citing a biblical prooftext to support a claim. But typically, they do this to support a rabbinic claim that needs biblical support. Here, we already know from Deuteronomy 20:5-7 that this is the preferred order, so why cite a further verse to support this conclusion? 

The answer is that while Proverbs 24:27 is applied by the Gemara to the question of building a house, earning a living and getting married, its language is far more poetic and far broader than the passage in Deuteronomy 20:5-7. Accordingly, the passage in Proverbs comes to teach us not about these three specific actions, but a general rule about the importance of doing things in the proper order. 

With this in mind, the beraita proceeds to present a range of opinions about the best order in which to study Bible, Mishnah and Talmud. Here’s the first one:

Prepare your work outside”; this is Bible. “And make it fit for yourself in the field”; this is Mishnah. “Afterward you shall build your house”; this is Gemara. 

This option suggests that one study in order of increasing level of sophistication. Since Bible is easier than Mishnah, which is easier than Gemara, this is the proper order in which to study them. The second option has a different take:

Alternatively: “Prepare your work outside”; this is Bible and Mishnah. “And make it fit for yourself in the field”; this is Gemara. “Afterward you shall build your house”; these are good deeds. 

This option presumes that Bible and Mishnah can be studied concurrently. More significantly, it emphasizes that the ultimate spiritual home one builds should not merely be filled with Torah, but with good deeds. 

Finally, here’s the third option:

Rabbi Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yosei HaGelili, says: “Prepare your work outside”; this is Bible, Mishnah and Gemara. “And make it fit for yourself in the field”; these are good deeds. “Afterward you shall build your house”; expound and receive reward.

This option presumes that Bible, Mishnah and Gemara can be studied concurrently. And while it too suggests that good deeds should be a key aspect of one’s spiritual home, the ultimate goal should be the development of new Torah ideas. 

These three options suggest that different people have different models and goals for their spiritual home. Some simply aspire to study Torah. Others aspire to study Torah and do good deeds. While others aspire to study Torah, do good deeds and be a spiritual innovator. Yet, whichever model most speaks to you, the overarching lesson of Proverbs 24:27 is that to do things right, we need to do them in the right order. 

Read all of Sotah 44 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on May 12, 2023. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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