Masechet Bei'ah

Beitzah (1:1) | Yisrael Bankier | 10 years ago

Towards the end of the week we started the new masechet called Beitzah. The name is taken from its opening words and uniquely does not appear to reflect the overall theme of the masechet, which deals with the general laws of the festivals. It is noteworthy that the Geonim and some Rishonim referred to this masechet as masechet Yom Tov. Our masechet is also however, referred to by another name. The Tifferet Yisrael in his introduction to the masechet notes that the Achronim opted to refer to the masechet as Be’iah )ביעא( the Aramaic equivalent of Beitzah. Why?

The Magen Avraham (OC 156:2) cites the Yam Shel Shlomo who explains that they wished to behave in accordance with the maxim that one should never allow foul language to leave their mouth. Presumably since beitzim can have an explicit meaning, they opted to use bei’im.

The Tifferet Yisrael is uncomfortable with this explanation. Firstly why is the word beitzah, which is written in the Torah, any worse than the Aramaic equivalent? Furthermore, the letter צ from beitzah hints to the tzaddik and we replace it with an ע which appears in the word rasha?1

The Tifferet Yisrael therefore suggests that the aversion to the term beitzah is based on the following incident. The Beraita (Sanhedrin 5b) teaches that Rebbi entered a town and found that people were incorrectly kneading their dough in tameh utensils. It transpired that they had been taught that mei betza’im (marsh water) did not make food susceptible to tumah. They were incorrect. In fact that talmid taught them the mei beitzim (liquid of eggs) do not make food susceptible to tumah. The phonetic similarity of these two words and talmid’s poor diction was the cause mistake.2 After that incident, the Tifferet Yisrael explains, the Chacham struck beitzah from their lexicon replacing it with bei’ah so that no further mistakes would be made.

One could suggest another explanation. It may not be the reason for the change, but the association is nonetheless worth mentioning. On Pesach we place a zeroah (shank-bone) and egg on the seder plate as a reminder of the korban pesach and korban chagiga. At first glance, the connection between an egg and remembering the korban chagigah might seem a bit tenuous. One of the reasons cited by the Mishnah Berurah (473:23) that it is chosen is because of the Aramaic word used for egg – bei’ah – that alludes to “ba’ei rachmana le’mifrak yatana” meaning “beseech Hashem to redeem us”. We could therefore suggest that is precisely for this reason, as our exile lengthened, that it became the practice to replace the word beitzah with bei’ah in the name of the masechet – the masechet focused on Yom Tov. That even in the bliss of learning, at the forefront of our minds is “ba’ei rachmana le’mifrak yatana”.


1 See the Likutim on the Mishnah that cites the Baal Afikei Yehuda and goes to great lengths bringing proofs that the word beitzah is not lashon meguna. He also writes that he asked the son of the Gra who explains that his father also did not accept this position and referred to the masechet as masechet Beitzah.

2The Tosfot (s.v inhu) find it difficult how the residents could have confused the word beitzim with betza’im. The Rabbeinu Tam explains that they thought the talmid said “bitzim” instead of “beitzim”.

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