This week we begin learning masechet Eduyot. It is a unique masechet in that its Mishnayot do not share a common legal subject. See volume 4, issue 32, “On That Day…” for an introduction to the masechet.
The third Mishnah discusses a law relating to mikvaot. A mikveh consisting of drawn water is invalid. The debate in the Mishnah is regarding the amount of drawn water that invalidates a mikveh prior to it containing the minimum amount rainwater. The Mishnah records that Hillel maintains that the amount is a “hin” and Shamai maintains that it is nine kavin. Nevertheless based on the testimony of two weavers that Shamaya and Avtalyon maintained that it was three lugin, the Chachamim ruled like that opinion. There is however some seemingly superfluous detail in the Mishnah worthy of note.
One detail is that the Mishnah justifies Hillel’s odd choice of words; he was obligated to use that same wording as his teacher. What exactly was the strange with his wording? The Bartenura provides two explanations. The first is that the measure “hin” is a biblical one and generally not used in the Mishnah. He also cites the Rambam that heard from his father that since Shamaya and Avtalyon converted they had difficulty articulated the letter hei, so they would have expressed it as “in” instead of “hin”. Hillel articulated it in the same manner as his teachers.
The Gra however asks, according to the first explanation, even though it justifies Hillel using a biblical term, it does not however justify his teacher’s choice of words. The Gra however explains that the difficulty was not the use of the word hin, but why he had to say “me’lo hin” – a full hin. The fact that we are dealing with a full measure should be obvious.
Returning to the second explanation, since Shamaya and Avtalyon would mispronounce the word hin as in it might sound like “ein mayim she’uvim poslin et a mikveh” – drawn water does not invalidate a mikveh – which would be a grave mistake. They would add the word “me’lo” (full) so that they would not be misunderstood. Hillel however had no difficulty pronouncing “hin”. The question then is why Hillel needed to say “me’lo hin”? The Mishnah therefore explains that he was compelled to use the language of his teachers.
The next detail worth noting is the necessity to mention the profession and residence of the people that the brought testimony at the end regarding Shamaya and Avtalyon. The Rashi explains that both their profession and residence were of the lowest standing. The Mishnah wished to draw attention to this fact to encourage people that they should never withhold from attending studying in the Beit Midrash. These two people were of the lowest standing and the Chachamim ultimately ruled according to what they had learnt.
The Maharsha explains that Rashi’s explanation is based on the Tosefta. The Tosefta we have however is written slightly differently. “Why does it mention the name of their place and the name of their profession? Behold there is no profession lower then a weaver and no place less that sha’ar ha’ashpot. Nevertheless the avot olam (Hillel and Shamai) did not stick to their position in the face of this testimony. So too one should not stand firm in the face of a statement [received from tradition].”
While Rashi understood the Mishnah as encouraging anyone and everyone to find their time and place in the Beit Midrash, the Tosefta appears to be deriving a warning against being overly stubborn in the face of tradition.
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