Two Mishnayot whose focus was less legal and more aggadic broke up a difficult week of learning. This article will focus on the first of the two. Nevertheless we will digress momentarily and look at the second, as it is both relevant to last week’s article and this week’s parashah.
In the second Mishnah (2:10) R’ Akiva lists five groups of people whose judgement lasted twelve months. The first of these was the generation of the flood. Based on the dates listed of when the flood began and when the land was eventually dry, Rashi explains that it was one solar year. The Yerushalim in the beginning of Shviit, questions the Mishnah’s inclusion of a law that was out-dated and changed by the time of the Mishnah’s writing. This is much like the issue discussed in last week’s article and two of the three answers brought there are similar to the answers we brought. In the second answer, R’ Yonah notes the there a Mishnayot that deal with the inauguration of the Mishkan and the generation of the flood even though they no longer have any practical relevance. He deduces that therefore the Mishnah includes statements “to inform you”. The Pnei Moshe explains that sometimes, out-dated information is included for historical record. The Alei Tamar explains that much can be learnt from historical events regarding how Hashem runs the world, applies reward and punishment, etc. Other than revealing the connection between our Mishnah and the broader masechet, this opinion reveals that the ethical and philosophic are as much part body of the Mishnah as is the legal.
Turning to the first (2:9) R’ Akiva teaches that a father endows his son with beauty, strength, wealth, wisdom and longevity. The Bartenura explains that the nature of a son is generally similar to the father – in modern terms we might attribute it to genetics – which explains most of the items in the list. Wealth on the other hand is bequeathed in the normal sense. The Tosfot Yom Tov notes that this is the opinion of the Rambam. He however adds that the Rambam maintains that wisdom is transmitted via the father directly teaching and transmitting the knowledge to the son as opposed to the son simply inheriting it. Interestingly the Tosfot Yom Tov adds this is only the opinion of R’ Akiva. The Chachamim mentioned in the Tosefta however argue that this traits are only passed on to the child until he reaches the age of the obligation of mitzvot.1 From that point onward the child will be a product of his own making. The Bartenura however brings an alternative explanation that depending on the father’s actions he is able to merit to have children with these qualities.
The Mishnah however continues “… and with the number of generations and the end.” The Mishnah continues by citing verses that Hashem plans the destiny of future generations and there were two measures provided in the promise of the length of Egyptian exile – four hundred years and four generations. The statement above requires thought as to its meaning and how it fits into the context of the Mishnah.
The Bartenura explains that this refers to a promise by Hashem, which is another thing that a father can merit for his decedents. The Melechet Shlomo however understand that this is a different statement; the topic of the Mishnah changes at this point. In other words, a promise by Hashem with timing goes according to the generations and not the number of years. He continues that this statement is in contrast to the beginning of the Mishnah. While a father can give a child a head start, when it comes to the ketz it is dependant on generations.
1 The Melechet Shlomo explains that this is at the age of twenty.
Receive our publication with an in depth article and revision questions.
Listen to the new Mishnah Shiurim by Yisrael Bankier