The Importance of What, Where and When

Keritut (3:7) | Rabbi Ben-Zion Hain | 16 years ago

The last four mishnayot of the third perek of Keritut have a great deal in common. Two of the most obvious similarities are the fact that all four try to use a “kal vachomer” (an inference from minor to major) to derive a specific halacha and that all four mishnayot are based on questions that Rabbi Akiva asked of other great Torah scholars such as Rabban Gamliel, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua.

However, a slightly deeper analysis will show that although all of these mishnayot are based on the questions of Rabbi Akiva, only one of them, the seventh Mishnah of the perek, gives the exact time and place of the question. The Mishnah states:

Rabbi Akiva said: I asked Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua in the animal market of Ama’om as they were going to purchase an animal for the wedding feast of Rabban Gamliel’s son…”

What is the relevance of this seemingly superfluous information? Why is it mentioned in this Mishnah and not in any of the following three?

Tosfot answer that even though all parties involved were pre-occupied with the preparation of a wedding feast and its many intricate details, they were still busying themselves with learning Torah. Clearly this is an important message for all of us. On this point, I remember walking home from shul with the Rabbi Abranok ZTz”L and listening to him expound on the parsha and other aspects of learning throughout the entire journey.

The Tiferet Yisrael learns a number of other lessons from this episode. Looking at the place where the question was asked – the market place – we notice that it was not a private home or a Beit Midrash but rather a very public place filled with many people. Tiferet Yisrael explains that despite this fact and despite the fact that Rabban Gamliel was the Nasi and Rabbi Yehoshua the Av Beit Din, they were not embarrassed to admit that they did not hear of any Halacha relating to Rabbi Akiva’s question.

Finally, the Tiferet Yisrael explains that the place and time are in fact very relevant to the question being asked. In the seventh Mishnah, Rabbi Akiva asks about arayot (forbidden relationships) and as we know from the timing of the question, Rabban Gamliel and Rabbi Yehoshua were preparing for a wedding feast – a feast in which we say the bracha “and that we were commanded about the Arayot” as part of the Sheva Brachot. In addition, Rabbi Akiva’s second question, in the eighth Mishnah deals with animals and as we know from the place of the question, all three Rabbis were in a marketplace specifically dedicated to the sale of animals. Rabbi Akiva’s questions were therefore somewhat related to the matter at hand.

We see from these explanations that we should not only learn from the words of our Rabbis and teachers, but also from their deeds and actions. From where they go, why they go there and what they do when they are there.


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