As mentioned in the previous article, Masechet Ta’anit deals primarily with the fast days that were performed in response to a drought. Prior to the enactment of the public fast days, yechidim (“individuals”) were charged with the responsibility of fasting (Taanit 1:4):
If the seventeenth of Mar Cheshvan approached and it still had not rained, then the yechidim would begin three fast days [on Monday, Thursday then Monday]...
Who are these yechidim? Why were they the ones trusted with fasting? The Gemara (Taanit 10a) responds that they were the Rabbanan.
The Gemara continues and differentiates between a yachid and a talmid:
It was taught in a beraitah: a person should not say I am a talmid and not worthy enough to be considered a talmid rather all talmidei Chachamim [can be] yechidim [for this matter]. What is a yachid and what is a talmid? A yachid is anyone that is fitting to be elected as a parnes (president) over the community. A talmid is a person who one can ask a halachic matter in his learning and he can respond, even if it is from masechet kalah.
From the above section, it appears that a yachid is a distinct level above a talmid. The Tosfot however quotes an apparently contradicting Gemara (Shabbat 114a) that writes: “Who is a talmid that is worthy to be elected as a parnes over the community? [He is] a person that can respond to any halachic question, even if it is from Masechet Kalah.” That Gemara appears to blur the lines between the definition provided for the talmid and yachid quoted in Gemara Ta’anit.
The Tosfot respond by explaining that there are two forms of talmidim. There is a person who can respond to any query that relates to the masechet he is learning, even if it is masechet kalah. This person is referred to as a talmid in Taanit. However there is a higher level of talmid that is able to respond to any question irrespective of its location. This is a “yachid” (Gemara Ta’anit) who is a form of “talmid that is worthy of being elected as a parnes” (Gemara Shabbat).21
Granted that only these people are of the status to bare the responsibility, why are all others (non-talmidim) excluded from fasting. The Mishnah Berurah (575:3) explains that were others to fast, it would be evident that they were fasting for the lack of rain and it would appear as yehora (“haughtiness”).
The first understanding therefore is that in response to the draught the rabbinic giants stand up and pray on behalf of the community as a first measure before calling on the entire community to band together.
There is perhaps however another response that can be gleaned from the Yerushalmi (Taanit 1:4):
Who are these “yechidim”? They are those that have been elected as parnsin over the community.
The Yerushalmi then asks:
Since he has been elected as a parnes over the community he will pray and be answered?! Rather since he has been elected… and proven trustworthy he is the most fitting to pray and be answered.
Granted that one could understand that the Yerushalmi is referring to the same parnes as the Bavli, it is also possible that the Yerushalmi is not referring to talmidei Chachamim, but rather literally to people that have been charged with communal responsibility and are serving their post admirably.22 As the Korban Eidah explains, these are people that have sacrificed and given of themselves for the benefit and protection of the community. If so, why should they be entrusted with being the “first line of defence?” One can suggest that these people truly understand and live on a daily basis the directive presented in the Gemara (Ta’anit 11a) that one should never separate himself from the pain of the community but feel the pain and associate themselves with them. Thus it is these people that shall fast first, lead by example and hopefully be answered.
21 This interpretation also has the added advantage in that it correlates the meaning of yachid presented in the Beraitah with the initial response of the Gemara that “yachid” refers to Rabannan – see the Tosfot Yom Tov. See also Rambam Taanit 3:1.
22 This is perhaps supported by the change in language used by the Yerushalmi referring to people that “have been elected” as opposed to “fitting to be elected”.
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