Chullin 121 - 127
Nothing Flesh and Nothing Healers
For all the gods of the nations are elilim is what we say in our daily morning prayers as we contrast the insignificance of all the idols worshipped by man with G-d who created the heavens.
The term elilim is a combination of the two Hebrew words for no (al and lo). It appears in our gemara in the discussion of the term elil, which is mentioned in the mishna as a part of an animal which is considered food, in regard to the laws of tumah (ritual impurity). Rabbi Yochanan defines this elil as martka, which is beyond recovery once removed from the animal. Whether this means the spinal and neck sinew as explained by Rashi, or dead flesh according to Tosefot, the concept common to both is that this is a substance which has no potential for life.
Rabbi Yochanan cites as a source for his definition a passage in Iyov (13:4) in which this suffering righteous man rebukes the friends who have come to comfort him in his grief that they are all elil (nothing) healers for suggesting that his suffering was the result of his sins. Although his friends had the best of intentions and presented some powerful theological expositions, Iyov was disappointed in his dialogue with them, dismissing their healing efforts as nothing, and turning to G-d Himself for a dialogue as to why so righteous a man should be inflicted with so much suffering.
- Chullin 121a
Changing the Subject
A challenging question in halacha was put before the Sage Rabba bar Rav Huna and his response was a mysterious one.
Look at the raven flying above, he said to Rabbi Avia Saba who had presented the problem. It was apparent that he wished to dismiss discussion of that problem and to go on to another subject.
This surprised his son Rava who assumed that his father had changed the subject because he felt that the question did not even deserve discussion. But is the one who asked the question not the Sage Avia Saba from Pumpedisa for whom you have such high regard? he asked his father.
Samchuni beashishot today replied the father, referring to a passage in Shir Hashirim (2:5), and the problem he presented required more thought than I am capable of.
Two different interpretations of his response are offered by the commentaries based on two different meanings of the word semicha. Rashis approach is that the use of that word was in its meaning as support. This Sage was exhausted from delivering the public Torah lecture that traditionally took place on the Shabbat during one of the Festivals. He therefore quoted King Solomons call for supporting me with dainty cakes as a way of expressing his need for physical support which prevented him from properly dealing with the problem presented to him.
Rabbi Natan of Rome, in his Sefer HaAruch, bases his interpretation on a different meaning of semicha. This is a term used for ordaining a scholar in Talmudic times with special authority as a rabbinical judge or as head of a yeshiva. (Today the term is used for ordaining one as a rabbi.) On the day the problem was presented to Rabba bar Rav Huna, he had been appointed head of the yeshiva and the excitement of this new responsibility left him unable to concentrate sufficiently to deal with the question.
- Chullin 124b