Bechorot 43 - 49
An Extra Finger
Among the physical flaws that can disqualify a kohen from performing the sacred service in the Beit Hamikdash is an extra finger or toe.
What if there is a consistency in this abnormality and the kohen has six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot?
Rabbi Yehudas opinion is that this does not constitute a disqualifying flaw, while the other Sages maintain that it does.
In his analysis of this debate Rabbi Yitzchak explains that both opinions are based on a passage describing a Philistine warrior who waged war against Israel. The victory over the Philistines, resulting from the slaying of the mighty Goliath by David, did not bring an end to the wars initiated by these enemies. A few of the brothers of Goliath waged war and were vanquished. Concerning one of them it is written:
"There was another war in Gat and there came a giant with six fingers and six toes" (Shmuel II 21:20).
Rabbi Yehuda saw this description of the giant as a praise of his superb physical condition expressed in his extra limbs, whereas the other Sages saw it as a criticism of his abnormality.
The approach of the Sages is readily understandable because it is a putdown on a wicked enemy of Israel. Rabbi Yehudas approach is more difficult to understand, for why would a passage in Tanach praise the extra strength of such a villain?
The answer lies in the following passage that relates the victory of Davids nephew over this giant. The magnitude of this victory is much more appreciated when we think of a giant so strong that he even has extra fingers and toes.
- Bechorot 45b
The Face Tells All
Witnesses testifying that they saw a dead man whom they recognized as the missing husband of a woman seeking to remarry must report that they saw his face, including his forehead and nose. An indication that facial features are the critical factor in recognition is found in the words of the Prophet Yeshayahu.
In speaking of the sins of his people that would eventually lead to the destruction of the Beit Hamikdash and exile, the Prophet notes that "the appearance of their faces testified against them" (Yeshayahu 3:9).
Although this passage serves as a hint to recognition based on facial features, its literal meaning is the subject of different interpretations.
Rashi in our gemara writes that this is a reference to the sin of adultery, which Divine intervention makes impossible to conceal. The facial features of the child born from adultery have been programmed by G-d to simulate that of the adulterer and thus testify that he has sinned.
The commentaries on the Book of Yeshayahu take the much simpler approach that a persons character is reflected in his face. Here is how one of them, Malbim, expresses this concept:
"Their faces will testify as to what is deep in their hearts, for it will be recognizable on their faces who is truly G-d fearing and who is a fraud and hypocrite."
Our gemaras application to testimony for enabling a woman to remarry serves as the basis for an interesting midrash concerning the punishment visited by Heaven upon Aviah, the ruler of the Kingdom of Yehuda, who vanquished the army of Yeravam, ruler of the Kingdom of Yisrael, and slew half a million soldiers. The reason given by our Sages for G-d subsequently causing Aviah to die is that he disfigured the facial features of the slain soldiers so that no one would be able to testify that they recognized them and enable their widows to remarry. This is hinted at by the term "an exceedingly great blow," used in describing the rout (Divrei Hayamim II 13:17). Although the idol-worshipping Yeravam and his followers deserved defeat, this action of Aviah exceeded the limit and led to his own death.
- Bechorot 46b