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Four Hundred Barrels of Wine

Four Hundred Barrels of Wine

Yalta, the wife of Rav Nachman

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There are few women named in the Talmud. One is Yalta, the wife of Rav Nachman, a third-generation Babylonian amora, and the daughter of the reish galuta, the leader of the Jewish people in the Diaspora. Her husband allowed her to be carried on a sedan chair on Shabbat, though this is generally a forbidden act, since she was a great person whom the public needed. (Beitzah 25b)

One time, Rav Nachman and his wife Yalta hosted the sage Ulla. After eating, Rav Nachman honored Ulla with the recital of Grace After Meals. It’s a mitzvah to recite the grace on a cup of wine and then share it with the meal participants. This cup of wine is called kos shel berachah, cup of blessing. After finishing the blessings, Ulla sent the cup of wine down the table to Rav Nachman for him to partake in the mitzvah. Rav Nachman said, “Let the cup of wine be sent to my wife, Yalta.” Ulla responded that it wasn’t necessary, because a wife receives the blessing from the kos shel berachah via her husband partaking of the drink. Since the cup had already been given to Rav Nachman, it would be wasteful to give Yalta a drink as well.

When Yalta heard Ulla’s response, she became angry, went down to the wine cellar, and broke four hundred barrels of wine. Recognizing his mistake, Ulla sent another cup of wine to her with an appeasing message. But Yalta rebuffed him, saying, “All your words are as meaningless as a peddler’s tale.” (Berachot 51b)

Now, Yalta was very upset with Ulla’s actions, but how could such a holy and special woman act in such an irrational fashion? How could she just go and destroy 400 barrels of wine? Was she really that great of a woman?

Yalta was, indeed, a great woman; she was appropriately upset that the kos shel berachah wasn’t sent to her. She desired only to partake of this great mitzvah. To demonstrate that her desire was for the mitzvah and not the wine, she smashed all the wine in the cellar. (Maharsha, Berachot ibid.)

Indeed, when someone destroys something for a purpose (e.g. to teach a lesson), there is no prohibition of bal tashchit, wanton destruction. For example, the custom of breaking a glass at a wedding as a remembrance for the destruction of Jerusalem is not prohibited because of bal tashchit.

On a deeper level, the number 400 represents ayin ra, a bad eye, meaning miserliness: the numerical value of the letters (ayin=70, yud=10, nun=50, reish=200 and ayin=70) add up to 400. Yalta was very upset at Ulla’s stinginess in not sending her the wine to partake of this special mitzvah. Therefore, to teach Ulla a true lesson of generosity, she broke the seals on 400 barrels (not the barrels themselves) and distributed the wine to needy people to use for kiddush and havdalah.

Since Ulla tried to placate Yalta, we know that she broke the seals for altruistic purposes. If she was just a foolish woman venting her anger, why would such a great sage try to appease her?

Yalta’s attribute of truthfulness was evident in her name. The numerical value of Yalta (yud=10, lamed=30, taf=400, and alef=1), 441, is the same as emet, truth (alef=1, mem=40,taf=400). Her proper and truthful actions spoke for themselves. (Ben Yehoyada)

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Alex HK May 31, 2017

Hi, can i please have the citation or source for the part that Yalta broke only the seal not the wine barrels themselves, to give as tzedakah? Thanks. Reply