1. Generally, every farbrengen is connected with a joyous matter, either openly or otherwise. A farbrengen connected with the conclusion of a tractate in Talmud (as this one is), certainly is associated with joy, as is the Jewish custom to celebrate the conclusion of a tractate. In our case, it is a regulation revealed and publicized by the previous Rebbe to learn the tractate Sotah during the Sefirah days, a page a day, till the 49th day on which we learn the 49th page, which is the end of the tractate. Hence on Erev Shavuos we should conclude the tractate Sotah — and thus this farbrengen is connected with an open joy.

Every tractate contains a wealth of detail. First and foremost, however, there is the name of the tractate. The name “Sotah” seems to indicate something that is the exact opposite of being praiseworthy. [A “Sotah” is a woman who is suspected of being unfaithful to her husband. Torah provides that the test to see if she was indeed unfaithful is for her to drink water in which the name of G‑d, written on parchment, was dissolved. If she was unfaithful, she would die after drinking it; if the suspicions were ungrounded, she would be blessed with children. Hence a Sotah, a woman suspected of unfaithfulness to her husband, does not seem to be a praiseworthy term at all.]

However, the Zohar explains that the Sefirah days — “You shall count seven weeks” — correspond to the idea of the seven clean days a woman must count — “she shall count seven days” — to be pure to her husband. Mattan Torah is the idea of “marriage” between Yisroel and G‑d. Beforehand, Israel had to be cleansed of the impurities of Egypt, and thus had to count “seven weeks,” similar to the seven days a bride must count before being with her bridegroom (for G‑d and Israel are as a bridegroom and bride).

Since the Sefirah days are only the preparation to the union of G‑d and Israel, the actual union did not take place then. This is why it is specifically the tractate Sotah which is learned in the Sefirah days, indicating the absence of union between man and wife (for a Sotah is forbidden to cohabit with her husband until she has been cleared of suspicion).

This concept has particular emphasis in the time of exile — for then there is an absence of union between G‑d and Israel. Nevertheless, the idea of exile is associated with the love of G‑d to Israel — it is precisely because of G‑d’s love that the idea of exile can exist, as stated: “Only you I have known from all the families of the earth, therefore I will visit upon you all your sins.”

This is the reason why the end of the tractate Sotah elaborates on the great descent at the time of exile, to the extent when “we can rely only on our Father in heaven.” Since Torah says we can only rely on G‑d, we can come to G‑d and claim “How long can we continue to exhaust ourselves in exile?!” And when the Yetzer Horah asks us how we can so strongly demand this of G‑d, we answer: “So Torah commanded.” This is especially so since it is a commandment in Torah that a person must request all his needs from G‑d; and how much more so the greatest need of all — the final redemption. Moreover, since G‑d began this mitzvah — when He took us out of Egypt — then “we tell Him, finish!”

2. We shall speak of the conclusion of the tractate Sotah in the Talmud Yerushalmi, and explain the differences between it and the conclusion of the tractate Sotah in the Talmud Bavli.

The conclusion of the Sotah in the Talmud Bavli is a continuation of that stated in the Mishnah that “when Rebbe died, humility and fear of sin were no more.” The Talmud at its conclusion states about this: “Rav Yosef said to the teacher of this Mishnah: ‘Do not teach that humility (was no more), for I am here...’“ In other words, it is impossible to say that “when Rebbe died, humility was no more,” for Rav Yosef, who lived after Rebbe, was a humble person.

The conclusion of Sotah in the Yerushalmi is: “It happened that the elders entered the loft of Bais Gediyah in Yericho, and a Heavenly Voice proclaimed that ‘there are two among you who are worthy of the Divine Spirit, and Hillel the Elder is one of them.’ Those present speculated [that the other was] Shmuel Hakaton (the Small). Once again the elders entered the loft in Yavneh, and a Heavenly Voice proclaimed to them that ‘there are two among you who are worthy of the Divine Spirit, and Shmuel Hakaton is one of them.’ Those present speculated [that the other was] Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus; and were happy that their opinion coincided with G‑d’s opinion (that the first time they had speculated it was Shmuel Hakaton who was the other person worthy of the Divine Spirit — and now at the second time they had been shown to be correct).”

Although the conclusion of the tractate Sotah in the Bavli and Yerushalmi Talmuds seem to differ, they are not necessarily paradoxical — but merely different. As will be explained, the principal theme in both is the idea of humility: differences lie only in the details (the differences in the levels of humility), consonant to the general difference between the two Talmuds.

The difference between the Talmuds is not only in place (Bavli was learned in Babylon, and Yerushalmi in Eretz Yisroel (Yerushalayim being the capital of Eretz Yisroel)), but also in time. The Yerushalmi was concluded by Rabbi Yochanan and his colleagues, whereas in Babylon they continued to discuss the meaning of the Mishnah (on which the Talmud is based) for approximately another 100 years — when R. Ashi wrote the first edition. Just as new Torah thoughts were introduced in this 100 year span, so too the opposite: there was a descent in the level of the Sages from generation to generation, consonant to the saying of our Sages that “If the first ones were as angels, we are as man; if they were as men, we are as ...” Hence, there are also descending degrees in the level of humility in each succeeding generation, and the level in the times of the Talmud Yerushalmi was greater than that of the times of the Bavli (since it was earlier).

The conclusion of Sotah in Bavli talks clearly of the idea of humility. The Yerushalmi, although not openly, also emphasizes the idea of humility, for the three people mentioned therein — Hillel the Elder, Shmuel Hakaton, and Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus, (those mentioned as being worthy of the Divine Spirit) — all excelled in humility.


Our Sages state: “A person should always be a humble person like Hillel; and the Talmud continues to relate a number of stories illustrating his great humility.

Shmuel Hakaton:

The Talmud Yerushalmi in the tractate Sotah (Halachah 13) says: “Why was he called Shmuel the Small? Because he made himself small” — the idea of humility. Although there is another opinion which holds he was called Shmuel the Small because he was a little smaller (i.e. a little less great) than Shmuel Haromosi (Shmuel the prophet, who came from Ramos), these two opinions are not necessarily contradictory, but complementary. Moreover, this latter opinion emphasizes even more greatly Shmuel Hakaton’s humility. Shmuel Haromosi was so great, our Sages say, that he was equal to Moshe and Aharon; and Shmuel Hakaton was only “a little smaller than Shmuel Haromosi.” Hence, when despite his greatness he “made himself small” — this shows that his humility was that much greater.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus:

The Talmud relates (Yoma 66b) that when they came to ask Rabbi Eliezer a certain question, he changed the topic and refrained from answering. The reason was “not because he confused them with words (as a person who cannot answer does — for Rabbi Eliezer knew the answer), but because he never said anything he had not heard from his teacher.” This teaches us the great humility of Rabbi Eliezer. He was so great in Torah that his teacher said of him that he is “a cemented cistern that does not lose a drop” and “if all the Sages of Israel were placed on one side of the scale, and Eliezer ben Horkenus were on the other, he would outweigh them all.” Yet, despite his greatness, and despite certainly knowing the answer, he was so humble that “he never said anything he had not heard from his teacher.” Moreover, Rabbi Eliezer conducted himself humbly although he had heard from his teacher that he was as a “cemented cistern that does not lose a drop.”

However, all is not clear: One is forbidden to withhold knowledge from another person, and severe punishment is meted out to he who does so. How then could Rabbi Eliezer, just because of his humility that “he never said anything that he did not hear from his teacher,” not answer the question asked him when he knew the answer?

Wemust say that Rabbi Eliezer, because he did not answer, had not heard the answer specifically from his teacher. That he could have answered correctly — although he had not heard it specifically from his teacher — is similar to the idea of a student learning new Torah insights that were said to Moshe at Sinai. In the times of Moshe, only the general concept was taught, and then students throughout the generations deduced its particulars through the 13 rules with which the Torah is learned. So too in this case: Rabbi Eliezer heard only the general concept from his teacher, but not the specific particulars that result from the general rule.

The great humility of Rabbi Eliezer expressed itself in that he did not regard his personal Torah greatness as being of any worth. Although many years had passed since he learned Torah from his teacher, and he headed his own Yeshivah, he still considered his own greatness in Torah as being nothing compared to his teacher’s greatness. Hence, when they asked him something which he did not specifically hear from his teacher (but only the general concept), he could not answer, for he was continuously occupied in assimilating the teachings received from his teacher (despite his own personal greatness). Since he was continuously occupied in always assimilating his teacher’s teachings, he could not give forth anything new (to deduce the particular from his teacher’s general rule) — but only to give over that received and assimilated from his teacher. Hence “he never said anything he did not hear from his teacher.”

Although Hillel the Elder, Shmuel Hakaton, and Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus all excelled in humility, there are differences in their individual levels according to the rule that as the generations proceed, their calibre becomes less. Shmuel Hakaton was the disciple of Hillel the Elder (and therefore the Heavenly Voice only mentioned Hillel in the first instance), and thus Hillel’s humility was greater than Shmuel’s. Rabbi Eliezer was the disciple of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakkai, who was the disciple of Hillel — that is, he was a disciple’s disciple of Hillel. Hence the level of humility of Shmuel (who was the direct disciple of Hillel) was greater than Rabbi Eliezer’s (and therefore in the second instance, the Heavenly Voice only mentioned Shmuel). Thus, as we will now explain, the level of humility of these three was in descending order — from Hillel to Rabbi Eliezer.


From the statement of the Talmud that “a person should always be a humble person like Hillel,” it is clear that during his lifetime there were many happenings that expressed his humility. Since the Talmud chooses only to tell us a few, it follows that they epitomize his special quality of humility. The Talmud relates three stories concerning a non-Jew who wished to convert to Judaism, who, when he approached Shammai, Shammai chased him away, whereas when afterwards “he came before Hillel — he (Hillel) converted him.”

The Talmud, when speaking of a non-Jew who has converted, uses the expression “a convert who has converted,” and not “a non-Jew who has converted.” The Chidah learns from this choice of expression that even before a person converts to Judaism he has a spark of a holy soul (and therefore he is already a “convert” — who converts). And, as it is explained in Pirkei d’R. Eliezer, at Mt. Sinai all Jewish souls were present, including the souls of converts who converted in the following generations.

Since in the above story Shammai did not wish to convert the person, we must say that the spark of a holy soul was not apparent within him. Since we are talking of Shammai, who was a colleague of Hillel, it does not mean that this non-Jew was in such a state that his spark of a holy soul could not be seen physically, but he was in such a low spiritual state that even such a great man as Shammai could not discern it — and therefore did not wish to convert him.

In contrast to this, when he came to Hillel, he agreed to convert him — for Hillel saw in him what Shammai could not discern. The reason for this is that Hillel was so humble that he could lower himself to the lowest level — even to such a person in whom even Shammai could not see the spark of a holy soul. Shammai was of course a very humble person; yet Hillel was humbler still, and therefore could lower himself to a level on which Shammai could not see anything special about the person. Once Hillel saw the spark of a holy soul in that person, he sought ways to convert him to Judaism — as the Talmud concludes “the humility of Hillel brought us under the wings of the Divine Presence.”

Shmuel Hakaton:

We explained previously that Shmuel was so humble that although he was only a little smaller than Shmuel Haromosi, he nevertheless “made himself small.” Shmuel is regularly referred to as Shmuel Hanovi — Shmuel the Prophet. In this case, he is called Shmuel Haromosi (Ramos being his place of residence), because “Haromosi,” stemming from the root “Romah” (meaning high place), alludes to his extreme greatness (the opposite of humility). This emphasizes Shmuel Hakaton’s humility, in that although he was only “a little smaller than Shmuel Haromosi,” he nevertheless “made himself small.”

On the other hand, Shmuel’s humility was ex-pressed only in regard to Jews, and nowhere do we find it in relation to non-Jews as we do in the case of Hillel. Hence we see that Hillel’s humility, expressed as it was even in regard to non-Jews, was greater than Shmuel Hakaton’s.

Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus:

We explained previously that Rabbi Eliezer’s humility was such that despite his own personal greatness in Torah, he never said anything he had not heard from his teacher. On the other hand, this was only in regard to his disciples — that when learning with them he never said anything not heard from his teacher; whereas Shmuel Hakaton “made himself small” in general (and not just in regard to his disciples). Hence his humility was on a lower level than Shmuel Hakaton’s, and certainly on a lower level than Hillel the Elder’s.

The above is related to the conclusion of the tractate Sotah in the Talmud Yerushalmi. Talmud Bavli talks of the humility of R. Yosef, which was of a lower level than any of these three levels (Hillel, Shmuel, R. Eliezer) recounted in Yerushalmi.

The very fact that R. Yosef was forced to tell the teacher of the Mishnah that he should not say “humility is no more” because “I am here,” meaning that without R. Yosef’s saying so, it would not have been known he had the trait of humility — indicates that his level of humility was lower even than that of Rabbi Eliezer ben Horkenus. Rabbi Eliezer did not need to reveal that he was humble, for his disciples knew that he never said anything he did not hear from his teacher. Likewise, Shmuel Hakaton’s colleagues knew he made himself small; and in the case of Hillel, everyone, even non-Jews who came to convert, knew he was exceedingly humble. In the case of R. Yosef however, since his level of humility was not so lofty, he had to tell others about it.

The fact that R. Yosef said that he is a humble person is not a paradox (if a person is truly humble, how can he think he is humble?) — for there is a distinction between a humble person and a lowly person. A lowly person is one who has no commendable qualities — he is on a low spiritual level; a humble person is one who, despite his greatness, and despite knowing his own qualities — is nevertheless humble.