Shabbat 108 – When Rav Met Shmuel
According to today’s Talmud page, one day Shmuel was sitting by the royal canal of Babylon [nehar malka] with Karna, a sage who sometimes earned a living with his nose telling wine merchants which bottles of wine could be preserved longer (see Sanhedrin 105a). The water rose and changed color, and Shmuel read the sign to mean “a great man with stomach trouble is coming from the West” (Shmuel is often cited for his “medicinal” knowledge). So Shmuel tells Karna, “go and smell his bottle!” or, in other words, greet him and check him out.
So Karna meets Rab and quizzes him – how do we know [minayin] that tefillin [prayer boxes] can only be on the skin of a clean animal we are permitted to eat? Answer: it says “the words should be in your mouth” which means on that which could be in your mouth. How do we know that defiling menstrual blood has to be red to count? How do we know that a male must be circumcised in that particular place and not, say, in his heart (“circumcise the foreskin of your heart” Deut. 10:16) or even his ear (“their ear is uncircumcised” Jeremiah 6:10)? Evidently, Rab passes muster for Shmuel brought him home for dinner.
But the treatment wasn’t over yet – Shmuel fed Rab barley bread, a fish pie, and strong liquor but did not show him the privy to relieve himself. Why not? The medieval commentator Rashi claims that, since Shmuel (on this page and many others) was known for his medical knowledge, this must have been a cure for Rab’s stomach ailment. But Rab certainly didn’t know this, for he said with great feeling, “the one who causes me pain, may he have no sons!” And the Talmud says, “and so it was.” Shmuel known for medicine, Rab for his curses and knowledge, and each known better with the other.
Rabbi Adam Chalom