THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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SANHEDRIN 104 (19 Teves) - dedicated to the memory of Hagaon Rav Yisrael Avraham Abba
ben Harav Chaim Binyamin Ze'ev Krieger ZT"L, Rav Kehilah in Russia and later in
Boston, MA, Talmid of Hagaon Rav Yehoshua Leib Diskin and author of Yad Yisrael on
the Rambam and many other Sefarim. Sponsored by his son, Reb Chananel Benayahu
1) A FATHER PROVIDING MERIT FOR HIS SON
QUESTIONS: The Gemara teaches an important principle regarding providing merit for
one's father or for one's son. The Gemara says that a son can bring merit to his
father, but a father cannot bring merit to his child. For this reason, Avraham Avinu
will not be able to save Yishmael from Gehinom, and Yitzchak will not be able to save
Esav from Gehinom.
There are several questions on this Gemara.
(a) How can the Gemara say that the merits of a father do not protect his children?
The Gemara in Yoma (87a) states exactly the opposite! The Gemara there states that
not only do the actions of a Tzadik protect the Tzadik himself, but they also provide
merit for the children and grandchildren of that Tzadik for all generations!
Similarly, the Gemara in Berachos (6a) teaches that when a Rasha is seen to be living
a comfortable life, it is because he is the son of a Tzadik. In fact, the Torah
itself teaches that the merits of a person last for a thousand generations (Devarim
7:9, see Sotah 31a). It is a common theme that the Jewish people have Zechus Avos
from the forefathers protecting them forever (Berachos 27b, Shabbos 55a).
(b) Our Gemara implies that Yishmael died as a Rasha. This is also the implication of
the Gemara in Megilah (17a, and RASHI there, DH Lamah Nimnu) and the Midrash
(Bereishis Rabah, end of Chayei Sarah), which ask why the Torah counts the years of
Yishmael if he was a Rasha. However, we find in Bava Basra (16b) that Rebbi Yochanan
learns from the verse (Bereishis 25:17) that Yishmael repented during his father's
lifetime. When the verse describes Yishmael's death, it says "va'Yigva va'Yamas,"
which is a phrase that is used only to describe the death of Tzadikim. It should not
be necessary, therefore, for Avraham to have to save him, since Yishmael should
deserve Olam ha'Ba based on his own merits!
Another proof that Yishmael repented can be found in the fact that a Tana has the
name Rebbi *Yishmael*. If Yishmael died as a Rasha, it would be prohibited to use his
name, as the Gemara says in Yoma (38b; see Tosfos there regarding the names
"Avshalom" and "Shavna"). (TOSFOS YESHANIM to Yoma 38b, cited by GILYON HA'SHAS;
TORAS CHAIM, TUREI EVEN and MAHARSHA in Megilah 17a.)
(a) The RIF in the EIN YAKOV explains that the merit of a father can help the son
while the son is alive in this world. As long as the son is alive, the father's merit
can grant him a comfortable life so that it will be easier for him to repent and to
do Mitzvos. This is the way in which Zechus Avos protects a person.
However, after the son has died and can no longer perform Mitzvos, the Mitzvos that
his father did cannot grant the son a share of eternal reward which he does not
deserve. This might also be the intention of TOSFOS in Sotah (10b, DH d'Ayesei).
Tosfos there asks how was David ha'Melech able to save his son Avshalom from Gehinom
through his prayers, if the merits of a father do not help the son? Tosfos answers
(in his first approach) that since Avshalom suffered in this world by enduring a
terrible death, his father's prayers were able to bring him to Olam ha'Ba. This might
be based on the principle that we mentioned; while Avshalom was alive, the merit of
his father brought about his tragic death in order that his death could serve as an
atonement for him when his father would later pray for him.
(b) The TOSFOS YESHANIM in Yoma explains that although the Gemara here and in Megilah
(as well as the Midrash in Bereishis Rabah 62) call Yishmael a Rasha, the Gemara in
Bava Basra disagrees with these two Gemaras, and maintains that Yishmael was not a
Why, according to the Gemara here and in Megilah, did a Tana bear the name of
Yishmael if Yishmael was a Rasha? The Tosfos Yeshanim answers that since it was
Hashem Who chose and gave the name Yishmael to the son of Hagar when he was born
(Bereishis 16:11), it is permitted to use the name despite the fact that its original
bearer was wicked.
RASHI, however, appears to have learned that the Gemara in Bava Basra *agrees* with
the Gemara here and in Megilah. Rashi (to Bereishis 25:17) first cites the Gemara in
Megilah, which says that the Torah lists the number of years Yishmael lived in order
for us to infer from there the amount of time Yakov spent in the Yeshivah of Ever.
Rashi then proceeds to cite the Gemara in Bava Basra, which learns from the
expression "va'Yigva va'Yamas" that Yishmael repented before his death. (In fact, the
only other places in which this phrase is used is with regard to the Avos themselves
-- Avraham (Bereishis 25:8), Yitzchak (Bereishis 35:29), and Yakov (Bereishis 49:33),
implying that it indeed refers to a Tzadik's death.) When the Midrash says that the
Torah should not have listed the years of Yishmael because he was a Rasha, the
MAHARSHA (in Megilah) and the MAHARAL (in Gur Aryeh) explain that the Midrash means
to say that since Yishmael was not righteous *all* of his years, they should not
Why, then, does our Gemara assert that Yishmael died a Rasha, and that the only thing
that would have saved him from the fate that he deserved was the merits of his
1. The ETZ YOSEF in the Ein Yakov suggests that the Gemara here is not referring to
Yishmael himself. It is referring to his offspring (who are referred to collectively
as "Yishmael"). Avraham cannot save the evil offspring of Yishmael from Gehinom,
since a father does not bring merit to his son (after the son's death).
2. The YAD DAVID answers based on the words of Tosfos (Yoma 38b, Shabbos 12b). He
says that Rebbi Yishmael was named after a different Yishmael, who was a Tzadik. (We
indeed find a different Yishmael mentioned in Ezra 10:22, who may well have been a
3. Perhaps the Gemara in Bava Basra does not mean that Yishmael died as a Tzadik. The
Gemara there says only that he repented before the death of Avraham Avinu. This
certainly occurred in order to fulfill the promise Hashem made to Avraham that he
would see Yishmael do Teshuvah and live a productive life (Rashi to Bereishis 17:18).
The Gemara in Bava Basra says that this was the Berachah that the Torah refers to as
"ba'Kol" (Bereishis 24:1). After Avraham Avinu died, though, Yishmael sinned again,
and he died as a sinner. That is why the Gemara here says that Avraham Avinu's merit
cannot bring Yishmael to Olam ha'Ba.
We find support for this answer in Rashi (to Bereishis 25:18) who writes that until
Avraham Avinu died, Yishmael lived in a respectful manner. After Avraham Avinu died,
Yishmael "fell" (as mentioned in Bereishis 25:18), implying that he returned to his
sinful ways (see KLI YAKAR there).
Why, then, does the verse use the phrase "va'Yigva va'Yamas" when describing
Yishmael's death? The answer is that the RAMBAN (to Bereishis 25:8) explains that
"va'Yigva" when written with the word "va'Ye'asef" implies the swift death of
"Neshikah" with which Tzadikim die. Perhaps Avraham Avinu's prayer was not only that
he should see Yishmael return to the ways of righteousness in his lifetime, but that
if Yishmael does repent, he should be judged favorably in this world and live in
peace and die the death of a Tzadik. Afterwards, however, Yishmael returned to his
evil ways out of his own free choice, despite the Heavenly assistance he would have
had to remain righteous (see Ramban and Maharal to Bereishis 17:18). However, Hashem
promised that Yishmael would continue to live without want and would die painlessly
-- just as the Avos themselves. (He would receive punishment for his evil ways in the
World to Come.) Therefore, despite Yishmael's return to his old ways, he died the
form of death that is normally reserved for Tzadikim. This may be what Rashi means (in
Bereishis 25:17) when he writes with regard to Yishmael that "the *wording* used in
this verse is the *wording* reserved normally for Tzadikim" -- not the Yishmael
himself died a Tzadik.
However, had Yishmael never acted in a righteous manner, then Hashem would not have
granted him the death of a Tzadik, since it is obvious that Hashem's promise to
Avraham was contingent upon Yishmael doing Teshuvah (at some point). This is how the
Gemara in Bava Basra (16b) proves from the word "va'Yigva" that Yishmael must have
repented at least at one point in his life. (M. Kornfeld)