Monday, April 24, 2006

Daf Yomi - Pesachim 115b - Abaye's Question About Removing The Tray

Some thoughts I had about the following story (slightly different in Rif than in the gemara). I present what I think is an unconventional take.

The Rif, translated (you can see the Rif in tzurat hadaf here):
And why do we uproot the table?
Rabbi Yannai {alternate girsa: the school of Rabbi Yannai} said: So that the children should see and ask.

Abaye was sitting before Rabba. He saw that he saw that they removed the tray {our gemara: from before him}. He said: Have we already eaten that you are removing the tray?!
Rabba said: You have exempted us from saying "Mah Nishtana." {Why is this night different}
The gemara as we have it in our printed text (though again I emphasize, the Rif is different in many ways):

למה עוקרין את השולחן אמרי דבי ר' ינאי כדי שיכירו תינוקות וישאלו אביי הוה יתיב קמיה דרבה חזא דקא מדלי תכא מקמיה אמר להו עדיין לא קא אכלינן אתו קא מעקרי תכא מיקמן אמר ליה רבה פטרתן מלומר מה נשתנה

The way I was taught when I was in 6th grade (and the common view, as seems evident from this google search) is that this a young Abaye, who was an orphan and adopted by his uncle Rabba, who taught him. This story is an illustration of the reason for uprooting the table given by the academy of Rabbi Yannai, for Abaye is a young child, and the strangeness of the action prompted him to ask, which was the very point of the exercise!

I would put forth a different interpretation. We do not know how old Abaye is. For all we know, he could be older. And even if young and growing up in his uncle's house, he still was on the ball! Was this his first seder that he did not recall from last year?

I would add to things before explaining what I think is going on. Firstly, while our version of the gemara has תכא as what they uprooted, Rif has פתורא as what they uprooted. Secondly, there is a broader context, in the gemara immediately leading up to the current gemara (with Rav Huna replaced in Rif with Rav Kahana):

אמר רב שימי בר אשי מצה לפני כל אחד ואחד מרור לפני כל אחד ואחד וחרוסת לפני כל אחד ואחד ואין עוקרין את השלחן אלא לפני מי שאומר הגדה רב הונא אומר כולהו נמי לפני מי שאומר הגדה והלכתא כרב הונא

Rav Shimi bar Ashi said: Matza before each and every one, and maror before each and every one, but they do not uproot the table except before he who says the haggada.
And Rav Kahana {our gemara: Huna} said: All of these {=matza and maror} only before he who says the haggada.

And the halacha is like Rav Kahana.
Note that Rav Kahana (or Rav Huna, if that is the girsa you chose) was the generation before Rabba, and thus two generations before Abaye. And Rav Kahana does not dispute Rav Shimi bar Ashi in terms of from before whom they uproot the table - only as regards to whether each and every person gets his own matza and maror before him.

The halacha is in accordance with Rav Kahana (or Rav Huna, who is the teacher of Rabba) and so matza and maror should only be before the leader of the haggada. And furthermore, they should only uproot the table from before the leader of the Seder, most likely Rabba. They should not remove the table from before Abaye!

This may indeed have been Abaye's objection. According to the girsa in our gemara:

אביי הוה יתיב קמיה דרבה חזא דקא מדלי תכא מקמיה אמר להו עדיין לא קא אכלינן אתו קא מעקרי תכא מיקמן

it is unclear from whom they removed the table in the narrative (that is, does מקמיה refer to Rabba or to Abaye), but from Abaye's objection of קא מעקרי תכא מיקמן, it seems that they are removing everyone's table/tray.

Abaye knew this was not the halacha, and so asks, "why are you removing the tray from before us? -- after all, we have not yet eaten!"

Another point, which can stand together or apart from the point above. Namely, in the Rif's girsa, the word is not תכא but rather פתורא.

I would suggest that Rabba's response is partly true halacha and partly expression of his bemusement. Abaye has asked a good question in that they were removing the table incorrectly, and thus he asked a question. In line with Rabbi Yannai (or the academy of Rabbi Yannai's) statement that the purpose was to prompt the asking of questions, Rabba stated that Abaye's halachic objection/question qualified as such.

Furthermore, Rabba's statement is part pun. We replace פתורה for תכא, but Rabbah's statement is still פטרתן מלומר מה נשתנה. Thus there is the pun פתרתן = our tables, and פטרתן with a tes which means "you have exempted us." (If so, this lends credence to the idea that Rabba is speaking partly in jest.)

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