A royal army came to (attack) Pumbedita, so Rabbah and Rav Yosef fled. Rabbi Zeira encountered them and said: “Refugees! The Kezayit (olive volume) of which the sages spoke when they taught that an animal is not kosher if less than a Kezayit of liver is intact, refers to a Kezayit located next to the gallbladder.”

Rav Adda bar Ahavah said: “The Kezayit of liver needs to be located next to the kidney.”

Rav Pappa said: “Therefore, we require both a Kezayit next to the gallbladder and also a Kezayit next to the kidney1.” (Gemara Chulin 46a)

Chatam Sofer2 was asked about the correct behaviour of a Rabbi in a pogrom situation. Is it acceptable for the Rabbi to flee or should the shepherd remain with his flock? Chatam Sofer responded by citing our Gemara above and inquiring: What is the connection between the two Rabbis fleeing and the Halachic opinion that Rabbi Zeira shared with them?

Chatam Sofer explained that Rabbi Zeira was challenging Rabbah and Rav Yosef’s decision to flee rather than remain with their community. He supported his claim by saying that the Kezayit of liver required for an animal to be kosher (representing the Rabbis) needs to be located next to the gallbladder (symbolizing the danger zone, because the gallbladder is associated with 83 sicknesses3), meaning that the Rabbis should remain with their community in the danger zone. The Gemara continues, however, that this matter is subject to debate. Rav Adda bar Ahavah countered that the required Kezayit needs to be next to the kidney (symbolizing life), indicating that the Rabbis should relocate to wherever life is safe. The Gemara’s conclusion is that both Kezeitim are required, symbolizing that some Rabbis should remain with their community in the danger zone while other Rabbis are permitted to leave. Accordingly, Chatam Sofer reasoned that the Rabbi could leave the pogrom and pray for the welfare of his community from a safe distance.

Rabbi Zeira held the great duo Rabbah and Rav Yosef in such high esteem that he felt they must surely remain among the leaders who stay with the community, so that their merit would protect the whole community. Tosfot elucidates that Rabbi Zeira had no need to flee because his father had been a royal official. I suggest that possibly Rabbi Zeira felt that his connections would be sufficient to vouchsafe Rabbah and Rav Yosef, but they thought that was too risky and that the best thing they could do would be to pray for the welfare of Pumbedita from afar.

1.       The Gemara uses the word “Chayah” which literally means “the vital point”. Rashi explains that the reference is to the site where the liver is attached under the right kidney.

2.       Rabbi Moshe Sofer (1762-1839) author of CHidushei Torat Moshe Sofer. Chatam Sofer Derashot II p609

3.       Gemara Bava Kamma 92b


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