Daf 49a - How did the dispute between Rashi and Rabbeinu Tam originate?
On Daf 49a it says that R. Yannai taught that tefillin require a clean body, like Elisha the Man of Wings. What does this mean? Abayei said that it means that one must not pass wind while wearing them, and Rava said that it means that one must not sleep in them. And why was Elisha called "the Man of Wings"? Because the wicked Roman government once proclaimed a decree against Yisrael that whoever donned tefillin should have his brains pierced through, yet Elisha put them on and went out into the streets. However, a quaestor saw him and so he fled from him, but the quaestor pursued him. As he reached him he removed the tefillin from his head and held them in his hand. The Roman demanded: What is that in your hand? He replied: The wings of a dove. He opened his hand and the wings of a dove were found there. Therefore he was called ‘Elisha the Man of the Wings’. And why the wings of a dove rather than that of other birds? Because the Congregation of Yisrael is likened to a dove, as it is says in Tehillim (68,14) "the wings of a dove covered with silver" - just as a dove is protected by its wings, so is Yisrael protected by the mitzvos.
This story of the gemora requires explaining: why did this Elisha the Man of the Wings reply to the Roman’s question by saying that they were the wings of a dove? Why was he not concerned that when this Roman sees in his hand a leather container with leather straps instead of the wings of a dove he would not be extremely angry, thinking that this Jew was making fun of him by saying that a leather container was the wings of a dove and thereby punish him severely with the full force of the law? Why incite this Roman and put himself in greater danger with this unrelated answer? Surely he could have said that it was some other sort of Jewish ornament rather than say that "day is night", to say about leather tefillin that they were the wings of a dove. And we cannot suggest as an answer that he was sure that a miracle would occur for him and that they would change into the wings of a dove, because we have a rule that we do not rely on miracles. However, it seems to me that the following is the correct explanation of the matter:
First of all, the dispute between the early Rabbis -
Rabbeinu Chananel and Rav Hai Gaon - concerning the correct order of
placing the four parshas of the tefillin
in the tefillin boxes needs to be addressed.
Rashi holds that
the correct order is:
We cannot answer that during those times when the nations decreed against the wearing of tefillin there were long periods when it was not possible to put on tefillin because of the danger - like we see in the gemora Shabbos which says that since they did not give up their lives for the mitzvah of tefillin until this day it is weak in their hands - because this would have been true only for the general population, but there certainly would have been holy individuals who still put on tefillin in secret.
And even if we say that due to the severity of the decrees the mitzvah of tefillin was temporarily abolished, nevertheless, when the decrees were abolished they could seek out and find some pairs of tefillin that they had inherited from their forefathers and see how the parshas were ordered. Like the Baraissa in the Yerushalmi in Eruvin 10,1 teaches: These tefillin must be checked every twelve months, says Rebbi. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel says that they do not require checking. Hillel the Elder said: These tefillin are from my mother’s father. Now, if Hillel had tefillin from his mother’s father, all the more so many tefillin could have been found amongst the general population that they had inherited from their ancestors which they could have checked to see how the parshas were ordered. I have yet to see an acceptable explanation of this matter.
However, the explanation of this confusing matter in my opinion is this: The Mishnah in the beginning of the last chapter of Eruvin says: One who finds tefillin on Shabbos should bring them in one pair at a time. In which case is this true? With old tefillin, but with new tefillin he is exempt (he is Rabbinically forbidden to do so, but if he does he is exempt from bringing a sin offering). The gemora explains that we suspect that the new ones might be an amulet and not real tefillin, and Rava goes on to explain that in fact there is a Tannaitic dispute as to whether or not a person goes to the trouble to make an amulet in the form of tefillin.
In any case, it is clear from this that during the time of the Mishnah and Gemora the Jews were accustomed to wear amulets in the form of tefillin. And they were made for a specific purpose - in order that they did not have to be careful about their holiness, as the laws of tefillin dictate. For this reason they made a change in the way they made the knots or some other change which made them totally unfit to be used as tefillin. Like it says in the tosefta in Eruvin - with old ones they did not have to be concerned that they might be an amulet because if they were an amulet they would not have made a knot, because to that extent they did not make them like tefillin.
Now, the mitzvah of tefillin requires them to be worn the whole day. However, probably at a time later than that of the Amoraim, that is, during the period of the Rabban Savorai and the Gaonim, due to the difficult yoke of their exile, their increased dispersion and increased suffering, they became physically very weak, and so the concern of having an unclean body with regard to the wearing of tefillin became a regular concern, and from then on they were not able to wear tefillin all day.
However, in order not to abandon the tradition of wearing tefillin all day they made for themselves two pairs of tefillin. One pair was made according to the laws and holiness of tefillin which they wore once per day, during the morning prayers, and another they made as an amulet which were made and ordered not in accordance with halachah, and thus were not sanctified with the holiness of tefillin. These tefillin they wore all day as an amulet like the custom of the time of the gemora to make an amulet in the form of tefillin. The main difference between these two pairs of tefillin was that those which they wore for the mitzvah of tefillin they ordered the four parshas in accordance with the laws of tefillin, whereas those which they wore as an amulet they ordered the parshas not in accordance with these laws, and thus they did not have the holiness of tefillin and were merely an amulet.
Therefore, when subsequently there came along a period of one or two generations during which, due to the decrees of apostasy, they were not able to wear tefillin at all, after the decrees were abolished they found that the tefillin of their forefathers consisted of two types: one type had their parshas ordered like the opinion of Rashi, and another had their parshas ordered like the opinion of Rabbeinu Tam. And they forgot which were the real tefillin and which were amulets.
From this came about the dispute of the early authorities, with Rashi holding that those that were ordered according to his opinion were the genuine tefillin and the others were amulets, and Rabbeinu Tam holding the opposite. And each one supported his opinion with logical proofs, proving that only those which were ordered according to their opinion had been worn for the mitzvah of tefillin. This was the basis upon which the early authorites founded their differing opinions, and each one thought that the truth was on his side.
With this the gemora that we started with is now clearly understood. We see that during the time of the Tannaim and the Amoraim they were accustomed to wear tefillin not only for the mitzvah of tefillin but also as an amulet, and was included in the custom of the people in earlier times to wear various types of amulets as a protection from various evils. See the Mishnah in Shabbos which says that a person may not go out with an amulet if it was not an expert (tried and tested) amulet, and the gemora discusses at length if we require both an expert craftsman and an expert amulet.
Thus, Elisha the Man of the Wings, who wore tefillin even during the time when they decreed against Yisrael that whoever wore tefillin would have his brain pierced through, when he was seen by a quaestor and was asked what he had in his hand, he replied that he was holding "the wings of a dove". That is, an amulet in the form of the wings of a dove, Because the form of a dove were also a symbol of holiness with the idol-worshipping nations, as we find in the gemora in Chulin which teaches that when the Kusim became corrupted in their deeds the Rabbis found in their places of prayer the form of a dove. From this it is clear that the form of a dove was a symbol used in their worship.
This is why Elisha replied that they were the wings of a dove. But he did not say more than these words because his extreme piety made him careful of stating any falsehood. But he thought that if the Roman would rebuke him and say "how can you be so brazen to say about containers of leather that they are the wings of a dove", he would have responded that he meant that these leather containers were an amulet in the form of the wings of a dove. This was how Elisha intended to elude the Roman quaestor and calm his anger, to escape being put to death. But Hashem does the will of those who fear him and made for him a miracle and changed the tefillin to actual wings of a dove, so that when he opened his hand "the wings of a dove were found there".
But the gemora then asked why the wings of a dove rather than that of other birds? That is, whilst it is true that the righteous Elisha said the wings of a dove in order to trick the quaestor into thinking that he meant an amulet in the form of the wings of a dove which were holy even to the idol-worshipping nations, however, this Chasid certainly must have had some other, Jewish intention behind his calling the tefillin the wings of a dove. The gemora answered that it was because the Congregation of Yisrael is likened to a dove - just as a dove is protected by its wings, so is Yisrael protected by the mitzvos. Thus, all the words of the gemora have been very clearly explained.