In today’s reading (B. Ber 5a-5b), we see* that a tanna [reciter] stood in the study hall/academy in front of Rabbi Yohanan (Johanan) and recited:
If one engages in Torah and acts of charity and [nonetheless] buries his sons, all his sins are forgiven to him.**
R. Yohanan responds with verses from Proverbs (16:6, 21:21, and 23:23) affirming that Torah and charity are means of atonement but asks the basis for the teaching about burying children.
An elder stands and recites in the name of Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, linking Prov 16:6, previously cited (“With mercy and truth iniquity is expiated”), and Jer 32:18: “He repays iniquity of the fathers onto the bosoms of their children.”
Direct response to this is not recorded, but R. Yohanan’s next statement is:
Leprosy and [the lack of] children are not chastisements of love.**
The discussion goes on to consider a contradiction between this statement and another teaching which calls leprosy a chastisement of love. One solution offered is that R. Yohanan’s teaching involves visible leprosy and the contradictory one, concealed. Another suggests that R. Yohanan’s teaching refers to Jerusalem, where treatment included being banished outside the city, while the contradictory one concerns Babylon, where treatment was less extreme and isolating.
In the course of this narration, we learn that R. Yohanan buried ten children.
* Paraphrase, based on Soncino and Koren/Steinsaltz translations
** Indented text directly from Soncino translation of Ber 5b
For the list of sources considered in decision-making:
- “um, excuse me? you haven’t a clue!” from someone who has been through an experience being discussed;
- differing impact of a label or decision based on regional exigencies and actual differences in experience