The Gmara on Brachot 5b quotes R. Yochanon:

R. Yochanan says: Leprosy and children are not chastisements of love.

The Gmara later questions this statement:

But is children not a chastisement of love? How is this to be understood? Shall I say that he had children and they died? Did not R. Yochanan himself say: This is the bone of my tenth son?

Rashi offers an explanation to the Gmara's question, i.e. to show how R. Yochanan is contradicting himself:

... and a great man like R. Yochanan did not receive chastisements NOT of love

According to Rashi, R. Yochanan was showing a bone of his tenth dead son. If he, the great R. Yochanon, suffered the loss of children then the loss of children, r"l, although a chastisement, IS of love. This is because suffering of great men is only out of love. Well if R. Yochanon said above that the loss of children is NOT a chastisement of love we then have a contradiction.

The Tosfot are not comfortable with Rashi's explanation of the Gmara. This is because the Gmara goes on to solve the contradicting statements by differentiating between two situations:

  • Never having any sons -- not of love.
  • The loss of sons -- of love.

The one which R. Yochanon suffered from, the loss of sons, IS of love. The other, which R. Yochanon did not suffer from, never having sons, is NOT of love.

If Rashi is correct that any category of suffering that was experienced by a great man like R. Yochanon is automatically labeled "chastisements of love" how then could "never having sons" NOT be a chastisement of love, since we have seen many great great men who had not children at all.

The Tosfot's question is clear to me. So is the answer given at the end. What is not clear is the following quick intermediate question and answer:

And if because of daughters? R. Yochanon also had daughters.

If some one could help me understand this part of the Tosfot I would be very grateful. (small hint: the Haghot HaBach doesn't seem to help much).

I don't know if mi.yodeya.com has been used for this kind of learning in the past, I thought I'd give it a try ...


Thanks so much to Alex for pointing me to the Tzalach. This helped sharpen my difficulty with the Tosfot. If I understand the Tzlach the mahalach is like this:

  • Rashi:
    • No sons - yisurin not of love
    • Sons r"l died - yisurin of love <-- There are tzadikim whose sons have died
  • Tosfot: - We have seen tzadkim with no sons
  • Rashi's answer to Tosfot (by the Tzlach): These tzadkim were not punished with yisurin, this was their nature.
  • Tsofot (by the Tzlach): There are tzadkim without the nature (they had daughters) and without sons (ironically Rashi himself). Were these not yisurin of love?!

My question now is: The Tosfot should be answering with an example of a tzadik who never had sons but did daughters (like Rashi), but instead bring an example of R. Yochanan who had sons who died and also daughters. What am I missing in Tosfot or the Tzlach?

  • 1
    We haven't had very many gemara learning questions in the past, so I appreciate your expanding us into this area. I hope someone who frequents this site is sufficiently familiar with this particular tosfot to be able to help you.
    – Isaac Moses
    Apr 27, 2011 at 9:38
  • 1
    ... or someone who is skilled at opening up and taking apart any Tosfot. That is what I am hoping for :) Apr 27, 2011 at 10:00

2 Answers 2


Tzlach explains this sentence as follows. (Though I'm not sure I'm understanding him fully either.)

If a tzaddik has no children, then this is definitely not יסורין של אהבה, as the Gemara concludes But if he has daughters but no sons, then that may be יסורין של אהבה or it may not.

Now, Rashi says that R' Yochanan's suffering, of having his sons die (רחמנא ליצלן), must be יסורין של אהבה because a great man such as he would surely have had no other kind. To this Tosafos objects: that's fine if he at least had daughters, like R' Yochanan himself - we can still consider this יסורין של אהבה. But what of the many tzaddikim who had no children at all? According to Rashi's logic, since this can't be יסורין של אהבה, doesn't that force us to classify it as sin-related יסורין? And the answer is that it's not: the inability to have children is not necessarily any kind of Divine chastisement - it may simply be that he or she is infertile (due to physiological or mazal-related causes).

  • Alex, 1 up for pointing me to the Tzlach! You helped me understand what was really bothering me. Thanks. If you are interested you can see my edit above. Apr 28, 2011 at 8:57

See Sfas Emes. When the Gemara says that childlessness is a punishment caused by sin, it isn't referring to those people who have had children in previous incarnations.

Tosfos is aware that Tzadikim may have had children from previous incarnations and thus are not considered truly childless.

Instead Tosfos was asking from one specific Tzadik who had no children and had none from a previous incarnation: Joshua (see Tos. Rosh and Bach). The question is: how could Joshua have been punished by true childlessness if this is a sign of sin? Isn't Joshua at least as great as Rabbi Yochanan was?

Tosfos then follows up: and don't tell me that Joshua wasn't truly childless either, since he had daughters. For Rabbi Yochanan, too, had daughters, and still the Gemara asked from his sons' deaths? So we see that having daughters doesn't mitigate the punishment of losing sons, therefore it likewise shouldn't mitigate the punishment of never having had sons?

  • Bringing in the issue of Gilgulim does explain why the mention of Yehoshua was edited out and why the Tzlach goes to lengths to show why the edit was correct. This seems like a real Machloket. Apr 29, 2011 at 8:49
  • Barry, could you please add a link to the Sefat Emet. I looked for it on HebewBooks.org but could not find it. Apr 29, 2011 at 8:50

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