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Bar Kappara (possibly Eliezer haKappar, possibly his son Shimon) was a tanna who was known, within the Talmud, for his unusual antics and unchecked speech. In Nedarim 51a, he causes Rebbi to laugh out loud by placing a basket upside-down on his head, while rash words in Moed Qatan 16a cause Rebbi to rebuke him. He is rebuked by Rebbi in more than one place in the gemara, but the most intriguing is in the Yerushalmi's gemara to the same mishna in Moed Qatan.

There (Moed Qatan 3:1, 81c), the Yerushalmi has him delivering a riddle to Rebbi via Rebbi's unlearned son-in-law. The context, we are told, was that a group of sages were asking learned questions of Rebbi, and Bar Kappara told Rebbi's son-in-law (Bar Elasah) that he should ask something too. When Bar Elasah related what Bar Kappara told him to ask and Rebbi saw Bar Kappara grinning, he rebuked him strongly.

Here is the text of Bar Kappara's riddle, as delivered by Bar Elasah. What follows is my own attempt at a translation:

שאול משמים נשקפה הומיה בירכתי ביתה מפחדת כל בעלי כנפים ראונו נערים ונחבאו וישישים קמו עמדו הנס יאמרו הו הו והנלכד נלכד בעונו

Ask the following: "From heaven she gazes, pining in the corners of her house. She terrifies all winged creatures. Young men saw us (?) and concealed themselves; aged men rose and stood to attention (?). Oh! Oh!, they cry. He who is caught is caught in his transgression."

My translation is probably pretty awful: I can't figure out what to do with ראונו (they saw us??), nor how to understand הנס if it is qualifying עמדו. But most importantly, I have absolutely no idea what this passage means, nor why it was offensive to Rebbi.

First of all, I would very much appreciate it if somebody could correct my translation, either by breaking the text up differently or showing me where my understanding of any word within it is wrong. And secondly, if anybody knows of a good peirush on this text, or has their own interpretation as to what it means, that would be lovely.

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    Have you checked any "standard" (ie printed on the standard page) commentaries on the Yerushalmi (eg. Penei Moshe, Korban HaEidah)? – Double AA Feb 2 '17 at 2:01
  • @DoubleAA - No, regrettably, I don't have access to that and it doesn't appear to be available online. (And sorry to ask a meta question here, but why was the Riddle tag inappropriate? Is that only for questions that are themselves riddles?) – Shimon bM Feb 2 '17 at 2:05
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    Here is the Vilna edition of Yerushalmi hebrewbooks.org/pdfpager.aspx?req=14138&st=&pgnum=628 which is pretty standard. – Double AA Feb 2 '17 at 2:06
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    Re riddle: The tag guidance says "NOTE: This tag is for historical interest only; do not use. Riddles are discouraged as questions on StackExchange. Any riddle questions posted here are likely to be closed." so it seemed inappropriate to me. If you'd like to bring it up with the community that's fine. – Double AA Feb 2 '17 at 2:07
  • @DoubleAA - the most interesting thing about that is that the gemara there says ראונו, is quoting Job 29:8, which says ראוני, and the Qorban ha'Edah cites it as ראוהו. Bizarre. And fascinating! Thanks. – Shimon bM Feb 2 '17 at 4:21
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First of all, here is Artscroll’s translation of the incident. Bracketed words in my formatting are equivalent to their non-bold words; non-bracketed words are equivalent to bolded words. All other formatting is my own arrangement to make it easier to read. Their elucidation appears on 11b4 in their edition.

Rebbi would honor [his son-in-law] Bar Elasa [because of his great wealth]1. Bar Kappara [who disapproved of this practice] said to Bar Elasa: “Everyone asks Rebbi [their questions], but you [whom Rebbi honors] never ask him anything!” Bar Elasa said to Bar Kappara: “What shall we ask him?” Bar Kappara told him: “Ask [the following riddle]:

From heaven she gazes down; she is tumultuous in the recesses of her house; she frightens all those that have wings [to flee]. “The young men saw me and hid themselves, but the aged arose and stood up” (Iyov 29:8). The one who flees calls out [in despair], “Ho! Ho!”; but the one who is trapped became trapped in his sin!”

[Bar Elasa [sic] posed the riddle, and] Rebbi turned [around] and saw [Bar Kappara laughing. Rebbi said: “I do not recognize you as an Elder!” And Bar Kappara knew that he would not be appointed in the days of Rebbi.

1Artscroll footnote 28 brings a proof from Bavli Nedarim 51a and Eiruvin 86a that Rebbi would show respect to philanthropic wealthy people.

The footnotes in the Artscroll there follow Yefeh Mareh’s reading of the incident, with the exceptions noted below. (These are based on footnotes 30-39.)

  • Bar Kappara disapproved of Rebbi’s respect of Bar Elasa (as in the translation above). He asked Bar Elasa (who wasn’t a Torah scholar, but was wealthy - Korban HaEidah) to give rebuke to Rebbi hidden in a riddle that in spite of man’s wealth and power, all men eventually succumb to death (Pnei Moshe).
  • “From heaven she gazes down” - “she” is a reference to death.
  • “She is tumultuous in the recesses of her house” - Wherever death strikes there is a tumult.
  • “She frightens all those that have wings to flee” - All are scared of death and attempt to escape her clutches as if they had wings to fly away.
  • “The young men saw me and hid themselves” - the young usually can hide from death; “but the aged arose and stood up” - they will eventually succumb in their old age.
  • “The one who flees calls out, ‘Ho! Ho!’ but the one who is trapped became trapped in his sin” - those who flee cry out in despair, knowing full well that they will eventually die and suffer the consequences of their sins.
  • Rebbi saw Bar Kappara laughing and realized that he had been set up. He thus told Bar Kappara that the latter would not get Semicha.

Artscroll notes that Karban Ha’Eidah and Sheyarei Karban have different understandings of this incident. Fortunately, both of them are printed on the side of Artscroll’s copy of the Gemara. We will start with the Karban Ha’Eidah.

  • The Karban Ha’Eidah gives the same understanding as above as to the aftermath and does not explain the prompt. Presumably, as Bar Elasa was being given so much honor of which Bar Kappara disapproved, Bar Kappara merely wanted to make him look bad.
  • “From heaven she gazes down” - this is the neshamah, which originates in heaven.
  • “She is tumultuous in the recesses of her house” - Left unexplained. Possibly refers to childbirth.
  • “She frightens all those that have wings” - As animals are under the dominion of man, man can frighten the birds. I’m unclear as to why he discusses birds specifically.
  • “The young men saw me and hid themselves” - a reference to those who don’t do the will of their souls (presumably he means that those who act like children); “but the aged arose and stood up” - Although left unexplained, the contrast seems to indicate that those who do the will of their souls will be respected, as an elder is.
  • “The one who flees” from sin “calls out, ‘Ho! Ho!’” in joy, “but the one who is trapped became trapped in sin.”

Finally, the Sheyarei HaKarban:

  • Rebbi was honoring Bar Elasa, who wasn’t a scholar. Bar Kappara therefore told the following veiled rebuke:
  • שאול, translated above as “ask,” means the “depths of the world” - these will rise and “from the heavens she gazes down; she is tumultuous in the recesses of her house; she frightens all those that have wings.” Bar Elasa is the “depths,” as he does not learn Torah, yet he is elevated to the heavens and “gazes down” over the scholars over whom he has been honored. Scholars are compared to birds in Tanna D’vei Eliyahu 27.
  • “The young men saw me...” - This line is left unexplained. Perhaps it means that the young men are those who aren’t (and shouldn’t be) honored, and they (appropriately) run from it, while the elderly, who are honored (appropriately), stand up and accept it.
  • “The one who flees” from honor “calls out, ‘Ho! Ho!’” in joy, “but the one who is trapped became trapped in his sin” of pursuing honor.
  • When Rebbi saw Bar Kappara laughing, he realized that the riddle was targeted at himself and cursed Bar Kappara that just as he disapproved of others’ honor, so, too, would he not receive honor himself.

Artscroll also references “Mekor Baruch (Torah Temimah) Vol. II, p. 1016; MeYakirei Yerushalmi Vol. I p. 79 note 30,” though I don’t have access to these sefarim.

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    Love it - that's great, thanks! I don't think much of the second two interpretations that you provided, but the first one is right on the money and makes a lot of sense to me in context. Thank you. – Shimon bM Sep 5 '17 at 1:47
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According to Rabbi David Frenkel, in my interpretation of his answer, this means that Bar Kappara told him to say a quote that would make him look haughty. This riddle shows that he is saying that he is greater than all Torah scholars. http://files.daf-yomi.com/bookfiles/beruach-tova/beruach-tova172.pdf

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    welcome to mi yodeya. thanks for the answer. consider reading this short beginners' guide: meta.judaism.stackexchange.com/a/3887/8775 to learn more about the site. Also consider registering your account to best utilize the site's features. – mevaqesh Feb 2 '17 at 19:40
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You might want to modify and post to puzzling.stackexchange but I think the answer could be morning or daylight. Rebbi thinks that the riddle is inappropriate because the young men are obviously doing something naughty.

Sunlights comes from heaven and fills the world. Birds go nuts just before daybreak Youths stay up all nigh partying and carousing with women and sneak away when daybreak so they aren't caught. Old men wake up at dawn for shacharis.

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    I like that - and I like your suggestion of my posting it on Puzzling.SE! I don't know how kindly they'll take to it, however, since I don't have an answer myself and would only be crowd-sourcing the best available. I would only do it for fun too, since it's unlikely to give me anything approximating what the author of the story actually had in mind (for which Mi Yodeya is a decidedly better fit). – Shimon bM Feb 2 '17 at 4:13

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