"The Demons of our own creation"

Rabbi Adin Even Israel (Steinsaltz)

Additional Sources

An excerpt from The Long Shorter Way Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

Rabbi Menachem ben Solomon Meiri on Teshuvah

Q & A followed by the lesson

Pesachim Daf 110 - The dangers of pairs and demons                                English translation with commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz

The Me'iri points out that during Talmudic times there were popular beliefs in destructive forces, amulets, etc. - ideas that today would be considered superstition. As long as these beliefs did not involve Avodah Zarah or actual witchcraft, the Sages made no attempt to convince the people that they were untrue. This was certainly true in cases where these beliefs were so strong that the psychological belief would cause a physiological reaction to a given circumstance. The Gemara's formulation of this appears at the end of the discussion here, which recognizes that those who are concerned about such things should be concerned, but those who are not particular about them do not need to worry.
 One of these beliefs was the danger of zugot - that is to say, that doing things in pairs was hazardous. This concern leads to a question being raised about the Seder night. How can the Sages obligate participants to drink four cups of wine, when doing so would be involving oneself in zugot? In answer to this concern, Rav Nahman points out that on the Seder night there is the special protection of leil shimurim ("A night of Watching" see Shmot
 12:42), while Rava argues that cups upon which blessings are made should not be seen as falling into the category of zugot.
The lengthy discussion of zugot in our Gemara includes a conversation between Rav Papa and Yosef Sheida about the respective dangers of one set of zugot (two) and two sets of zugot (four).
The identity of Yosef Sheida, who appears in a number of stories throughout the Gemara, is not clear. Rashi brings two possible explanations, one which sees him as a person who was an expert in shedim (=demons) and the occult, while the second suggests that he was, himself, a demon with whom the Sages developed a relationship to the extent that they discussed issues of shedim with him. Either one of these explanations can be supported by the various stories about shedim that appear in the Gemara.

Pesachim Daf 110 - Understanding the dangers of destructive forces
It appears that at least some of these popular beliefs were based on experience and diagnosis that were not fully understood centuries before microscopic germs had been seen through a lens. Thus, the Gemara informs us that the creature who is responsible for food is called "Nakid" (perhaps a play on the word naki - clean), while the creature responsible for poverty is called "Naval," and that a house where crumbs are left on the floor is visited by Naval, while a house where proper care is taken with food is visited by Nakid. As the Arukh points out, the Gemara is not only "introducing" us to metaphysical forces that lurk in the house, but is also teaching basic rules of cleanliness. Homes where basic rules of sanitation are kept will be "ruled" by the Lord of Food, while places where hygiene is lacking and food is not treated in a clean, respectful manner will be governed by the Lord of Poverty.  

Other recommendations made by the Gemara on our daf include Rav Yosef's admonition about activities that lead to a loss of vision (note that Rav Yosef, himself, was blind). The first such activity is combing hair when it is dry. This may refer to a brief period of vision loss when vigorous combing - particularly of dry hair that is stuck together - may affect the scalp and create a nerve reflex that may cause partial loss of sight for a short time. The second activity that he mentions is drinking in a manner that he call "tif tif." This may refer to someone who drinks the dregs of a wine barrel, where the alcohol level is higher than normal. The high alcohol level may cause a slight poisoning that can lead to partial blindness. Rav Yosef's final recommendation is to avoid putting on shoes when your feet are still wet. This, too, may be explained by suggesting that rheumatic damage can affect the optic nerve, causing visual disorders.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the Hebrew version of the Steinsaltz Edition of the Talmud, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger. To learn more about the Steinsaltz Daf Yomi initiative, click here.  

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