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Thought for the Day: Toch k'Dei Dibur; The Importance of Saying Hello

"Toch k'dei dibur k'dibur dami" -- an interruption in speech which is less than some limit is considered not to be an interruption at all.  This concept is important all over halacha.  The gemara (Bava Kama 73a/b) takes a deep dive into the matter.  More than that, there are four Tosofoses (you try to make Tosofos plural, smarty) deal with different aspects of the issue.

One of cases used is what happens if a person says, "This animal is in exchange for an olah, a shlamim."  An olah is completely burned, a shlamim is eaten (split between the kohanim and the owner).  Since you can't do both with one animal, we are left on the horns of a dilemma.  (I happen to adore that expression, having once seen a stunning caricaturization of it in Mad magazine.  Besides, it makes a nice pun, as well.  Life if good.)  There are basically two possibilities.  First, we could simply say that once he called it an olah, that's it; fini, the fat lady has sung, that's all she wrote, good night, Gracie.  Hence, his final words, "a shlamim" have no effect.  That's the opinion of R' Meyer.

R' Yose, however, says that since it is impossible to say two things at once (only HaShem can do that; as in, "shamor v'zachor b'dibur achas ne'eamar" -- guard [the Sabbath] and remember [the Sabbath] were said at one time [at Matan Torah]), if he intended to say both originally, he's stuck; put the animal out to pasture until it became unfit for a sacrifice, then sell it and use half the money to buy an olah and the other half to buy a shlamim; but if he changed his mind, then R' Yosi concurs with R' Meyer.  Because of an earlier statement from R' Yosi, the gemara is forced to conclude there are two measures of "toch k'dei dibur".  One (the one we've all heard about) is the time it takes a talmid to greet his rebbi: "Shalom Aleicha, Rebbi" (some add, "u'Mori").  The other is the time it takes to rebbi to greet his talmid: "Shalom Aleicha."

Tosofos (d.h. trei doch k'dei dibur havi) explains two chidushim in R' Yosi (boy, this is the night of twos!).  First, if the statements are not made toch k'dei dibur, then it is no different than saying one on Monday and the second on Tuesday.  Moreover, R' Yosi really means that if the two statements are made within toch k'dei dibur, then we pasken that regardless of his actual intent that he meant for it to be both.  On the flip side, if the statements are separated by more than toch k'dei dibur, then we pasken that regardless of his actual intent that he meant the first statement.

Why measure the time by either the way a rebbi greets his talmid or the talmid greets his rebbi?  Tosofos (d.h. ki leis lei l'R' Yose sh'eilas talmid l'rav) gives a beautiful explanation based on the halacha that one is required to answer when greeted and (sometimes to initiate a greeting) even while in the middle of k'riyas sh'ma.  The usual case would be rebbi to talmid or talmid to rebbi, of course.  Therefore, explains Tosofos, Chazal decreed that toch k'dei dibur k'dibur dami in order that one could answer his talmid and greet his rebbi during k'riyas sh'ma without worrying about it being an interruption.

I remember going to Target with my son when he we about six.  I don't remember why we went there, but I do remember what happened.  A Jew (he was wearing a nice black velvet yarmulka), whom I didn't know, walked past us.  Yosef asked me why I didn't say hello.  "I don't know him," I said matter-of-factly.  "But he's Jewish," Yosef responded; equally matter-of-factly.  Apparently he was right.


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