Friday, January 18, 2008

The Law of the Kingdom is the Law

The Gemora in Shabbos 88a teaches that when Bnei Yisroel stood at Mount Sinai and heard the word of Hashem, He held the mountain over our heads. Hashem declared, “If you’ll accept the Torah, all will be well. If not, this will be your burial place!” Rav Acha bar Yaakov said: This can now be used as an excuse for Klal Yisroel when they do not perform the mitzvos. For when they are summoned for judgment, they can claim that they were coerced into accepting the Torah; it was not done willingly.

The Perashas Derachim asks from our Gemora (Nedarim 28a) which states that the law of the kingdom is the law and we do not allow a person to vow deceptively. If so, this should certainly apply by The Holy One blessed is He, Who is the King of all Kings. How could Klal Yisroel use the coercion as an excuse? The law of the kingdom is the law, and they took an oath obligating themselves to perform His mitzvos!

He answers that Rabbeinu Tam holds that the principle of the law of the kingdom is the law is only applicable if the king decrees on all his subjects. However, if the decree is issued only on part of his kingdom, this principle does not apply. Since Hashem is the King over all the nations of the world and He only forced Bnei Yisroel to accept His mitzvos, this principle would not apply and hence, a claim of coercion can be effective.

It emerges that regarding the seven mitzvos that were given to all Bnei Noach, the principle of the law of the kingdom is the law would apply, and a claim of coercion would not be valid.

According to this, we can explain the argument between Pharaoh and the midwives. Pharaoh asked them, “Why didn’t you listen to my commandment? The law of the kingdom is the law and since I the king decreed that all the Jewish children should be killed, you are obligated to listen to me!” They responded to him, “Your decree is not a universal one; it was only issued regarding the Jewish children and not to any others. Accordingly, the principle does not apply and we are not obligated to adhere to the laws of the kingdom. Thereupon, Pharaoh immediately decreed that all children born must be thrown into the sea.

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Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Holding a Sacred Object

The Gemora (Nedarim 25a) relates the following incident: There was a person who was owed money by his friend, and the two of them came before Rava. The lender said: Pay me! The borrower said: I already did! Rava said: Swear that you paid him. The borrower then filled his cane with the amount of money he borrowed and leaned on it while walking to Beis Din. Before he took the oath, the borrower asked the lender to hold his cane for him while he took the oath. The borrower then took a Sefer Torah and swore that he had given the lender whatever he had owed him. When the lender heard this he got upset and broke the cane, causing the money to fall out. It was apparent that he had “paid” him all of the money.

Rabbeinu Tam understands this Gemora to mean that the borrower denied the entire claim and was liable only for a Rabbinic oath (called a shevuas hesseis). Nevertheless, he took the Sefer Torah in his hand prior to taking the oath. This would prove that one needs to hold a sacred object even by a Rabbinical oath.

He also presents proof to this from the Gemora in Shavuos (41a) which inquires as to the differences between a Biblical oath and a Rabbinical one. The Gemora does not offer this difference; namely, that a Biblical oath would necessitate the holding of a sacred object and a Rabbinical one would not. This proves that a Rabbinical oath also required the holding of a sacred object.

The Gaonim disagree and maintain that one is not required to hold a sacred object when taking a Rabbinical oath. The Meiri writes that our Gemora cannot serve as a proof against this, for we are discussing a case where the borrower decided himself to hold the Sefer Torah. He did this as a ruse in order to get the lender to hold his cane.

According to the Ran’s explanation of our Gemora, there would be no proof at all. For our Gemora is discussing a case where the borrower admitted to part of the claim made against him. Since he wishes to avoid paying the rest of the claim, he is Biblically obligated to take an oath that he does not owe the remainder of the claim. This oath obviously requires him to hold a sacred object.

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Six Hundred and Thirteen Mitzvos

It is evident from the Gemora (Nedarim 25a) that accepting an oath to fulfill the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos is exactly the same as accepting an oath to keep the entire Torah. Reb Avi Lebowitz hearos wonders if this is really true. Firstly, the Ramban at the beginning of sefer hamitzvos discusses the possibility that the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos is not an actual count and it is not necessarily accepted by all sources. Even if we are to assume that our Gemora holds of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos idea (as the Gemora in Makkos seems to indicate) as do all the Rishonim who list the mitzvos, aren't there still other "mitzvos" in the Torah that are not counted in the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos? There are many mitzvah concepts that would qualify as "ratzon ha'torah", even if not an absolute obligation, and by only accepting the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos, we would seemingly not be accepting all the thousands of other points that the Torah wants us to accept! How can the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos be the same as an oath on the entire Torah?

Reb Yossie Schonkopf suggests that the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos is the root for all mitzvos and as such encompass all of Torah.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Honoring his Friend

(Nedarim 24a) If one says to his fellow, “Konam that I will not benefit from your if you do not accept from me for your son a kor of wheat and two barrels of wine” (and the fellow refuses the gift), he may annul his vow without petitioning a sage, by his fellow saying, “Did you vow for any other purpose but to honor me (that I should accept the gift)? This (the refusal of the gift) is my honor (for it is written in Mishlei: One who hates gifts shall live).

The Rosh asks: Doesn’t every neder require annulment only through a sage? How can the vower annul this neder by himself?

He answers that since this opening is so clear and compelling, the vower is permitted to annul it himself.

The Ran according to the explanation of the Ayeles Hashachar learns differently. He explains that the purpose of the vow was to honor the other fellow. Since he is being honored by refusing the gift, that is regarded as a fulfillment of the condition of the neder. The neder never has a chance to take effect for the fellow was indeed honored.

The Ra”n Elucidated
Rejecting the proof - The Gemora attempts to bring a proof from the following braisa: Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov went even further and said: If one says to his fellow, “Konam that I do not benefit from you if you will not be my guest and partake of hot bread and a hot drink with me.” The fellow resisted the invitation. This is also considered a motivational neder.

The reason it says, “Even further” is because here, even though it is applicable to say, “I am not a dog,” for behold, he is forbidding himself the benefit of the invited one if he doesn’t want to accept this benefit from him, and for this reason it can be said that he really meant the neder, nonetheless, Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov said that they are motivational nedarim.

According to this explanation, we now see that our rejections of all the proofs above, that even Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov agrees whenever it is possible to say, “I am not a dog” were only arguments, but were not really true.

[We use the sefer “The Commentary of Rabbenu Nissim on Nedarim” from Rabbi Nathan Bushwick extensively to assist us in preparing the “Elucidation of the Ra”n.” The sefer, written in English is available for sale by writing to: Rabbi Nathan Bushwick 901 Madison Ave. Scranton, Pa 18510-1019. The cost is $25.00.]

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