Thursday, January 24, 2008

Proof Against the Rambam - Nedarim Daf 35

Rav Acha the son of Rav Avya said to Rav Ashi: If one said, “My loaf is forbidden to you,” and then he gave it to that fellow as a gift, who has committed me’ilah? The giver cannot be the one who committed me’ilah, for the loaf was never forbidden upon him. The recipient cannot be the one who committed me’ilah, for he can say, “I am only interested in acquiring permissible loaves; loaves that are forbidden to me, I do not want.”

The Ran writes that this is a refutation to the Rambam’s opinion, who holds that one who forbids another person benefit from himself and then feeds him will incur lashes because he has violated the transgression of “he shall not desecrate his word.”

The meaning of the Ra”n seems to be that if the Rambam is correct that if the vower provides the forbidden item to the other fellow, he has desecrated his word; then, the giver may be guilty of me’ilah as well! Why does our Gemora assume as an obvious point that the giver has not committed me’ilah?

The Machaneh Efraim (35) and the Lechem Mishna answer that although it might be prohibited for the vower to give the other fellow the forbidden item, but that does not mean that he has committed me’ilah. He has desecrated his word, but he is not guilty of me’ilah, for it was not regarded as hekdesh for him.

Reb Shlomo Zalman Auerbach explains that the Ran’s proof was from the language of the Gemora. The Gemora stated unequivocally that there can be no prohibition on the giver, for the loaf is not forbidden to him. It would seem from the Gemora that there is no prohibition on the giver at all! This is not correct according to the Rambam.

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Tuesday, January 22, 2008

Placing Money on the Horns of a Deer

The Gemora (Nedarim 33) cites a Mishna: If a person went overseas and someone supported his wife in the interim, Chanan ruled that he has lost his money.

The sons of the kohanim gedolim argued that the supporter may swear how much he gave his wife and collect the monies from him. Rabbi Dosa ben Harkinu agreed. Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai said: Chanan is correct; the supporter has placed his monies on the horn of a deer.

What is the meaning of the expression, “He has placed his money on the horn of a deer”?

The Tosfos Yom Tov explains: Just as a deer runs very fast, and one chasing it will probably not catch it; so too, one who “lends” money in this manner will be unlikely to recover the money.

Tosfos Chadashim offers a different explanation: It is common for a deer to bob its head back and forth when it is running. One who places his money on the horn of a deer is likely to lose the money for the money will fall off the horns of the deer.

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Paying Up a Debt of his Fellow

The Gemora (Nedarim 33) rules regarding one who is forbidden by a vow to derive benefit from his fellow; the fellow is prohibited to repay his debt (in a regular case).

Reb Elchonon Wasserman discusses the rationale behind this ruling. Is it prohibited because the one who pronounced the vow is directly benefiting from the money that is being used to repay his debt? Or, perhaps it is because the fellow is causing the lender to forgive the borrower for his debt (once he has the money from elsewhere), and it emerges that he is indirectly receiving pleasure from the fellow?

This question is actually dependent upon a different question: Can someone pay up the debt of his fellow and cause that the debt has been paid? Or, perhaps only the borrower can repay a debt; his friend may give money to the lender with the stipulation being that the lender will forgive the borrower from the debt which he owes?

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Distinction between Charity and Returning a Lost Object

The Gemora (Nedarim 33) states regarding one who is forbidden by a vow to derive benefit from his fellow; the fellow is permitted to return his lost property to him. This is permitted because his primary intention is to fulfill the mitzvah, and he is not intending to provide pleasure to his friend.

This, explains the Shitah Mikubetzes, is in contrast to the mitzvah of giving charity, which would be forbidden. What is the difference between the two mitzvos? He explains: When charity is given to him, he is benefiting directly from the money; therefore, it is forbidden. When his lost object is returned, he is not deriving pleasure from the item; he is getting benefit from the fact that his fellow troubled himself to return the object to him. Regarding his fellow’s exertion, it may be said that his intention is to fulfill the mitzvah, and not to provide pleasure.

Others make the following distinction: Charity may be given to any poor person; it does not have to be given to this specific poor person. That is why it is prohibited to give this particular poor person charity. However, in order to fulfill the mitzvah of returning a lost object, it must be returned to the one who lost the item, and therefore, it would be permitted.

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Food for Thought - Nedarim Daf 32

*** The Beraisa quotes Rebbi as making the following statement: Milah is a great mitzvah, as there is no one who was involved in mitzvos like Avraham Avinu, and yet he was only called complete through milah, as the passuk says “walk before me and be complete,” and it says “and I will put my covenant between us.”

The Ksav Sofer asks: Perhaps milah is a minor mitzvah, but it was the mitzvah that rendered Avraham Avinu complete, for even a minor deficiency can prevent completeness?

*** Rabbi Ami bar Aba also says: The “Satan” numerically equals three hundred and sixty four (implying that one day a year he is powerless, which is Yom Kippur).

The Chidah asks: What is the advantage to us that the Satan is powerless on Yom Kippur? Why, there are so many other days in the year where he is detrimental to us?

He answers: On Yom Kippur, the Satan contradicts what he is saying the rest of the year. On Yom Kippur he says that there is no nation with such kedusha as Klal Yisroel. This renders him a liar (for that which he says the rest of the year) and gives us the strength to fend off his attacks on us for the rest of the year.

*** Rabbi Zecharyah said in the name of Rabbi Yishmael: Hashem wanted to have kehunah descend from Shem, as the passuk says “and he was a kohen for Hashem on high.” However, once Shem said a blessing to Avraham before saying a blessing to Hashem, Hashem decided to have kehunah descend from Avraham. This is as the passuk states, “and he blessed him and he said: blessed is Avram to the Hashem on high, Owner of heaven and earth, and praised is Hashem.” Avram asked Shem: Is it appropriate to mention first a blessing of the servant before that of his master? Kehunah was immediately given to Avraham, as the passuk states, “the word of Hashem was to my master, until I make your enemies into a footstool for your feet,” and it states “and he is a kohen for Hashem on high.” This implies that he (Shem) was a kohen, but his children would not be kohanim.

It is written in Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer that Avraham married Keturah, who was Hagar, after she converted.

Reb Yosef Engel asks: If Avraham was a kohen, how was he permitted to marry a divorcee?

He answers: This Medrash is of the opinion that Avraham did not have a daughter. Consequently, he had not fulfilled the mitzvah of procreation yet. There was no other woman fitting for Avraham to marry, and therefore, the positive commandment of procreation was able to override the prohibition against a kohen marrying a divorcee.

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Monday, January 21, 2008

What was Moshe's sin? Enthusiasm for Mitzvos

Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korchah says (Nedarim 31b) : Great is circumcision, concerning which even Moshe the righteous was not spared for an hour.

The Ran comments: As soon as Moshe was lax, the angel wanted to kill him.

The Maharsha asks: Just because Moshe negated the mitzvah of circumcising his son on the eight day, is that a justification for him to be liable for death?

He answers: It is either because Hashem judges the righteous strictly or it is because a “ben Noach” is liable for death when he commits any type of transgression, and since it was prior to the Giving of the Torah, Moshe was being judged as a “ben Noach.”

Reb Meir Bergman asks: According to this explanation, how could the Mishna bring a proof from here that circumcision is great; perhaps it is different because of the special circumstances?

The Gemora states further: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korchah said: Great is circumcision, for all the meritorious deeds performed by Moshe our teacher did not protect him when he tarried in fulfilling the commandment of circumcision (regarding his son Eliezer), as it is written [Shmos 4:24]: And Hashem met him, and sought to kill him. Rabbi Yosi said: Heaven forbid that Moshe delayed circumcising his son, but rather, this is what Moshe said, “If I circumcise my son and immediately leave Midian to return to Pharaoh, I will endanger his life. I cannot circumcise him and wait three days, for the Holy One, blessed be He, has commanded me to go and return to Egypt! Why then was Moshe punished? It was because he occupied himself with arranging a place of lodging first prior to circumcising his son.

The Mefaresh explains: Since he was close to Egypt, he should have performed the circumcision when he stopped for lodging, for the small journey that remained would not have posed a danger to the child. He concludes that the child was only eight days old on that day.

Accordingly, the question is strengthened: Why would Moshe deserve such a strict punishment if he anyway performed the circumcision on the eight day? He was only guilty of not fulfilling the concept of zerizin makdimin l’mitzvos – a mitzvah should be fulfilled at the first moment possible. Why should he deserve to die?

Perhaps we may suggest the following answer (Rabbi Bergman answers in a very similar manner): The primary purpose of Moshe Rabbeinu’s life was to take the Jews out of Egypt and to give them the Torah. It is written regarding the birth of Moshe [Shmos 2:2]: The woman conceived and bore a son, and [when] she saw him that he was good, she hid him for three months. The Gemora in Sotah (12a) states that when he was born, the entire house was filled with light. This can be in reference to the light of Torah.

The Gemora in Megillah (16b) expounds on the verse that states [Esther 8:16]: Layehudim haysa orah visimcha visasson vikar. The Jews had light, gladness, joy and honor. Light is referring to Torah; Gladness is referring to the festivals; Joy is referring to circumcision; Glory is referring to tefillin.

The question is asked: If the Megillah wished to say that the Jews were saved because they fulfilled the Torah, festivals, milah and tefillin, why didn’t the Megillah write that explicitly? Why was it mentioned only in code form?

Rabbi Eliezer Ginzburg in his sefer, The King’s Treasures states the following: It is well known that evil decrees instituted against the Jewish people are always in correspondence with their sins. Each transgression draws a particular type of negative force in its wake. Hence, in order to determine what sin the Jewish people are being held accountable for at any given time, one need only consider the dominant characteristic of the nation threatening them, for their enemies are nothing more than a reflection of their transgressions.

Amalek was able to strike the Jewish people when their enthusiasm for Torah observance waned. The Mechilta says in reference to the verse [Shmos 17:8]: Amalek came and battled Israel in Rephidim. Amalek came because Israel loosened their grip on the Torah. This is why Rabbi Elozar introduced his lecture on the scriptural portion of the Book of Esther with the following verse: Through laziness the ceiling collapses, and through idleness of the hands the house leaks – because of the laziness of the Jews, who did not engage in Torah study, the enemies were capable of attacking.

Perhaps, Rabbi Ginzburg continues, this is what the Megillah is teaching us by saying that “the Jews had light,” and not simply saying that “the Jews had Torah.” The Jews were not guilty of completely neglecting Torah study, or for that matter, any other mitzvah. Their shortcoming was their lack of enthusiasm for mitzvos. It was the inner light of the mitzvah which they lacked, the spark of excitement and fervor for doing Hashem’s will. The miracles which Hashem performed for Israel stoked the smoldering embers within each Jew and evoked a new fervor for the performance of mitzvos, reawakening the “light” of Torah study, the “gladness” of the Yom Tov holidays, the “joy” of circumcision and the “glory” of tefillin.

Using this principle, perhaps we can suggest why the angel wished to kill Moshe for procrastinating in the fulfillment of a mitzvah. It was not that he was deserving to die for this relatively minor transgression. Rather, when Moshe displayed a slight lack of enthusiasm for the mitzvos, he could not be the one to deliver the Torah to the Jewish people, and this was the purpose of his life. Thereupon, Tziporah immediately went and took a sharp stone and performed the circumcision of her son. Rabbi Bergman concludes that Moshe repented for this and merited to accept the Torah from Hashem and to deliver it to the Jewish people.

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