Monday, August 25, 2008

Neder like a Bamah

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The Sefas Emes and Noam Elimelech teach us that the word neder, vow is related to the word dira, dwelling. What does an oath have to do with a dwelling?

Reb Chaim from Divrei Chaim cites the Shem m’Shmuel who questions the entire essence of nedarim: How is it that a person has the power through his verbal declaration to create prohibitions (in the case of nidrei bituei) and create a status of hekdesh (nidrei hekdesh)? This power goes so far that the Gemora is uncertain whether the object of a neder is subject to the laws of me’ilah for violating a neder!

He suggests the following: In essence no new kedushah is being created. The concept of neder is a recognition that beyond what meets the eye, there is a level of kedushah already inherent in the reality around us - the Shechinah already dwells immanently in the world.

Sefas Emes notes that the first person in the Torah to take a neder is Yaakov Avinu. While the other Avos revealed Hashem’s presence as similar to a mountain or a field, Chazal tell us that Yaakov revealed Hashem’s presence as the bayis, a dwelling. Chazal tell us that taking a neder is like building a bamah, an altar used outside the Mikdash. Hashem metaphorically “dwells” in the Bais haMikdash – to create a sanctified space for him - outside those confines is a task fraught with challenge.

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Husband's Knowledge

The Mishna (Daf Yomi: Gittin 45b - 46a)had stated: Rabbi Meir says: If it is a vow which requires examination by a Chacham (and the husband cannot annul it by himself), he may not take her back, but for one which does not require examination by a Chacham (the husband can annul it himself), he may take her back (because in this case, the husband cannot advance the claim that the divorce was due to a misunderstanding). Rabbi Elozar said: They prohibited him to remarry in the case where the vow required examination by a Chacham to annul it only on account of the case where the vow did not require examination by a Chacham to annul it (since in the latter case, the husband might claim that he was not aware that he had the right to disallow the vow; in the former case, however, no such claim can be advanced because no man would consent that his wife should be exposed to a court of law).

The Gemora asks: What is the core of their argument? Rabbi Meir maintains that a husband does not mind his wife’s being exposed to a court of law and therefore forbids remarriage on account of the first reason mentioned above, since the first husband might claim that if he had known that the vow could be disallowed by a Chacham, he would not have consented to give a divorce. Rabbi Elozar holds that no man would consent that his wife should be exposed to a court of law.

The Tosfos Rid explains the argument in the following manner. If the vow required a Chacham to permit it, he may not remarry her. This is because we are scared that he will say that if I merely knew that a Chacham could permit it, I would never have divorced her. He would have had her go before a Beis Din to have her vow permitted, despite the fact that this is embarrassing. However, if it is a vow that he could have nullified as her husband, there is no suspicion. This is because everyone knows that they can nullify certain vows that their wives make. The fact that he did not do so shows that he clearly wanted to divorce her; regardless of whether or not the vow was actually made. Rabbi Elozar holds that a husband does not always realize that he can nullify his wife’s vows. Therefore, they cannot remarry if he divorced her because of such a vow, as he will later claim that if he had known he could have done so, he would not have divorced her. Furthermore, Rabbi Elozar says that a vow that requires a Chacham or Beis Din is not really cause for them not to remarry. This is because he would not have taken his wife to a Chacham or beis din anyway, because it is denigrating. However, in this case as well they are forbidden to remarry because of the similarity to the case where a Chacham is not required.

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Ransoming for more than their Value

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The Mishna (Daf Yomi: Gittin 45b) had stated: We do not redeem captives for more than their true value for “the benefit of the world.”

The Gemora inquires: Does “the benefit of the world” (with respect to redeeming the captives for more than their worth) relate to the burden which may be imposed on the community (they will all become impoverished), or to the possibility that the bandits will take more captives? [The difference would be in a case where a private individual, such as a relative, wishes to redeem him.]

Come and hear: Levi ben Darga ransomed his daughter for thirteen thousand golden dinars.

Abaye asked: But are you sure that he acted with the consent of the Sages? Perhaps he acted against their will!

Rashi explains that “more than their true value” is referring to the amount that they would fetch if they would be sold in the slave market.

The Meiri writes that their value is based upon their individual wealth and prominence.

The Radvaz rules that we may ransom any captive with the amount of money that is usual to redeem other captives during that time period.

He adds: It has become the custom to redeem captive for more than their worth in the market, for an elderly person or a minor are not worth more than ten dinars, and nevertheless, they are ransomed for more than one hundred dinars. His explanation why there is no concern that the bandits will take more captives is because the captives are not being ransomed for any more that their gentile counterparts. He concludes that nothing should be told to Klal Yisroel about this, for they are a charitable nation, and it is better for them to remain that way.

Tosfos and the Ramban disagree regarding the halachah if the captive himself is allowed to ransom himself for more money than he is actually worth.

The Gemora in Kesuvos (52b) states: If one’s wife was captured and the kidnappers sought ten times her fair value for redemption, the first time the husband must redeem her. Afterwards, if he wants he can and if he does not want he does not have to. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel states that we do not redeem captives for more than they are worth for “the establishment of the world” (that captors should not thereby be encouraged to demand exorbitant prices for the ransom of their captive).

This issue had an extraordinary public application about 700 years ago. The leader of Ashkenazic Jewry at the time was Rabbi Meir ben Boruch of Rottenberg. He was imprisoned by a German ruler, Rudolph, whose voracity knew no bounds. Rabbi Meir (known as Maharam Mi’Rottenberg) was imprisoned until his death, and his body was not released. The community did not ransom him, as he himself had ruled. Seven years after his death, a private member of the community paid almost all of his own money to release the body, with the stipulation that he be buried next to him.

There is a question whether according to Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel a man would be permitted to ransom his wife if the ransom exceeds her worth. The Ritva holds that he may do so, and the Chelkas Mechokeik disagrees.

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Sunday, August 24, 2008

Three Hundred Silver Pieces

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The Gemora in Megillah (16b) expounds the following verse [Breishis: 45:22]: He [Yosef] gave them all changes of clothes, and to Binyamin he gave three hundred [pieces of] silver and five changes of clothes. The Gemora asks: Is it possible that Yosef would stumble on the precise action that caused him to suffer? Yaakov had given Yosef a nice woolen garment which caused the brothers to become jealous and prompted them to sell him to Mitzrayim. Should Yosef now favor Binyamin over the other brothers? Rabbi Binyamin bar Yefes answers: Yosef was hinting that a descendant of his will go in front of a king dressed in five royal garments (referring to Mordechai).

The commentators ask: Why didn’t it bother the Gemora that Yosef gave to Binyamin three hundred pieces of silver, and none to the other brothers? Wouldn’t that have caused jealousy as well?

The Chasam Sofer answers based upon our Gemora, which states: Rabbi Yehoshua ben Levi said: One who sells his slave to an idolater; we penalize him and force him to buy him back for up to ten times the value of the slave.

An ordinary slave is worth thirty silver coins, as we know from the halachah in the Torah that if an ox gores and kills a slave, the owner must pay the master thirty silver coins.

Accordingly, the brothers who sold Yosef should have been obligated to pay the penalty of ten times Yosef’s value in order to redeem him. Since they did not redeem him, they therefore owed to Yosef three hundred silver coins (30 ∙ 10 = 300). This is why Yosef did not give them the three hundred silver coins that he gave to Binyamin. Binyamin, who was not involved in the selling at all, rightfully deserved this amount, and therefore, Yosef was not concerned that this would be a cause for jealousy.

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