YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
Sukka 07 - Daf 25b-26a
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
(You can find a scan with larger print by going to the e-daf.com homepage and selecting sukah 25b)
Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation or explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them.
From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a
Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
Last week, we learned that members of a wedding party are exempt from sukka for the entire week of Sheva Berakhot, and we explored different possibilities regarding the nature of this exemption. One possibility was that they are exempt because of their involvement in the mitzva of rejoicing with the bride and groom: ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva. Another option was that the frustration they would experience were they to dwell in a sukka instead of rejoicing with the new couple is enough to give them the status of mitzta'er, one who is uncomfortable in the sukka. The gemara we will see now continues the discussion and widens it to other mitzvot as well.
We pick up with the gemara on the second-to-last line of 25b.
The Rabbis taught:
A groom and the groomsmen and all members of the wedding party are exempt from prayer and tefillin, but are obligated in Keriat Shema.
Because of (=in the name of) Rabbi Sheila they said: "A groom is exempt, but the groomsmen and members of the wedding party are obligated."
ת"ר (=תנו רבנן):
חתן והשושבינין וכל בני חופה פטורין מן התפילה ומן התפילין, וחייבין בקריאת שמע.
משום רבי שילא אמרו: חתן פטור, והשושבינין וכל בני החופה חייבין.
The first opinion quoted in this beraita agrees with what we saw last week, that members of a wedding party are exempt from sukka. This exemption is extended to other mitzvot as well; they are exempt from prayer and tefillin, though they are not exempt from Keriat Shema. Rabbi Sheila goes even further and exempts the groom from Keriat Shema, though he holds that the rest of the wedding party is obligated.
Clearly, our job now is to understand upon what these halakhot are based. Why should the celebrants at Sheva Berakhot celebration be exempt from prayer and tefillin, and why should there be a difference between those mitzvot and Keriat Shema? Furthermore, what is the basis of Rabbi Sheila's distinction between the groom and his guests?
When it comes to exempting people from mitzvot, our prime suspect is the main topic that we have discussed so far this year: ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva, that one who is already actively involved in performing one mitzva is exempt from other mitzvot. Obviously, if ha-osek be-mitzva applies to this situation, we will have to determine why it does not exempt the members of the wedding party from Keriat Shema. If ha-osek be-mitzva does not apply, we will have to find a different reason why they have a petur from prayer and tefillin.
There are those who explain (most notably the Ritva, Spanish scholar of the late 13th and early 14th centuries) that the exemption in our gemara is in fact based on ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva. Why are the celebrants still obligated to recite Keriat Shema? As we have discussed, Tosafot (and Ritva!) hold that the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva only applies when it is impossible to do everything; in such a case, one must continue performing the first mitzva. The argument goes that during a celebration, it is impossible to both fully celebrate and pray or don tefillin at the same time. That is not the case when it comes to Keriat Shema. The mitzva mi-de'oraita (from the Torah) includes only the recitation of the first verse: "Shema Yisra'el, Hashem Elokeinu, Hashem echad." One can easily say this verse, with the requisite concentration, without detracting from the festivities. Thus, it is possible to fulfill both mitzvot, and the rule of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva does not apply.
Other commentators argue that the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva is not the source of the exemption mentioned in this beraita. This may be for one of two reaons:
1) We mentioned last week that the Ran argues that rejoicing at Sheva Berakhot is not technically a mitzva at all, and thus cannot trigger the exemption of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva.
2) Rashi (top of 26a s.v. Mishum) writes simply that the Tanna'im mentioned in this beraita deny the existence of the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva altogether. According to this approach, there would be room to argue that those who acknowledge the rule of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva (which is the standard assumption in the Gemara and the way we assume in practice) would argue that members of a wedding party are exempt even from Keriat Shema.
Whatever the reason, if ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva does not apply in the case of a Sheva Berakhot celebration, we are left to explain why participants in the festivities are exempt from prayer and tefillin. Let us look to Rashi for an explanation. We start with s.v. Peturin, which is on the second-to-last line of 25b, and we will look at three comments of Rashi:
"Exempt from prayer"--which requires kavana (concentration).
"And from tefillin"--because there is commonly drunkenness and lightheadedness.
"But are obligated in Keriat Shema"--because its requirement of kavana is only for the first verse, and they are able to settle their minds for a short time to read the first verse.
Proper concentration is an essential requirement of the mitzvot of prayer, tefillin and Keriat Shema. One does not fulfill the mitzvot of prayer and Keriat Shema at all if he says the words without kavana, and one does not fully fulfill the mitzva of tefillin if one wears them without kavana. Even more importantly, it is considered disrespectful to pray or recite Keriat Shema without kavana, or to think extraneous thoughts while wearing tefillin. Therefore, in a situation in which kavana will be impossible, due to the festivities or to the drinking, one is not obligated to do these mitzvot. Keriat Shema is different because one can easily compose oneself for the few seconds it takes to recite the first verse, and one is therefore obligated to say Keriat Shema. Rabbi Sheila argues that for the groom himself, even the few words of the first verse of Keriat Shema are too much to ask; he cannot concentrate and is therefore exempt even from this mitzva.
Back to the gemara
We resume with the gemara at the end of the second line of 26a:
Rabbi Chananya ben Akavya said: "Writers of scrolls, tefillin and mezuzot,
they and their merchants and their merchants' merchants,
and all who are involved in Heavenly work--to include sellers of techeilet--
are exempt from Keriat Shema and from prayer and from tefillin and from all mitzvot stated in the Torah,"
to uphold the words of Rabbi Yosei Ha-gelili, for Rabbi Yosei Ha-gelili would say: "One who is involved in a mitzva is exempt from the (=any other) mitzva."
אמר רבי חנניא בן עקביא: כותבי ספרים תפילין ומזוזות,
הן ותגריהן ותגרי תגריהן,
וכל העוסקין במלאכת שמים, לאתויי מוכרי תכלת
פטורין מקריאת שמע, ומן התפילה, ומן התפילין, ומכל מצות האמורות בתורה,
לקיים דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי - שהיה רבי יוסי הגלילי אומר: העוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה.
This beraita essentially repeats the rule that ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva, as the end of the beraita explicitly states. The examples discussed here include scribes who are writing Torah scrolls ("sefarim" in the gemara generally refers to Torah scrolls), tefillin and mezuzot as well as those who sell these artifacts: all of these are considered people involved in mitzvot. The beraita adds a general phrase: "all who are involved in Heavenly work." It then interrupts its train of thought to explain what is included by that expression: those who sell techeilet. In all of these cases, the osek be-mitzva is exempt from Keriat Shema, prayer, tefillin and all other mitzvot.
It is not uncommon for a mishna or beraita to list examples of a certain category and then conclude with a more general definition of the broad category. In these cases, the Gemara often asks why the mishna or beraita gives examples and also finds it necessary to mention the broad definition. The assumption is that the broad definition is there to include a situation that would not have obviously been part of the category under discussion. What we have in our beraita, though, is unusual; the beraita interrupts itself to explain, as though in parantheses, why it mentions "All who are involved in Heavenly work!" What is the point of the general statement in our beraita if the beraita itself will explain what it means? Why could the beraita not just include techeilet merchants on its original list? Moreover, why does techeilet need to be singled out--after all, the beraita does not explicitly mention one who is involved in any of the Torah's other 245 positive commandments!
Some commentators suggest that the answer to this question relates to the nature of the mitzva of techeilet. Techeilet is not an independent mitzva, but is rather a part of the broad mitzva of tzitzit, which requires that one attach strings to the corner of four-cornered garments that one wears. A number of the strings must be colored with a particular type of blue dye known as techelet. The mitzva of tzitzit is unique in that it is a positive commandment that does not have to be fulfilled at any particular time or in any specific intervals. One is never absolutely obligated to wear tzitzit: it is a mitzva only if one wants to wear a four-cornered garment. (Nowadays, since we like to fulfill mitzvot and tzitzit is an important one, we go out of our way to put on a four-cornered garment in order to fulfill the mitzva; but, theoretically, there is no obligation to do so.) One could have reasonably assumed that a mitzva which is not obligatory cannot exempt one from fulfilling mitzvot that he is actually obligated to fulfill. The beraita therefore emphasizes that "all who are involved in Heavenly work" are exempt from other mitzvot, even someone involved in a mitzva that there is no absolute obligation to perform.
Does this beraita mean that anyone who happens to sell tefillin or tzitzit in his store is automatically exempt from all mitzvot at all times, as long as he is involved in his business?
Read Rashi carefully; what do you think he implies about this issue?
Rashi (third line of 26a s.v. Tagareihen) explains:
"Their merachants"--who purchase from them in order to sell and make them available to those who need them.
Rashi explains that "merchants" are people who purchase Torah scrolls and the like from scribes and sell them to the public. He adds an important word, though: kedei, "in order." The merchant purchases these objects in order to make them available to those who need them. Based on this inference regarding the motivations of the merchant, posekim (halakhic decisors) write that one who has a business in which he happens to sell holy items is not considered an osek be-mitzva. On the other hand, one whose main intention is to provide these items to the public is considered an osek be-mitzva, even if he also makes money in the process (Magen Avraham, OC 38:8.)
Others make yet another inference in Rashi's statement, that the merchants make these items "available to those who need them." The exemption applies only if the merchant in fact contributes to the availability of these items to the public. If the merchant does not make a significant contribution in this manner, he is not called osek be-mitzva. This can be measured simply by evaluating what would happen if the merchant were not in business. If people could easily obtain these object from others or from the scribe himself, the merchant has not really made the items more accessible. If it would be more difficult to purchase these items, the merchant can be considered an osek be-mitzva (Meromei Sadeh).
This concludes today's shiur. Stay tuned next week for our first major exposure to issues directly related to the mitzva of sukka!