The Definition of Bal Te'achar
The Torah places a time limit on the offering of pledged korbanot. If a person delays too long, he violates the prohibition of "lo ye'achar" (he should not delay), otherwise known as bal te'achar. There is much debate among the Tanna'im regarding the duration of the bal te'achar violation, but it is generally marked by the passage of one or, a number of, chagim. In this shiur, we will explore the nature of the prohibition.
The halakha follows the dominant position of the Rabbanan that a prohibited delay has occurred only after three regalim have elapsed from the time of the vow. Nevertheless, there are various scenarios in which there is an immediate violation of bal te'achar. For example, if a nazir declares his intent to adopt nezirut prior to his death, he must promptly assume that responsibility, since he may die at any moment. Would he violate bal te'achar even for a slight delay, or only after three regalim have elapsed? Tosafot in Nedarim claim that even slight delays would violate bal te'achar, even though the general waiting period has not yet elapsed.
A similar question emerges about bal te'achar for delaying a korban Pesach. Based on a gemara in Rosh Hashana (5a), Rashi and Tosafot claim that even a slight delay in offering the korban Pesach yield a bal te'achar violation. Yet a third scenario of immediate bal te’acher emerges from the Ran (Nedarim 4a), who claims that if a person explicitly stated that "he obligates himself to immediate korban delivery," he would violate bal te'achar immediately.
The possibility of immediate bal te'achar demands an inquiry regarding the logic of this prohibition. Bal te'achar appears to be a prohibition surrounding the delay of korban or korban-related obligations. Typically, the delay is measured by the passage of regalim; instead of employing “time” to measure a delay, Halakha employs “opportunity” as a yardstick for significant and unacceptable delay. Having enjoyed three “opportunities” to deliver a korban, a non-compliant person has dramatically delayed, and therefore violates, bal te'achar. If the length of delay is set at three regalim, however, it should not be shrunk in the above mentioned cases.
Alternatively, the three regalim may not reflect the length of a serious delay. Perhaps obligations and donations cannot be delayed at all past their due. Indeed, mitzvot, in general, must be performed as soon as possible, and korbanot may not be any different. However, until three regalim have passed, the korban-related obligation is not yet due for "payment;" no delay has occurred. Since the “debt” is not yet due, once three regalim elapse, the payment of the korban is due and even slight delay violates bal te'achar. If it is a delay “past-due” that violates bat te’achar, it is conceivable that bal te’achar could begin immediately if the original vow was supposed to be fulfilled immediately. Some debts are immediately ‘due’ and any delay would constitute bal te’acher.
An interesting position of Rava may illuminate the nature of the general three-regel duration of bal te'achar. The gemara in Rosh Hashana (5b) cites Rava, who appears to claim that once three regalim have elapsed, bal te'achar is violated on a daily basis. Although the onset of bal te'achar is stalled for three regalim, once initiated, its violation recurs daily. If the period of three regalim measures significant delay, once this duration has passed, daily repetitive violations should not occur. The minimum time that constitutes delay is three regalim; any additional time is merely an extension of that original shiur of delay. Just as an added quantity of kezayit does not constitute a separate shiur of eating, an extra day should not represent an additional delay. However, if the three regel period represents the maturation of the obligation, any unit of delay afterwards constitutes a violation. The only reason that no violation occurs prior to three regalim is that the korban payment is not yet obligatory. Once the obligatory nature of the korban evolves, every unit of delay may constitute an independent violation.
Another interesting question surrounds the question of bal te'achar violation for women. The gemara hinges this question on whether women are obligated to perform the pilgrimage to Yerushalayim. If they are obligated, their delay constitutes bal te'achar; if they are exempt, their delay does not violate bal te'achar. The Ramban evidently disagrees with this association, since he exempts women from pilgrimages but obligates them for bal te'achar.
Logically, if the three-regel duration represents missed opportunity and a derelict delay, only people who possess that opportunity are defined as "delayers." If women are exempt from aliya la-regel, they cannot be considered “delayers.” By contrast, if the period of three regalim represents the maturation of a korban obligation, essentially the period is a time lapse, measured in time passage and regel passage. Since women experience time and regel passage similar to men, their suitability for bal te'achar should apply independent of their actual obligation to perform a pilgrimage to Yerushalayim.
A radical option emerges from the gemara in Rosh Hashana (6b), which may corroborate the notion that three regalim entails the maturation of an obligation. The gemara cites a beraita that describes bal te'achar in a situation in which an entire year has elapsed but three regalim have not yet passed. This is possible if a year has been extended as a leap year, such that 365 days have passed since the vow, but three regalim have not occurred. By pinning bal te'achar to time – independent of opportunity – this position defines the standard three-regel duration as the “maturation time” of an obligation. A debt can mature based on passage of pure time or time measured through events. Had the three regel waiting period been purely a measure of delay, it would be based on opportunity and would be measured in the passage of regalim, not the passage of pure time.
It is possible that the question of these two different models for the three-regel duration influenced several interesting positions among the Tanna’im. Perhaps the most striking position is adopted by R. Shimon and demands the passage of three regalim in sequence, commencing with Pesach and concluding with Sukkot. Accordingly, if a person pledged a korban prior to Shavuot, he would only violate bal te'achar after five holidays have elapsed (Shavuot and Sukkot followed by a full cycle of regalim). This position is less likely if the three regalim represent time passage, as the passing of time measured by the passing of three regalim is identical whether the regalim elapse in sequence or non-sequentially. If, however, the korban obligation transforms into a mandatory debt after three regalim, perhaps only a sequence of three regalim from the start of the cycle (Pesach) to its conclusion (Sukkot) triggers the maturation of the debt.
By contrast, R. Meir claims that even the passage of one regel launches a bal te'achar violation. Presumably, he also viewed the regalim as a trigger to render the obligation mandatory; even one regel can trigger this maturation. Had regalim represented duration of delay, it would be unlikely that the passage of one solitary regel would constitute delay regardless of when the korban was donated in relation to the regel. If the korban were pledged a week before the regel, it is difficult to envision the passage of one regel entailing delay in the same manner that it would if the korban were pledged months before the regel.
The Rabbanan maintain that the passage of three regalim constitutes a delay. As such, the starting point (moment of korban pledge) and its distance from the regel are less significant. In a broader sense, significant time heightened by the passage of three regalim has elapsed and serious delay has occurred. By shrinking the shiur to one regel regardless of the moment of donation, R. Meir may have been shifting the halakha from a measurement of delay to a transformation of the korban debt into a mature and obligatory nature.
Perhaps this logic influenced an important machloket between the Ramban and Rambam. In his description of bal te'achar (lo ta'aseh 157), the Rambam claims that after to three regalim, one violates bal te'achar and bal yachel (the prohibition not to violate a neder; see here for a description of this prohibition). Although he has not disqualified future opportunities to deliver this korban, nevertheless, bal yachel – which typically applies after irreversible violation of a neder – applies. The Ramban disagrees (in his comments to mitzvat asei 94), and his logic, which disassociates bal te'achar from bal yachel, is very compelling. Just because a significant delay has occurred does not mean that the neder has been violated; bal yachel should not apply.
Evidently, the Rambam maintains that the passage of three regalim entails the maturation of the korban debt. Even minimal delays past the maturation entails bal te'achar. If indeed the passage of three regalim represents maturation of the debt, it is conceivable that bal yachel has also been violated. Even though the original korban can still be offered, once the debt becomes due and it has not been “properly” offered and bal yachel has occurred.