Further Defining the Prohibition of Bal Te'achar Part 1

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
Dedicated by Steven Weiner and Lisa Wise with prayers for Refuah Shelemah for all who require healing, comfort and peace – 
those battling illnesses visibly and invisibly, publicly and privately. 
May Hashem mercifully grant us strength, courage and compassion.
The Torah describes the prohibition to delay offering a pledged korban. As discussed in a previous shiur, the Halakha terms this delay as the passage of three regalim. In that shiur, we assessed whether this term measures the extent of the delay, or alternatively marks maturation of the korban debt into an obligatory payment. This question strongly influences whether the three regel period can be shortened under various conditions. In this shiur, we will explore a more basic question: What is the essence of the bal te'achar prohibition?
Bal te'achar seems to be based on a formulated neder, which consequently imposes a mitzva of fulfillment. Classic korbanot are designated through halakhic declarations similar to nedarim, and the execution of that verbally declared neder in a timely fashion is mandated by the issur of bal te'achar. However, the gemara in Rosh Hashana (4a-6a) expands bal te'achar to include mandatory korbanot that do not require or undergo verbal declaration of assignment. For example, the gemara applies bal te'achar to a korban chatat, which is obligatory without hafla'ah declaration. Similarly, the gemara describes bal te'achar for delays in sacrificing an animal bekhor, even though the first offspring is automatically designated at birth. Tosafot (Rosh Hashana 4a) discuss whether bal te'achar is relevant for bikkurim, rejecting the possibility merely on technical grounds. In theory, bikkurim is suited for bal te'achar application even though is does not require any verbal declaration. Since bikkurim must be delivered to the Mikdash, bal te'achar might have applied to delays. Evidently, then, bal te'achar is not dependent upon a verbal declaration, but rather applies to any korban or korban-related obligation.
The gemara in Rosh Hashana (5b) raises a question that may further demand a rethinking of the bal te'achar obligation. Would a yoresh (an inheritor of someone who was obligated to offer a korban) violate bal te'achar if the korban were delayed? An inheritor has not taken a neder, nor is he obligated to execute a mitzva. Presumably, he only carries a monetary debt to deliver an animal that is already “partially owned” by hekdesh. The only way that bal te'achar could apply in in this case is if the prohibition is defined as withholding an item that is monetarily indebted to hekdesh or hekdesh-related domains.
Thus, the gemara's inquiry about bal te'achar for a yoresh is, in fact, a probing of the nature of bal te'achar. If bal te’achar reflects delay of the execution of a personal mitzva (established through hafla'ah or otherwise), it should not apply to a yoresh. If, however, bal te'achar constitutes delaying items owed to hekdesh domains, it would apply to a yoresh.
Ultimately, the gemara cites a pasuk to exclude a yoresh from bal te'achar. Some claim that this exclusion indicates that bal te'achar only applies to the expedition of a mitzva, which is not relevant to a yoresh. Alternatively, the fact that the gemara enlisted a special pasuk may indicate that bal te'achar applies to any withholding of monetary pledged items and in theory should apply to a yoresh as well; a yoresh was excluded for secondary reasons.
This question of whether bal te'achar entails delay of a mitzva or withholding of pledged items surfaces in an interesting discussion in the Yerushalmi about delaying brit mila. While the Bavli only raises bal te'achar in the context of korban related obligations, the Yerushalmi in Rosh Hashana perek 1 questions its application to mila delays. The premise of the Yerushalmi implies that bal te'achar is mitzva-related and could apply to any time-based mitzvot. This in and of itself is a radical departure, as the Bavli delimited bal te'achar to Mikdash and tzedaka-related obligations. What is quite clear, however, is that the premise of the Yerushalmi assumes that bal te'achar is unrelated to withholding monies or assets belonging to hekdesh or Kohanim, and would thus in theory apply to delaying mila.
The answer of the Yerushalmi is opaque and supports multiple interpretations. The language of the Yerushalmi is that mila doesn’t allow for tashlumim and is therefore incompatible with bal te'achar. One reading asserts that the Yerushalmi is articulating the above mentioned concept: since mila (and other bodily mitzvot) do not include a “payment” (literally, tashlumim) element, it is not a candidate for bal te'achar, which is defined as withholding payable assets. Alternate options toward understanding this Yerushalmi, however, support even the broader definition of bal te'achar – even though bal te'achar can apply to any time-conditioned personal mitzva obligation, it does not apply to mitzvot that dissolve after the time passes. The notion of delay can only be implemented for a mitzva that has a time-condition, but which can still be performed after the time passes. Delaying past the optimal time but still fulfilling (tashlumim) constitutes a bal te'achar violation. Mila is time-conditioned, but once the eighth day passes, that mitzva vanishes; the next day represents an entirely different mitzva. Absent of this structure of time-conditioning with an extension, mila (and other mitzvot) is not suited to bal te'achar.
A related question arises pertaining bal te'achar for a korban pesach. This korban may not create financial obligations, as a korban pesach is completely consumed by the owner and does not “belong” to hekdesh. Similar to mila (although related to the Mikdash in a manner that mila is not), the korban pesach represents a mitzva about which there is no concern of withholding Mikdash assets, and as such it may not be suited for bal te'achar. Again, this issue is unclear and based on different readings of a gemara in Rosh Hashana (5a). Rashi and Tosafot maintain that bal te'achar applies, whereas the Turei Even maintains that it does not.
To be sure, even if bal te'achar is based on expedition of mitzvot, it may not apply to a korban pesach for the same reason that it may not apply to Mila. The korban pesach is time-conditioned, but does not provide a post-expiration opportunity for the mitzva, similar to mila. Pesach Sheni is an entirely different mitzva incumbent upon those who didn’t fulfill the first opportunity. Once Pesach passes, the mitzva has become extinct, and bal te'achar is not relevant when the mitzva cannot be fulfilled any longer.
A stunning comment by the Ritva (Rosh Hashana 6b) clearly severs bal te'achar from monetary withholdings and affiliates it with delaying personal obligations. Based on the gemara's dramatic expansion of bal te'achar, he applies bal te'achar to delayed fulfillment of general nedarim and shavuot. A similar approach emerges from a very brief comment of the Ran in Nedarim (63a), and some positions suggest that this was also the stance of the Rambam. The Ramban (in his comments to the Rambam's Sefer Ha-Mitzvot, asei 94) roundly rejects this application.
Clearly, personal oaths do not create liened assets and the specter of withholding; if bal te'achar applies, it would prove that the issur is based on delaying personal (oath-related) obligations. Interestingly, although the Ritva's final statement does appear to apply bal te'achar to all personal oaths, the initial examples he provides appear to be more limiting, as he describes an oath to pay monies to someone. This type of oath would create a financial lien and may be suited for the “withholding” model of bal te'achar