SALT – Tazria Metzora 2015/5775

  • Rav David Silverberg

Motzaei Shabbat

            A number of recent and contemporary poskim addressed the situation of a Jew who lives in Israel but spends Pesach outside Israel, and he had sold his chametz through the agency of his rabbi in Israel.  At the conclusion of Pesach, rabbis who facilitated the sale of chametz before Pesach purchase the chametz on behalf of his congregants.  In the case of an Israeli Jew spending Pesach elsewhere, Pesach ends in Israel before it ends for this Jew, either because of the change in time zone, or because of the additional day of Pesach observed in the Diaspora.  Seemingly, then, this Jew reacquires his chametz during Pesach, in violation of the chametz prohibition.  A number of poskim dealt with the question of whether or not this is in fact the case.

            Rav Asher Weiss, in a brief responsum on the subject, rules that this arrangement is perfectly acceptable, noting the famous rule of “zakhin le-adam she-lo be-fanav ve-ein chavin lo le-adam she-lo be-fanav” – a person cannot have a legal action done on his behalf without his knowledge unless it is to his benefit.  Generally, it is assumed that acquiring property is, by definition, beneficial, and thus a person can make an acquisition on behalf of his fellow without the fellow’s knowledge.  However, when acquiring something results in a liability, rather than a source of benefit, the transaction requires consent.  In the case under discussion, acquiring chametz on Pesach is clearly detrimental, and thus a person cannot acquire chametz on his fellow’s behalf without his fellow’s knowledge.  Hence, when the rabbi in Israel purchases the chametz that a person had sold, the person does not acquire the chametz at that point if it is still Pesach in his place, as this would be to his detriment.

            As Rav Weiss notes, one might challenge this line of reasoning in light of a ruling of the Ran (19b in the Rif) regarding pruzbul – the document used to authorize a creditor’s collection after the shemita year, which would otherwise cancel all debts.  The pruzbul is effective only if the borrower owns some real property, and thus the lender might want to give a small piece of his land to the borrower to allow him to write a pruzbul and collect his debt.  The Ran rules that a lender may transfer a piece of property to the borrower for this purpose, and the borrower acquires the land even without his knowledge.  Although the acquisition of land in this instance is to the borrower’s detriment, as it enables the lender to collect the debt that would have otherwise been cancelled, nevertheless, acquisition is, by definition, deemed beneficial, and therefore the lender can legally transfer property to the borrower in order to facilitate a pruzbul.  Seemingly, this should apply in the case of chametz, too.  Since acquiring property is ipso facto beneficial, the rabbi’s acquisition of the chametz should be effective in bringing the chametz into the person’s possession, even though this is to the person’s ultimate detriment.

            Rav Weiss, however, distinguishes between the two situations.  In the case of chametz, the acquisition is directly detrimental to the person, as acquiring chametz itself constitutes a Torah violation.  This is quite different from the case of pruzbul, where the adverse effect of the transaction is indirect.  The acquisition of property is itself beneficial, only that it facilitates an adverse situation for the borrower.  In this instance, the Ran ruled that the property can be transferred, since the transfer itself is deemed beneficial.  In the case of chametz, by contrast, the acquisition is itself detrimental to the person, and thus it cannot be done without his knowledge.

 

Sunday

            A number of years ago, a certain kosher bakery in Israel that is co-owned by two Jewish men began baking and selling chametz products immediately after the conclusion of Pesach.  It was then discovered that one of the two co-owners was spending Pesach in the United States, where Pesach was still being observed as these products were being prepared and sold.  It thus turned out that these chametz goods were partially owned by a Jew on Pesach.  The question arose as to whether these products should be forbidden by virtue of the law of “chametz she-avar alav ha-pesach,” which forbids eating or benefitting from chametz had been owned by a Jew during Pesach.  Even though Pesach had ended in Israel, where the goods were baked, nevertheless, they were co-owned by a Jew who was still observing Pesach, and thus they should perhaps be forbidden.

            Rav Asher Weiss ruled that these products are entirely permissible, for two reasons.  First, although Chazal forbade deriving benefit after Pesach from chametz products that had been owned by a Jew during Pesach, there is no rabbinic prohibition of “chametz ba-pesach” – benefitting from chametz that is currently owned by a Jew on Pesach, as Torah law already forbids benefitting from any chametz on Pesach.  Quite obviously, there was no need for Chazal to enact such a prohibition, as they did not likely envision a scenario where a person would eat after Pesach chametz that belongs to another Jew who is still observing Pesach.  Since no such law was ever enacted, we have no basis on which to forbid such chametz.  Hence, if the status of chametz depends upon its location, then certainly this chametz is permissible, as Pesach has ended in Israel; and if its status depends on its owner’s location, then it is permissible despite its being co-owned by a Jew on Pesach, since no such prohibition exists.

            Secondly, Rav Weiss adds, it is a logical absurdity to assign the status of “chametz she-avar alav ha-pesach” to a product that was baked after Pesach.  These baked goods did not even come into existence until an hour or two after Pesach had ended, and it is thus very difficult to consider them “chametz she-avar alav ha-pesach” – which technically means, “chametz upon which Pesach passed.”  These products were non-existent during Pesach, and thus cannot possibly be classified under the category of “chametz she-avar alav ha-pesach.”

 

Monday

            One of the numerous instances of tzara’at discussed in Parashat Tazria is the case of a tzara’at infection in which a patch of healthy skin appears.  The Torah (13:11) establishes that the healthy skin indicates that the infection had been present for an extended period of time (“tzara’at noshenet”), and thus the individual is considered a metzora.  As Rashi explains, one might have viewed the healthy skin as a sign of “purity,” as proof that this is not, in fact, a tzara’at infection.  In truth, however, the healthy skin means only that the infection has been present for a while, and the individual is thus considered impure as a metzora.

            Symbolically, tzara’at infections have been viewed as models of spiritual ills which often plague us.  Accordingly, the case of “tzara’at noshenet” perhaps presents us with a sobering warning about our flaws and imperfections which have begun showing signs of “healing.”  Too often, when evaluating ourselves, we focus too much attention on the “healthy skin,” on the encouraging signs of improvement, so we can assign ourselves a status of “purity.”  The moment we detect “healthy skin” – indications of positive change and improvement – we feel content with our modest achievements and ignore the “infection” that remains.  The Torah here perhaps alerts us to the fact that the appearance of “healthy skin” should encourage us to pursue further growth, rather than lure us into complacency.  The gratification we receive from positive signs of improvement must not lead us to conclude that we are “pure” and no longer need to grow and advance.  To the contrary, they should spur us to address the “infection” that remains and to work as hard as we can to “cure” all our flaws so we can inch ever closer to perfection.

 

Tuesday

            The Torah in the beginning of Parashat Metzora outlines the procedure required for a metzora to regain his status of purity, a process which entails two different stages.  In the first stage, the kohen performs a special ritual involving two birds, one of which is slaughtered and its blood sprinkled on the metzora.  The Torah writes that after this ritual is completed, the metzora is once again allowed into his city, but he is nevertheless forbidden to return home (“he must dwell outside his tent for seven days” – 14:8).  A week later, he brings a series of sacrifices, after which he has completely restored his previous state of ritual purity.

            The process of tzara’at and the purification of the metzora has been viewed by many as symbolic of the process of repentance and “purification” from sin.  In particular, of course, Chazal saw tzara’at as the consequence of gossip and tale-bearing, and thus the process of a metzora’s purification may be understood as a guide to overcoming this all-too-common human tendency.

            Along these lines, Rav Yaakov Neuberger suggests an insightful explanation for the two different stages of the metzora’s purification.  The first step is reentering the community from which the metzora had been barred on account of his social indiscretions.  As Rashi (14:4) notes, the birds used in the purification ritual symbolize the metzora’s excessive chattering, and the blood is sprinkled with hyssop – a symbol of lowliness – and a piece of cedar – a symbol of arrogance – to instruct the metzora to transform his condescending belittling of others into humble acceptance and respect for all.  The first stage of the metzora’s return into communal life is recognizing the evils of gossip and that the derision of others often results from arrogance and an inflated sense of self-importance.  The second stage, Rav Neuberger suggests, during which the metzora must remain outside his home, is a time for the metzora to contemplate the role of family in his pursuit of fulfillment.  Rav Neuberger writes:

Perhaps before reentering his private life, the metzora is asked to realize that his own home has failed in nurturing happiness and real accomplishments. Surely a person, who derives pleasure and satisfaction from deriding others, must be either sorely lacking in his own sense of self-worth or untrained in taking pleasure from his own strengths and accomplishments.

Before returning home, the metzora is to reflect upon his family life, to examine if perhaps his social failings resulted from his failure to draw satisfaction from his home.  He must consider how he can enhance his home experience, which may very well hold the key to avoiding excessive chattering.  A happy, peaceful home can provide a person with a sense of fulfillment and contentment that obviates the need to criticize and disparage other people for the sake of achieving a feeling of self-worth.  If a person can take pride and find comfort and security in his home and in the company of his family, he might be less inclined toward negativity, petty competition and one-upmanship.  And thus the process of the metzora’s purification concludes with an extra period of contemplation, forcing the metzora to redirect his attention toward his private life so he will be less driven to devote excessive attention to the private lives of others.

 

Wednesday

            The Torah in Parashat Tazria (12:3) reiterates the command of berit mila, to circumcise a newborn boy on his eighth day, and the Gemara (Shabbat 132a-b) understands this verse as indicating that the berit must be performed on the eighth day even if it falls on Shabbat.  Despite the fact that inflicting a wound is forbidden on Shabbat, the Torah here establishes that the obligation to circumcise a child on his eighth day overrides the Shabbat prohibitions, and this mitzva is thus fulfilled even on Shabbat.  However, if, for whatever reason, a child was not circumcised on his eighth day, and must be circumcised at a later point, his berit may not be performed on Shabbat.

            An interesting question arises in the case of a child who is to be circumcised on Friday, but the mila was not performed until after the mohel accepted Shabbat.  If there is still time left before sundown, and it is thus still the child’s eighth day, may the mohel perform the berit despite his having accepted Shabbat? 

            There are two reasons why we might be inclined to forbid performing the mila at that point, and require delaying the mila until Sunday.  First, one could argue that the Torah allows performing a berit mila when the eighth day falls on Shabbat only because the mitzva could otherwise not be fulfilled in its proper time.  As circumcision must be performed on the eighth day (barring extenuating circumstances, such as when medical concerns arise), there is no alternative for a child born on Shabbat other than circumcising the following Shabbat, which is his eighth day.  In the case under discussion, however, the circumcision could have been performed on the eighth day without having to desecrate Shabbat, and under such circumstances, perhaps, the Torah does not authorize violating Shabbat for the sake of circumcising on the eighth day.  Secondly, one might contend that the moment a person accepts the onset of Shabbat on Friday afternoon, even if the sun had yet to set, night has already begun for all halakhic respects as far as he is concerned.  As such, he may not perform a berit – because circumcision must take place during the day, and because it is now the child’s ninth day, and circumcision after the eighth day does not override the Shabbat prohibitions.

            Addressing the first issue, Rav Asher Weiss states emphatically that the mitzva of circumcision on the eighth day overrides Shabbat even when it could have been done earlier.  There is no source, he notes, indicating that we should impose this sort of limitation on the rule that berit mila overrides Shabbat.  It is true that the Gemara (Shabbat 130a) disallows violating Shabbat for the sake of preparations for the mila (“makhshirei mila”) that could have been done before Shabbat.  But with regard to the mila itself, nowhere do Chazal indicate that it overrides Shabbat only when it could not have been performed beforehand.

One might have suggested drawing proof to the contrary from the rule of asei docheh lo ta’aseh – that in many situations, the performance of an affirmative Torah commands overrides a conflicting prohibition.  This rule is limited to situations where one cannot accommodate both the mitzva and the prohibition (“i efshar le-kayeim sheneihem”).  By the same token, one might contend, circumcision on the eighth day overrides Shabbat only if this is necessary – when the eighth day actually falls on Shabbat.  In our case, however, the berit could have been performed before the acceptance of Shabbat, and thus if it wasn’t, it may not be performed on Shabbat.  Rav Weiss, however, dismisses this argument.  The limitation on the rule of asei docheh lo ta’aseh applies only if at the moment one seeks to perform the mitzva he is able to avoid violating the prohibition.  It does not require arranging one’s schedule beforehand to ensure that the two do not conflict.  If they do conflict at the time one wishes to perform the mitzva, then the mitzva overrides the prohibition even if the conflict could have been avoided by performing the mitzva earlier.

Rav Weiss also notes another possible precedent for such a distinction – the controversial view taken by Rashi (Beitza 23b) that the only food preparations which are allowed on Yom Tov are those which could not have been done beforehand.  Although the Torah expressly permits melekhet okhel nefesh – violating the Yom Tov prohibitions for the sake of preparing food for that day – Rashi claims that this is limited to preparations which could not have been made before the onset of Yom Tov.  Perhaps, one might argue, Rashi would apply this limitation to mila, as well, and maintain that when the Torah permits circumcising on Shabbat, it does so only when it could not have been done earlier.  Rav Weiss, however, rejects this claim, noting a clear distinction between the two contexts.  The rule of melekhet okhel nefesh does not refer to one particular act; it refers generally to the preparation of food which is needed for the Yom Tov celebration and is thus permitted even at the expense of the ordinary Yom Tov prohibitions.  Understandably, Rashi limited this rule to preparations which are needed on Yom Tov because they could not have been earlier.  (Although, virtually all other Rishonim dispute Rashi’s view.)  When it comes to berit mila, however, the Torah specifically instructs that this mitzva act may be performed on Shabbat, if this is the child’s eighth day.  It stands to reason that this rule is not limited to ordinary cases when the mitzva cannot be performed earlier.

(Tomorrow, we will iy”H address the second issue, as to whether once a person accepts Shabbat on Friday afternoon he is already considered as having begun the next day.)

 

Thursday

            Yesterday, we began discussing the case of an infant born on Friday, and who thus requires circumcision on the following Friday, but, for whatever reason, the berit did not take place until late in the afternoon, after the mohel accepted Shabbat.  The question arises as to whether the mohel may perform the berit at that point, assuming the sun had not yet set.  Although a berit may be performed on Shabbat if that is the child’s eighth day, this situation is different in that the eighth day is Friday, and not Shabbat.  As we saw, one reason for disallowing the berit in this case, and delaying it until Sunday, is the fact that the acceptance of Shabbat might constitute the beginning of nightfall for the purposes of Halakha.  If so, then the berit can no longer be performed that day, as a circumcision may not be performed at night, and since the child is now considered nine days old, at which point berit mila does not override the Shabbat prohibitions.

            The basis of this argument – that accepting Shabbat before sundown constitutes the onset of nightfall and hence a new halakhic day – is a series of intriguing rulings by the Terumat Ha-deshen (248).  The Terumat Ha-deshen ruled that a woman may not perform the hefsek tahara inspection to ascertain the cessation of menstrual bleeding after accepting Shabbat on Friday afternoon, even though the sun has not yet set.  Once a woman has accepted the onset of Shabbat, he writes, the halakhic day has ended as far as she is concerned, and thus the hefsek tahara – which must be done during the daytime – can no longer before performed.  This ruling is codified by the Rama (Y.D. 196:1).  Secondly, the Terumat Ha-deshen rules (citing earlier sources) that if a person hears after accepting Shabbat that a family member had died and been buried, he cannot count Friday as his first day of mourning, even if the sun still shines.  Since he has accepted Shabbat, the day of Friday has halakhically ended, and thus Shabbat is the first day of his shiv’a observance.  This ruling, too, is codified in the Shulchan Arukh (Y.D. 402:11, 375:11).  Thirdly, the Terumat Ha-deshen ruled that according to the position of the Or Zarua, that a get may not be given at nighttime, a husband may not give a get after accepting Shabbat on Friday, even before sunset.  The Rama codifies this ruling in his glosses to Even Ha-ezer (128:8).

            Seemingly, we should apply this ruling to berit mila, as well, and conclude that once a mohel accepts Shabbat, even before sundown, he may no longer perform a berit that day, since he has now entered the period of halakhic nighttime.

            Rav Asher Weiss, however, distinguished between these rulings of the Terumat Ha-deshen and the case of berit mila.  In all the situations addressed by the Terumat Ha-deshen, he rules that one should act stringently to avoid the impression of a “tartei de-satrei” – a self-contradiction.  Observing Shabbat while considering that period as Friday appears contradictory, and thus should be avoided.  However, Rav Weiss boldly contends, this does not mean that the Terumat Ha-deshen actually considers halakhic night to have begun once a person accepts Shabbat.  The concern is merely the perception; even according to the Terumat Ha-deshen, one’s verbal acceptance of Shabbat does not affect the cosmic reality of daytime.  As such, accepting Shabbat can in no way result in neglecting a Torah command.  If a child is to be circumcised on Friday, accepting Shabbat before sundown does not warrant delaying this mitzva.  Since in actuality it is still Friday, the berit must be performed.

            Rav Weiss notes two precedents for this conclusion.  First, the Beit Yosef (Y.D. 262; see also Shulchan Arukh Y.D. 262:7) rules, citing the Semag, that if an infant is born before sundown on Shabbat after the local community recited arvit, he is nevertheless considered as having been born on Shabbat and is circumcised the following Shabbat.  Although the community already recited arvit for Saturday night, this does not change the reality that the child was born on Shabbat.  Secondly, the Taz (O.C. 600:2) ruled that if a community did not blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah until after reciting arvit, but the sun had not yet set, they must still blow the shofar.  The recitation of arvit does not turn day into night, and thus the congregation stills bears the obligation to sound the shofar.  The Taz cites the aforementioned ruling of the Beit Yosef as the basis for this position.  By the same token, Rav Weiss contends, even if a congregation accepted Shabbat early on Friday when a berit is to be performed, their acceptance does not suffice to override the mitzva of circumcision.

 

Friday

            One of the requirements imposed upon a metzora, as we read in Parashat Tazria (13:45), is that he must announce his status of impurity – “ve-tamei tamei yikra.”  Rashi, citing Torat Kohanim, explains that a metzora must publicize his status in order to alert people to the need to avoid contact with him.  The Gemara, however, in Masekhet Mo’ed Katan (5a), gives a different reason for this requirement, explaining that others should know about this individual’s unfortunate condition so they could pray on his behalf.

            The Gemara’s comment becomes especially striking in light of its remarks elsewhere concerning the Torah’s harsh rules regarding a metzora.  As Rashi (13:46) cites from Masekhet Arakhin (16b), a metzora is condemned to live in isolation until his infection heals because “he separated through his lashon ha-ra [negative speech] between man and wife and one person and his fellow; he, too, must be separated.”  The metzora is treated as a social pariah of sorts, punished for his indulgence in gossip and slander which broke relationships and shattered the bonds of trust between family members and friends.  He is condemned to suffer the pain of loneliness and isolation which he inflicted in others by spreading negative information about them.

            And yet, despite the severe, and perhaps irreparable, damage which he caused to so many, to the point where he is banished from society, the Torah wants the townspeople to pray on his behalf.  At his moment of shame and physical isolation, he is still entitled to empathy and emotional support.  Even as he pays the steep price for his offenses, he must not be abandoned.  His community must still stand by his side in the figurative sense, and beseech God for compassion on his behalf, that he should experience a speedy recovery and return from solitude.

            This observation is made by Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, where he writes:

Although the metzora was a source of trouble for society, as they [the Sages] comment – “he separated between husband and wife, and between a man and his fellow” – nevertheless, all the people are required to forgive him and pray for compassion for him.  This is among the qualities of the children of Avraham, especially as nobody can say that he is free from traces of lashon ha-ra.  Therefore, everyone must ask for compassion for him.

Rav Ginsburg here notes the need for honest humility in responding to the metzoraChazal have attested to the fact that all people, to one extent or another, are guilty of “avak lashon ha-ra” – “traces” of lashon ha-ra – and this requires a certain level of tolerance and acceptance of other people’s failings in this regard.  While it is true that a metzora is guilty of excessive indulgence in improper speech, nevertheless, our own undeniable deficiencies in this area warrant a readiness to forgive.

            This message, of course, applies to many different kinds of mistakes that people make.  As angry and resentful as we sometimes feel towards others, we cannot, in many instances, fully absolve ourselves of guilt in that particular area.  This itself should give us reason to exercise patience, tolerance and understanding even towards those who have wronged us.

 

We will return to a daily presentation of SALT shortly after Pesach. Kol tuv.  

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