Pesachim 2 Bedikat Chametz and the biblical fence

The opening Mishna of Pesachim introduces the mitzva of בדיקת חמץ  (searching for Chametz) before Pesach.

The mishna tells us that אור לארבעה עשר בודקין את החמץ לאור הנר.

After much debate on this and the next daf, the Gemara concludes that אור לארבעה עשר refers to the evening of the 14’th of Nisan, and that the evening is referred to as אור  (literally light) in order to use לשון נקיה (clean language,) something I hope to discuss in tomorrow’s post.

As such, the Mishna is understood to mean that on the evening BEFORE Pesach starts, we need to search for any chametz with the light of a candle.

The reason for this search is subject to debate amongst the Rishonim.

Rashi explains that it is to avoid the prohibition of בל יראה ובל ימצא (owning chametz on pesach- see Shmos 12/19 and 13/7), and the Ran seems to understand that it is also connected to the positive mitzva of תשביתו (removing chametz from one’s possession- see Shmos 12/16.)

By searching for any remaining chametz in the house and burning it the next day, we make sure to avoid this prohibition (and fulfill the positive mitzva.)

It seems to follow that Rashi considers this to be a חיוב דאורייתא  (biblical requirement) due to the prohibition of owning chametz.

The Tosfos famously take issue with this based on a later sugya (Pesachim 6b) where Rav Yehuda rules in the name of Rav that one who has searched also needs to perform בטול חמץ  (nullify the chametz in his heart.)

Seeing as this is a requirement in any case, and מדאורייתא בבטול בעלמא סגי ליה (on a Torah level, annulment is enough to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz-Pesachim 4b), they dispute what they understand as Rashi’s claim that the search is necessary in order to avoid this prohibition. Indeed, the Gemara itself there states that בדיקת חמץ  is only a rabbinical requirement!

Instead, they explain that this a rabbinic requirement in case one sees chametz on Pesach that he has already annulled and comes to eat it- the prohibition of eating chametz carries the severe penalty of כרת and applies to all real chometz whether one owns it or not.

Whereas the Tosfos clearly saw Rashi as claiming that the search is NECESSARY in order to avoid the prohibition of owning chametz, it is possible to understand him simply as saying that the search is a legitimate and possibly preferable way of avoiding the prohibition- one can do so without it by nullification, but seeing as the search takes place first, in practise it has also removed any concern of this prohibition by the time the nullification comes along.

This is how Rishonim such as the Ran understand Rashi: The Torah requires the end result that we do not own chometz on Pesach, but Chazal determined how we get to that result, and due to the severity of the prohibition and the need to cover all bases, they required us to go through two processes- search and destroy, and nullification.

The Tosfos, on the other end, seem to hold that there was no need for Chazal to institute two methods to remove chometz from one’s possession, and that seeing as they made nullification mandatory, they must have required the “search and destroy” operation for other reasons. )It should be noted though that whereas the requirement to search is recorded in the Mishna, the requirement  to perform בטול is only recorded later in the early Amoraic period  by רב יהודה אמר רב, making this argument seem problematic unless the requirement for בטול  also goes back to the time of the Mishna and Rav was simply recording it, something that requires evidence.)

According to this view, one needs to understand why Chazal were so concerned about us coming to eat chametz that they required us to search for it and destroy it?

After all, there are many other things we are forbidden to eat or even benefit from, and Chazal made no such requirement.

The Tosfos suggest that this is because of the severe penalty prescribed for one who eats חמץ,  but are still faced with the fact that eating certain other foods such as חלב (forbidden fats) is also subject to the same כרת  punishment.

As such, they add another factor to explain this special stringency, namely the fact that chometz is something which people are not used to avoiding, given that it is permitted the rest of the year, and in addition to the severity of the penalty for doing so, this was enough reason for Chazal to set this prohibition apart from others and require search and destroy.

They also suggest that Chazal treated chometz more seriously than other prohibitions because the Torah itself did so- It is the only food subject to a ban of eating and benefitting from which is also subject to a prohibition against owning.

The simplest explanation of this idea is that  the fact that the Torah prohibited even owning chometz shows us that this prohibition is to be taken even more seriously than others- Chazal followed this queue and imposed the obligation to search and destroy in addition to nullifying it.

The Ran (דפי הריף א. ד”ה “ומה” ) is even more explicit and suggests that the reason the Torah itself forbade owning Chometz on Pesach was because people are not used to refraining from eating it the rest of the day, and combined with the severity of eating it on Pesach, the Torah took extra precautions to prevent this.

This idea is rather novel in that it would be a rare example of the Torah creating its own fence to protect another Torah commandment, something usually the mandate of Chazal.

  This is not completely without precedent- the אבות דרבי נתן  (chapter 2) understands that the Torah made a “fence” around the prohibition of forbidden sexual relations such as Niddah by prohibiting  קירבה(coming near) -sexually arousing acts such as hugging and kissing are thus forbidden on a Torah level as a restraint against sexual acts themselves.

Although the Ramban (השגת לספר המצוות לאו שנג), based on the view of רבי פדת (Shabbos 13a) understands this to be an אסמכתא  and the prohibition of “coming near” to be rabbinical in nature, the Rambam (ספר המצוות לאו שנג)  takes this literally and holds that it is a Torah prohibition punishable by lashes.

If we accept the Ran’s reasoning regarding בל יראה ובל ימצא and the Rambam’s regarding קרבה, the common denominator is clear- both eating chometz on Pesach and forbidden sexual relations are extremely serious prohibitions punishing by כרת, both are unusually hard to avoid (chometz because of habit and עריות  because of the power of the libido) and both have “satellite” biblical prohibitions to keep us far away from them!

If the Torah itself singled out these prohibitions by making its own biblical fences around them, and Chazal themselves followed with fences of their own, how careful should we all be to stay as far away as possible from them.

These posts are intended to raise issues and stimulate further research and discussion on contemporary topics related to the daf. They are not intended as psak halacha.

Shabbos 104 the limits of Prophetic authority

On our daf, we are told an incredible idea about the letters in the aleph bet (alphabet)
The 5 letters that change form at the end of a word (מנפצך) were not always like that!
The open form of the letters used at the beginning and in the middle of words were actually a newer innovation of the נביאים prophets! (Rashi points out that in a parallel sugya (Megillah 2b), the claim is that the closed form at the end of the word was the later addition- see there for how he resolves this.)
It is the closed form of the letters that we only use at the end which were actually the original, and the prophets for some reason introduced the open form everywhere except at the end of the word!
The Gemara takes major issue with this statement, calling on the passuk ” אלה המצוות” (“THESE are the laws” – Devarim 36/13 )which teaches us that only the commandments given to Moshe at Sinai were valid and from then on, no prophet could innovate anything else- אין הנביא רשאי לחדש דבר .
The Gemara replies that both forms actually existed already, the prophets simply decided which form to use at the end of the word and which form to use in the rest of the world.
That too is rejected, seeing as even such a decision would be considered an innovation, which prophets may not make.
The Gemara finally concludes that both forms of the letter as well as where they were to be used were indeed given over to Moshe, but they were forgotten, and the Nevi’im (prophets) reestablished them.
In a different sugya, even the reading of the Megila , a Mitzva instituted by the prophets Mordechai and Esther, was subject to scrutiny by Chazal (Megila 14a) , and they pointed out that none of the Nevi’im added to anything in the Torah except in this case, due to a קל וחומר (fortiori logical argument) that they found.
From our daf, however, we see that this rule doesn’t only apply to introducing new Mitzvos, but also applies to changing the form of the Hebrew letters, or even deciding when each form should be used!
As similar concept is found in the beginning of Bava Kama (2b) , where the Gemara tries to derive that נגיחה (goring) must be done with the horns of an ox to be considered נגיחה , from a Passuk in Navi (Melachim I 22/11.)
The wicked king of Israel, Achav, has convinced the righteous king of Yehuda, Yehoshafat, to go to war with Aram to claim back Ramot Gilad, which they had occupied.
All the false and/or idolatrous prophets tell Achav exactly what he wants to hear, namely that he will succeed, but Yehoshafat insists that he look for a surviving true prophet of Hashem from whom to seek council.
Meanwhile, one of these “yes men”, Tzidkiya ben Kenaanah, takes two large metal horns and told Achav and the people that they would use these horns to “gore” the enemy into submission
The true navi, Michayahu, in contrast, predicts that the war will be a disaster and advice them to stay home.
For this, he is imprisoned by Achav’s men, and the two kings lead their troops into battle together.
(We see similar treatment of our great prophets who refuse to give people the false sense of comfort that they want and speak truth to power, in many places in Tanach, one of the most famous being the horrendous incarceration of Yirmiyah but the last king of Yehuda, Tzidkiya, for similarly breaking ranks with all the false prophets and advising surrender to the approaching Babylonians.)
Back to the horns of Tzidkiya, Chazal derive from here that the word יגח ( yigach), refers to injuring with the horns.
However, another source from the Chumash is also given for this, and the Gemara explains that this is because one might counter that דברי תורה מדברי קבלה לא ילפינן – one may not derive words of the Torah from the words of Kabbalah (the term used by Chazal for prophecy, but that’s another discussion!)
In the end, the Gemara still accepts this proof, seeing as we are not deriving any laws per se, but simple learning the meaning of a word (גלוי מלתא) which is acceptable.
Here, we were not attempting to derive new mitzvas from the Neviim, but simply some details of the laws mentioned in the Torah through a גזירה שוה ( Masoretic comparison based on similar language) – namely that the damages that the Torah is referring to need to be by the horns of the ox ,in order for the relevant laws to apply.
Yet even this is not considered valid, and the only thing that we can actually apply from the words of the Nevi’im to Torah matters is shedding light on the meaning of words used in the Torah- this is not through a גזירה שוה but simply a גלוי מילתא.
However, it does not take much to see that this cannot be so straight forward as it looks.
So many new laws of Shabbos, including the mitzvas of honoring and enjoying shabbos (כבוד ועונג שבת ) as well as the prohibition of עובדין דחול ( weekday activities that are not melacha but inappropriate for shabbos) are derived from the famous speech of Yeshayahu, which we read as the haftarah from Yom Kippur (Yeshayahu 58/13.)
In addition, Chazal tell us )Shabbos 24b) that Shlomo haMelech instituted נטילת ידים (washing hand before eating bread)and Eruvin, mentions many decrees made by various biblical figures, and of course, made so made so many decrees of their own!
Even the Mitzva of Chanukah, instituted by Chazal long after the period of prophecy, is accepted, due to the biblical injunction to follow the Torah leadership and prohibition against going against it (Shabbos 23a).
Why could the same not apply to a relatively simple matter of the shape of the letters, or learning how נגיחה is done?
Perhaps the key lies in the famous words of the Rambam (Mamrim 2/9), where he asks how it is possible for Chazal to make decrees against things the Torah does not forbid, when there is a prohibition to add or subtract from the Torah.
He notes that the prohibition of adding to the Torah applies to making new laws and making out as if they are biblical laws.
However, so long as they are clear that they are rabbinical laws, there is no issue, and on the contrary, it is part of their mandate (probably from the passuk לא תסור and ושמרתם את משמרתי.)
The same argument might be applicable not only to the decrees the Rambam mentions, but also to entirely new rabbinical mitzvas, though one would want to explain why the Rambam fails to mention this.
The case we see on our daf is not a new rabbinical mitzva or decree, but an actual change in the biblical laws as to how to write a sefer-Torah and other holy scrolls.
Similarly, the case in Bava Kama is not a new rabbinical form of liability for damages, but a derivation by גזירה שוה of the details of biblical laws, from verses in the prophets.
In truth though, even without having thoroughly examined each sugya where the idea of אין נביא רשאי לחדש דבר is mentione, I see a major issue with using this approach- the case of Megillah has no pretensions of being a biblical Mitzva, but is a מצוה מדברי סופרים ( a commandment initiated by the prophets or sages.)
If so, why was a קל וחומר argument needed in order for Mordechai and Esther to initiate it?
Surely it should have been permitted without such an argument for the same reason as Chanukah was!