Pesachim 57 “Their pots and pans will go to heaven”

In memory of the Av Beis Din of Cape-Town, Rabbi Desmond Maisels of blessed memory who held the fort of halachik honesty for so many decades in that beautiful city.

One of the great achievements of the past few decades in the Jewish world has been the return to observance by so many people, spear-headed by the “Baal Teshuva” movement.

Whereas 60 years ago, Orthodox Judaism was considered almost dead and buried, the most vibrant and growing Jewish communities of today are found mainly in the Torah-observant world.

This trend is highly noticeable in the plethora of kosher supermarkets, Pesach products, eruvin,  mikvaos, and Torah day school that form the heart of any Jewish neighborhood.

Although many members of these communities are also involved in a large selection of outreach and charitable organizations, there seem to be many who still do not put the same focus on the area of ethical behaviour and inter-human relations as they do in the realm of ritual.

People very often get swept up in the “frumkeit” (ritualistic piety) without even realizing how it sometimes comes at the expense of other things that the Torah values even more dearly.

We have mentioned elsewhere  that the Gemara  (Brachos 17a) cautions against a person learning lots of Torah and acting in a disdainful fashion to his parents and teachers- the stereotype of the yeshiva bachur who will no longer eat in his shul Rabbi’s home because “his hechsher” is not good enough for him.

On our daf we are told how the son of בוהין used to leave פאה  (the corner of a field left for the poor) from certain vegetables, even though they are exempt from this requirement.

When בוהין  later saw poor people collecting the פאה, he told them to rather take double the amount from other produce of his that had already been tithed.

 All though פאה  is not subject to tithing , פאה  taken on vegetables is not considered פאה  and one who eats it without separating tithes is both eating טבל  and  stealing from the Levi and Kohain.

We see how easy it is to be so stringent in one mitzva that one lands up transgressing another, something that we have referred to elsewhere as a stringency that leads to a leniency, or a full-blown transgression.

We also note that rather than be seen to be strict about maaser at the expense of the poor, בוהין was prepared to double the portion collected by the poor from his own tithed produce, at great expense to himself!

Our  daf carries on painting a disturbing picture of a period when the כהונה  (priesthood) was so corrupt that the stronger kohanim used to forcibly take the portions of the weaker ones.

We are taught how Initially the skins from the sacrifices were divided amongst the kohanim on shift, but due to the above corruption, they started rather declaring them הקדש (sanctified for the Temple.)

We see the incredible irony that these thugs were still “frum” enough that they would never think of benefitting fromהקדש , but they were happy to steal from their fellow kohanim and intimidate them.

It reminds me of the famous story of the Yeshiva student who used to store his milk in the communal fridge of the yeshiva dormitory.

He noticed that certain students had been regularly drinking his milk without permission and responded by putting a sign on the milk container that read  : “not chalav yisroel!”- the stealing immediately stopped.

My father of blessed memory would often tell how his mentor, Chief Rabbi Louis Rabinowitz zt’l once intervened in the case of a very observant man who refused to give his wife a גט  (bill of divorce.)

After various warnings, he took to the pulpit to condemn his hypocrisy, noting that due to his high level of kashrus at home , he was certain that “his pots and pans will go to heaven!”

There are people who think that it is possible to serve Hashem by treating him like a king, while treating other people like slaves.

Hashem teaches us that an essential part of his service is doing good for his creations – if our service does not make the world a better place, it is not service, but rather an abomination, a point well illustrated by countless excerpts from our prophets and sages.

There are plenty “frum” people who try to follow the ethical and interpersonal elements of the Torah as precisely as they follow the rest of the commandments.

It is those people, and their leaders,  whom we should strive to emulate.

Rav Maizels zt’l  virtually created halachik observance in Cape Town, bringing standards of public kashrus and religious observance to incredible heights for a small community at the southern tip of Africa . At the same time, he always taught  by example that it is not a mitzva to be excessively stringent at the expense of others, and that growth in one’s relationship with Hashem is directly proportional to one’s growth in one’s relationship with one’s fellow human beings.

May we all merit to continue his legacy.

Pesachim 12-13 Being above suspicion and avoiding conflicts of interest

On Daf 12b, the Gemara quotes a Mishna which records a dispute between Rabbi Meir and Rabbi Yehuda regarding the last time one is permitted to eat chametz on erev Pesach.

Rabbi Meir holds that one may eat chametz until the end of the fifth hour of the day and must burn in at the beginning of the sixth hour.

Rabbi Yehuda, however, holds that one may only eat chametz until the end of the fourth hour, may keep it in one’s possession till the end of the fifth hour, and burns it in the beginning of the sixth hour.

It should be noted that the prohibition of eating and owning chametz on a biblical level only applies from midday, and that these are rabbinical “fences” designed to avoid missing the biblical deadline.

The Gemara in 13b notes that Rav Nachman ruled like Rabbi Yehuda, and later claims that Rebbe’s own ruling supported his conclusion.

It tells how someone had deposited a leather sack (see Rashi) filled with chametz with יוחנן חקוקאה  and it was bitten open by a mouse.

It was erev pesach, and the chametz was leaking out and getting lost, and he wanted to sell it to recover whatever money he could for the owner while doing so was still allowed.

Rebbe kept telling him to wait, in case the owner came and wanted to eat it, until the beginning of the fifth hour when he told him to go to the market and sell it on his behalf.

The Gemara assumes that Rebbe meant for him to sell it to non-Jews, thus implying that he agreed with Rabbi Yehuda that eating chametz during this time is already forbidden for Jews.

After all, if he meant for him to sell it to Jews and agreed with Rabbi Meir that Jews were still permitted to eat chametz during this time, he should have rather given Yochanan the option to buy it himself first and eat it during this time, rather than requiring him to make the effort to go to the market to sell it!

The Gemara refutes this suggestion, explaining that Rebbe might indeed agree with Rabbi Meir and have intended for Yochanan to sell it to Jews on behalf of the owner.

However, Rebbe did not want him to buy it himself, due to concerns for חשד (arousing suspicion.)

As Yochanan had a vested interest in fixing the price lower than the going rate in order to buy it himself, Rebbe held that it was wrong to buy it, even for the same price as others would agree to, in order not to arouse suspicion that he had indeed done so.

To back this reasoning up, it brings a Beraisa that discussed someone who collects copper coins for charity and currently has no poor people to give them to.  Due to the concern that they might go rusty, he needs to exchange them for silver coins with someone else, but he may NOT exchange them for his own silver coins, in order not to arouse suspicion that he gave himself a favorable rate.

 This would be going against the apparently biblical directive of “והייתם נקיים מה’ ומישראל ”  – “you shall be clean from Hashem and the Jewish people (Bamidbar 32/22.)

The same applies to someone who works in a soup kitchen and has excess food: He needs to sell it to someone else, but may not buy it himself from the charity, to avoid suspicion that he might give himself a better price!

This idea can be found in an explicit Mishna (Shekalim 3/2,) which tells us that the person who puts donations given to the Temple in the 3 boxes used for storing them may not wear a garment that is folded over, shoes, an amulet, or even Tefillin, in order not to arouse suspicion that he stole from them and hid the money in one of the above items (see Rambam there.)

The idea that someone would be so brazen as to un-sow Tefillin and hide stolen money in them might seem extreme , but there have indeed been cases in modern times where “religious” Jews have been caught smuggling diamonds and other things in their Tefillin, making this Mishna even more chilling  (Rav Mordechai Kamenetzky (https://torah.org/torah-portion/drasha-5757-shoftim/) tells how when consulted about this phenomena, his saintly grandfather Rav Yaakov Kamenetzky זצ”ל  compared such behavior to someone who approaches enemy lines with a white flag as if to surrender, and throws a grenade, violating a sacred symbol of peaceful intent so that others no longer trust it.)

We saw earlier in the daf cycle (Shabbos 23a) that a person is required to leave פאה (the corner of the field left for the poor) at the end of his field, for 4 different reasons, one of them being to avoid חשד  (suspicion) that he might not have left anything at all.

Similarly, The Gemara (Bava Basra 8b) rules that it is forbidden for someone who is collecting money for charity to put  money that he finds in the street, or that someone gives him in repayment of a loan, in his own wallet, so that people should not think that it is charity money that he is taking for himself.

Rather, he should put it in the charity box, and transfer it to his own wallet once home. The people collecting money are also supposed to go in pairs for the same reason (Bava Basra 8b.)

We should note that unlike the practise in many corrupt areas of making traffic police work in pairs to make it more risky to accept bribes, the concern here is not even that they would steal the money but simply that they might be suspected of doing so- such is the ethical standard expected of  a Jew.

The directive to “be clean” does not only apply to monetary matters, but also to arousing suspicion of other types of improper behavior.

For example, one of the reasons that it is forbidden to enter a חורבה  (ruin ) is to avoid suspicion that one might be meeting a prostitute there (Brachos 3a and Rashi there.)

A Jew is required to not avoid corruption, but to avoid any suspicion of corrupt behave, and to always be AND appear squeaky clean.

There is a related concept called מראית עיין, where Chazal forbade  or required certain actions to avoid “looking bad.”

Whether this is an extension of the concern of חשד or an independent concept requires some analysis, which I hope to be able to do at a later opportunity.

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.