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.

Shabbos 120 Honesty in business and about one’s qualifications

On the previous daf, we learnt the frightening statement of Rava that Yerushalayim was destroyed because there were no אנשי אמנה (trustworthy people.)
He backs this shocking accusation up with a verse (Yirmiyahu 5):
שׁוֹטְט֞וּ בְּחוּצ֣וֹת יְרוּשָׁלִַ֗ם וּרְאוּ־נָ֤א וּדְעוּ֙ וּבַקְשׁ֣וּ בִרְחוֹבוֹתֶ֔יהָ אִם־תִּמְצְא֣וּ אִ֔ישׁ אִם־יֵ֛שׁ עֹשֶׂ֥ה מִשְׁפָּ֖ט מְבַקֵּ֣שׁ אֱמוּנָ֑ה וְאֶסְלַ֖ח לָֽהּ:
Go walk around the courtyards of Jerusalem and please see, and know, and search in its streets, if you can find a man, if there is one who performs justice and seeks trustworthiness, and I shall forgive her.
In a no holds barred rebuke, the prophet Yirmiyahu gives the about to be exiled inhabitants of the city  a divine message that if even one honest man can be found in her streets, Hashem is prepared to spare her.
Rava deduces from this that the inability to find even one such person, is the reason for the destruction!
It is beyond our ability to even fathom that the holiest city of the holiest nation in history had sunk to the depths where not even one honest man could be found in it.
It could well be that this statement is to be seen as somewhat of an exaggeration which comes to teach us that the people as a whole did not meet the high levels of total honesty that was expected of the “chosen people.”
However, even if this is the correct way of reading this verse and passuk (which is questionable,) there is no escaping the severity of the statement and the fact that the prophets and sages viewed lack of honesty as one of the worst possible characteristics, making it a leading candidate for the cause of the destruction.
The frightening fact that these were not necessarily the most evil, crooked people, or that different from many of us, can be further backed from the continuation of the sugya.
The Gemara questions Rava’s harsh statement with  a seemingly contradictory statement of Rav Katina, who states that even at the lowest point reached in the city, there were always honest people left in it, and brings another, rather cryptic, verse to back himself up.
The Gemara interprets this verse to mean that people at the time would   confess that they hadn’t invested in their Torah studies and that they were  basically ignorant of all 3 main areas of study,  Mikra (the written word), Mishna, and Talmud.
This seems to imply that people were so honest that they would not even claim to have learnt more than they had.
The Gemara attempts to retort that this could simply be because they didn’t want people to question them and find their knowledge lacking, but have nothing to do with their inherent honesty, and thus not apply in situations where others were not likely to find out.
It answers that this would not be a reason to be this honest and harsh on themselves, because if asked a question they were unable to answer, they could simply reply that they had learnt it but forgotten!
The fact that they were completely straight about their lack of effort in their learning and resultant lack of knowledge shows that they were doing it out of honesty!
This might seem trivial, but I can personally attest that one of the hardest things for someone who is in a position of leadership is to admit his shortcomings regarding his qualifications.
People go to incredible lengths to make themselves seem more qualified than they are, sometimes to the point of forging the necessary documentation.
Those of us in the world of Torah teaching also like our students and followers to look up to us and see us as good examples in our learning, to the point that we are sometimes tempted to exaggerated our knowledge .
Sometimes we even convince ourselves that it is in the greater good to do so, so that we will be able to get their ear and at least influence them to learn more(this was admittedly part of my initial motivation for obtaining semicha (rabbinical ordination.)
Numerous times, I have been asked by students if I have finished the Shas,  and admitting that I haven’t come close has been a major embarrassment.
Contrast this with the behaviour of truly great Torah scholars, who often minimize the extent of their knowledge, in the spirit of chazal’s permission to tell a “white lie” in three cases, one of them being מסכתא  , denying having learnt a particular tractate even if one has done so (Bava Metzia 23b.)
This reminds me of a talk that I merited to hear in person from haGaon Rav Herschel Shachter, שליט”א, someone we all know is familiar with Shas virtually by heart.
It was at our annual shul Siyum hashas(completion of the Talmud)  that had been divided amongst members of the community, and Rav Schachter, in his typical fashion, quipped “Its an incredible achievement to finish the Shas. I haven’t finished the Shas yet!”
Even when we are able to be honest about the extent of the knowledge we have accumulated, we often tend to quote primary sources as if we have studied them first hand, when we really only became aware of them because of  a database search, one of the modern works on the subject who quotes them, or even a Tosfos quoting a Yerushalmi.
 Rav Baruch Epstein  of blessed memory, was one of the Torah giants of the previous century and author of the encyclopedic work “Torah Temima”, which links every passuk in the Torah to the corresponding  midrashim of Chazal  ,a particularly  incredible feat in the days prior to computer search engines, and also analyzes them.
He was also the son of one of the greatest halachik authorities and writers of post Shulchan-Aruch times, the famed Rav Yechiel Michel Epstein, author of “Aruch haShulchan.”
In his epic biographic work “Mekor Baruch,” he has an enlightening section entitled “the wisdom of women,” where he tells, amongst others, a story about one of his encounters with his illustrious Aunt Rebbetzin Batya, the wife of his uncle,  the famed Netziv of Volozhin.
He tells how in his younger years, he was at the table of his uncle and aunt and was asked to  say some words of Torah.
During his talk, he referred to a piece from the Yerushalmi (Jerusalem Talmud), something usually only studied by older Talmidei Chachamim who have already studied the Bavli (Babylonian Talmud) in great depth.
His Aunt asked him, in a not so gentle rebuke, whether he had actually studied the Yerushalmi.
He responded, honestly, that he had not, but had seen it quoted in a Tosfos, or one of the other Rishonim (see the book for a precise account- I am telling this from memory seeing as I do not have it in front of me right now.)
She then asked him how he could have the cheek to quote from the Yerushalmi if he had not studied it directly?
She admonished him that if he only saw the Yerushalmi inside a Tosfos, he should have made it clear that he had quoted it second hand, and had seen it in the Tosfos, and not given the impression that he was a scholar in Yerushalmi.
We see how such a common and innocent failure to disclose the  secondary source from where one identified a primary source was taken so seriously in a palace of Torah such as that of the Berlin’s.
Coming back to our daf, the Gemara finally reconciles the contradictory views by shockingly differentiating between honesty related to one’s Torah knowledge, and honesty in business.
There were indeed people left in Jerusalem willing to admit their failure to learn and acquire Torah knowledge, but there was none who was truly honest in business!
This seems at first to be counter intuitive- surely none of use would dream of dishonesty in business, but we certainly could make the error of inflating our own achievements in learning?
Yet based on the conclusion,  perhaps when we examine our actions more closely, we will see that behaving completely honestly in business is one of the biggest challenges that we face, and even those of us who would stick fastidiously to the advice of the formidable Rebbetzin Batya, might need to examine our actions in the business sphere more carefully- after all, we do not want to be in the category of those who caused the destruction of our Holy city and Temple, chas veshalom. 

Shabbos 79 No-one is immune from financial temptation 

On our daf, we continue dealing with the question of whether a loan document ( שטר חוב)  that has already been paid back has any residual use to the lender or not. 

This will of course impact on liability for transferring it on Shabbos .

Typically, a person who borrows money will sign a document together with witnesses which the lender will then keep as proof of the loan. 

When the borrower pays back the loan, the document could be returned to him, or destroyed , or a שובר ( type of receipt ) could be signed and given to the borrower.

Given that documents were  written on animal hides   and involved a degree of expense (paper was not cheap and readily available as it is today,)  it stands to reason that the lender might wish to keep the document to use to cover a container with, or for some other use.

Yet we see an opinion that this is forbidden, presumably even if the borrower trusts him and agrees.

One opinion goes further and says that it is forbidden even if a שובר is written !

Rashi brings a passuk in Iyov as a source for this prohibition , which says “Corruption  should not dwell in your tent .”

Without discussing the propriety of using verses in the Navi or Kesubim as basis for laws, and whether this is a דרשה גמורה or a  kind of אסמכתא, It is clear that Rashi understands that even though someone is honest, and even trusted by the other side, it is forbidden to bring oneself into financial temptation.

Financial temptation  is one of the things that no-one is immune from – ” as bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and corrupts the words of the righteous ” ( Devarim 16/19,)  and although this is far from actual bribery, the temptation to claim back a repaid loan a second time, coupled with the chances that the borrower might lose his receipt , is enough reason to forbid the lender from retaining the loan document , even though it has some permitted  financial utility to him.

It could be noted that  according to Rashi at least, this is not a concern of חשד, or that people will suspect him of corrupt intent, as there is already an accepted source in the Chumash itself for the need to avoid any suspicion, namely ” and you shall be clean with regards to Hashem and Israel ” ( Bamidbar 32/22).

Rather, the passuk in Iyov is revealing to us that even if a person would not be suspected of wrong doing , he is not allowed to bring himself to any temptation to be corrupt .

It can be illustrated from various sugyas that the need to stay away from any financial temptation, or even the slightest financial suspicion,  applies to the greatest of people- in fact, the greater one is, the more squeaky clean one is expected to be.

In Brachos 5b , we are told how Rav Huna had 400 barrels of wine turn to vinegar. 

When his colleagues came to visit him, they told him to look into his affairs to see what he might have done to deserve it (important to note that this is not the way one should normally talk to people who are suffering and it might be a transgression of the prohibition of אונאת דברים – see Bava Metzia 58b)

After some give and take , he asked them if they heard anything negative about him, and they replied that they had heard that he did not pay his sharecropper his share in the yield.

Rav Huna replied that the sharecropper  stole more than the value of his share already, so he had no claim .

They replied that despite this, when one steals from a thief, one tastes the taste of theft ( see Rashi there.)

He then agreed to pay the sharecropper and the vinegar became wine again ( or was sold for the price of wine.)

The message seems to be that even though Rav Huna was within his legal rights , after all , the law is that  one is permitted to take  back what is his himself without going to court ( see Bava Kama 27b  re עביד איניש דינא לנפשיה ), someone of his level certainly has to be completely above any chance of suspicion – the mere fact that people suspected him of wrong doing was reason for him to lose a fortune of money . 

There is another law which prohibits lending money without witnesses, as one could be causing the borrower to sin by defaulting on the loan (  Bava Metzia 75b.) 

The Gemara tells a story where Ravina  asked if that even applies to someone who lends him money, given that he is honest and would never default. 

He was told that it applies even more so to him, as he is extra busy and could “forget.”

Although some of these cases refer to suspicion and some to temptation or even forgetfulness, all of them show that no matter how great one is, one cannot rely  on his greatness to take even the smallest chance of financial impropriety or suspicion.

If only we could live up to even part of these high expectations!