Insights into Halacha

For the week ending 3 December 2011 / 6 Kislev 5772

Ma’aseh Avos = Halacha L’Ma’aseh

by Rabbi Yehuda Spitz
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

When it comes to the parshiyos of sefer Bereishis, many people (mistakenly) kick back, relax and go on “cruise control”. They think that now is the time for stories, not actually actively learning any “real halacha” from the Chumash.

However, this is the wrong approach. There is a plethora of relevant information that we can and should glean and learn (lishmor v’la’asos) from the actions of our great forefathers, the Avos and Imahos. This does not only fall into the realm of proper conduct, midos tovos and ma’asim tovim, but even halacha l’ma’aseh.

Hashomer Malachim Anochi?

One prime example can be seen from Parshas Vayera, which we read just a few short weeks ago. But first a little background. It is well known[1] that if two people are eating together at a table, one eating meat and the other dairy, that a hekker, or something used to show that there is something different here (i.e. separate placemats, or putting something distinctive down) is required to highlight the fact that one is eating meat and other dairy, and in order to serve as a constant reminder not to chas v’shalom possibly eat from each other’s plates and stumble in the prohibition of eating milk and meat together.

There is a halachic disagreement between two of the preeminent commentators on the Shulchan Aruch, Rabbi Akiva Eiger and the Pischei Teshuva[2], whether appointing someone to stand over the two people eating to make sure that they don’t eat from each other’s plates (a shomer) is effective. The question is, may one rely on someone standing there watching instead of a hekker to allow them to eat together? Many halachic decisors through the ages have taken stances on both sides of this debate.

The Lev Aryeh[3] and the Me’am Loez[4], both bring a proof to this issue from Parshas Vayera[5]. The pasuk states that upon welcoming the three angels, Avraham Avinu serves them a meal fit for a king, made up of both meat and dairy ingredients (tongue, as well as butter or cream[6]). The verse continues, “And he stood over them, under the tree, and they ate.” Both of the above-mentioned commentators, as well as Rav Yosef Shalom Elyashiv[7], all ask why the Torah specifically states that Avraham Avinu “stood over them”.

They all write that it must be that while some of the angels were eating milk, the others were eating meat, and Avraham Avinu was acting as their shomer to make sure that “ne’er the twain shall meet” (or is it meat?). And, they bring this as proof that a shomer definitely should work as a hekker between meat and milk. Rav Elyashiv actually paskens this way as well. [An important bit of information for all those learning hilchos bassar b'chalav].

Angelic Deception

In a related idea, the Talilei Oros[8], quoting the Meilitz Yosher, asks why the passuk has to emphasize that the angels ate; especially as Rashi (ad loc. quoting the Midrash[9]), maintains that angels can not actually eat, rather these angels gave the appearance of eating. The difficulty with this is that the Midrash[10] teaches that at the time of receiving the Torah, the angels did not want to release it to Moshe Rabbeinu, until they were told that they were undeserving of it as they did not actually keep the Torah, for they ate milk and meat together at Avraham’s house! But, according to the above, they did not actually eat! So why did they lose the privilege of keeping the Torah?

The Meilitz Yosher answers that we see from the pasuk that even though the angels did not actually eat, the Torah still calls their actions eating. We see from here the power of “Maris Ayin”. This a Rabbinical decree not to engage in certain permissible acts that may look like committing a sin[11]. For even though they may not have actually partaken in eating the forbidden milk and meat, since they gave the appearance of doing so, all the angels lost the opportunity of being able to keep the Torah. The expression might be “looks can be deceiving”, but even so, one must make sure not to engage in questionable activities, or even questionable-looking ones.

That’s not all, folks…

In fact, from just this one verse, many halachic commentators and authorities glean various possible halachos, including: the proper order of eating - dairy before meat[12]; the importance of wiping and rinsing out one’s mouth (kinuach v’hadacha) in between a dairy and a meat course[13]; the idea that one should do the above-mentioned kinuach exclusively with bread[14], tongue’s elevated status in halacha vis-a-vis its nullification[15]; special halachic dispensation given regarding invited guests, even those who are viewed as “charity cases”[16]; the proper way of sending a “kos shel bracha” to one’s wife after Birchas Hamazon[17]; the significance of eating “chullin b’tahara[18]; the problem of burning meat and milk together[19]; and possibly not having to wait the full amount of time after eating meat on Shavuos[20].

In conclusion, we learn not to take the conduct of the Avos lightly, as even from just a small act on their part, they impart to us a treasure trove of hanhaga, hashkafa, and yes, even halacha.

[1]Shulchan Aruch Y”D 88, 2; based on Gemara Chullin 104b.

[2]In their commentaries to Y”D 88; R’ Akiva Eiger 1, Pischei Teshuva 4. Actually the issue is really far more complicated, but this is the basic machlokes.

[3]In his commentary to Chullin 104b s.v. u’vazeh.

[4]Yalkut Me’am Loez - Hebrew, Parshas Mishpatim pg. 892.

[5]Bereishis (Vayera) Ch.18, verse 8.

[6]See Rashi ad loc. verse 8 s.v. chemah, andverse 7 s.v. bakar - based on Gemara Bava Metziah 86b.

[7]Both, in his commentary to Gemara Chullin, Ha’aros B’Meseches Chullin (104b s.v. gezara), as well as in his commentary to Chumash, Kovetz Ha’aros shel HaGri”sh (pg. 16 s.v.v’af). The Midrash (Midrash HaGadol, Toldos 26, 5) implies this way as well.

[8]Talilei Oros vol. 1, pg. 175.

[9]Rashi s.v. vayocheilu, quoting Midrash Rabba Bereishis 48, 14 and Gemara Bava Metziah 86b.

[10]Midrash Shochar Tov 8 and in Psikta Rabassi to “Asseir Te’asser”; cited by Shita Mekubetzes on Bechoros 6b, 2.

[11]See Y”D 87, 3 & 4, and relevant commentaries.

[12]Midrash Leket Tov ad loc.

[13]Chasam Sofer - Toras Moshe, Parshas Vayera s.v. shalosh; cited in Arichas HaDaas Ch. 3, end footnote 27.

[14]Maharam Shiff in his glosses to Chullin 105a.

[15]Taz Y”D 101, 8, quoting the Rashal - Yam Shel Shlomo, Chullin Ch. 7, 53.

[16]Soles L’Mincha (15, 3), arguing on the premise of the Toras HaAsham (ad loc.); cited in Pischei Teshuva Y”D 69, 13.

[17]Shu”t She’elas Ya’avetz vol. 1, 126; based on Ritva’s commentary to Bava Metziah 87a.

[18]See Rashi ad loc s.v. vayikach, based on Bava Metziah 87a. In a related topic see recent article “Pie Crusts, Pas Paltur and the Aseres Yemei Teshuva”.

[19]Birchas Peretz, cited in Talilei Oros vol. 1, pg. 174, based on the comments of the Shita Mekubetzes on Bechoros 6b, 2.

[20]Noam Elimelech, end Parshas Mishpatims.v. lo sevashel. There are many explanations as to his intent, and many authorities do not agree with his logic in this scenario as halacha.

For any questions, comments or for the full Mareh Mekomos / sources, please email the author:

Disclaimer: These are just a few basic guidelines and overview of the Halacha discussed in this article. This is by no means a complete comprehensive authoritative guide, but rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issue. One should not compare similar cases in order to rules in any real case, but should refer his questions to a competent Halachic authority.

Disclaimer: This is not a comprehensive guide, rather a brief summary to raise awareness of the issues. In any real case one should ask a competent Halachic authority.

L'iluy Nishmas the Rosh HaYeshiva - Rav Chonoh Menachem Mendel ben R' Yechezkel Shraga, Rav Yaakov Yeshaya ben R' Boruch Yehuda, and l'zchus for Shira Yaffa bas Rochel Miriam and her children for a yeshua teikef u'miyad!

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