Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 February 2024 / 24 Shvat 5784

Bava Kama 93-99

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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A Blessing on Stolen Food

“This is not a beracha (blessing) — it is blasphemy!”

This statement refers to a person saying a beracha when eating food that he stole. He is possession of the food only because he committed the transgression of theft. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov teaches in a beraita: “Behold, one who stole a se’ah measure of wheat, ground it up, kneaded it, baked it, and then separated challah from it, how can he make a beracha? In this case, saying a beracha wouldnot be blessing Hashem, but would actually be blaspheming Him. About this issue, the verse says: Botze’ah berech, ni’etz Hashem.” (Tehillim 10:3)

Rashi explains the word botze’ah to mean “steal,” and the verse is teaching that a person who steals food and makes a beracha on it is in fact committing blasphemy. Rava states on our daf that even though the thief acquired the wheat through shinui ma’aseh (changing the stolen item by an action), it is still blasphemy to say a beracha for this food because it would be a mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira — a mitzvah that comes through a transgression.

The Maharsha asks why this verse from Tehillim is not cited in Masechet Succah regarding a stolen lulav, which is invalid for the mitzvah due to this same principle of mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira. The gemara in Succah also teaches additional sources for this principle (Malachi 1:13 and Yeshayahu 61:8). But it does not mention the verse in Tehillim, the verse our gemara cites as the source for the principle of mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira. Why not?

The Maharsha answers that the word botze’ah in Tehillim does not mean “to steal,” but rather it means “to separate.” Therefore, it is suited only to the case in our gemara, where a thief stole wheat and processed it, and then separated challah with a beracha, and then ate the resulting bread with a beracha (also, while eating, he separated the smaller piece of bread he eats a larger loaf of bread). The Maharsha adds that it is quite clear from the context of the chapter in Tehillim that verse 10:3 is in fact speaking about a thief.

Bava Kama 94a

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