Talmud Tips

For the week ending 16 January 2016 / 6 Shevat 5776

Gittin 37 - 43

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rabbah said, “On account of these three things ba’alei batim lose their wealth: they free their Canaanite slaves (and thereby transgress a positive mitzvah — Rashi), they check their properties on Shabbat (to know what needs fixing during the week — Rashi) and they set their meal-times on Shabbat at the time of the Beit Midrash (when the Sage teaches the public on Shabbat, and they should have planned their meals to be either earlier or later — Rashi).”

What is the connection between these three negative behaviors and these people losing their wealth?

Freeing his Canaanite slave shows utter disregard for the wealth that G-d granted him, by discarding at least part of his wealth in a manner that transgresses a commandment of the Torah.

Checking his properties on Shabbat to see what needs to be fixed during the week is a forbidden activity and a forbidden thought. Therefore, when he works during the week on his properties to actualize these forbidden thoughts, his work will be in vain — measure for measure.

Having Shabbat meals at the time for Torah study shows a person’s priorities. One whose highest priority is learning Torah will receive financial blessing from G-d. One whose priority is eating his meals instead of attending the communal Torah lecture does not merit a Divine financial blessing. (Maharsha)

  • Gittin 38b

“We (the Beit Din) force his master to make him a free person…”

The mishna teaches about how to deal with a case of a Canaanite slave who is “half-free”; for example, he was owned by two partners and one partner freed him while the other one didn’t. Initially Beit Hillel taught that he could alternate working for himself and for his remaining master, while retaining the status of half-slave/half-free. Beit Shammai, however, questioned the merit of this arrangement, since the person’s current status does not allow him to marry or procreate. Therefore, Beit Shammai avers that the best solution is to force his master to free him, a solution that Beit Hillel concurs with at the conclusion of the mishna.

Since the master is transgressing a mitzvah by freeing him completely — “they (your Canaanite slaves) will serve you forever” (Lev. 25:46) — how can we force the master to commit a transgression in order to benefit him by allowing him to marry and procreate? In fact, the Talmud in a number of places states rhetorically, “Can we say to a person ‘Transgress!’ in order to help another person?” The Rishonim seek to understand how the conclusion of our mishna does not contradict this other principle, one which is also cited as halacha in Shulchan Aruch, Orach Chaim 328:10, Rema.

Tosefot here offers two possible answers. One is that a person may transgress to benefit another if the other person did not act negligently, and needs to be helped from a problematic situation which was not of his doing. Another answer is that for the sake of the fulfillment of a great mitzvah this principle is overridden and we allow a transgression. For a comprehensive treatment of this topic I recommend “Avotot Ahava — Kiruv Rechokim B’Halacha” (chelek 4 perek 1), authored by Rabbi Moshe Newman and Rabbi Mordechai Becher and published by Feldheim Publishers.

  • Gittin 42a-b

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