Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 September 2016 / 30 Av 5776

Bava Kama 93 - 99

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

“This is not a beracha — rather it is blasphemy.”

This statement is taught regarding one who makes a beracha when eating food that he stole, and is thereby in possession of the food by means of a transgression. Rabbi Eliezer ben Yaakov teaches in a beraita: Behold, one who stole a se’ah (a certain measure) of wheat, and ground it, kneaded it, and baked it, and separated ‘challah’ from it, how can he make a beracha?! Saying a beracha is not blessing G-d, rather blaspheming Him (G-d forbid). About this the verse says: “Botze’ah berech, ni’etz Hashem” (Tehillim 10:3).

Rashi explains that the word botze’ah means “steals”, and the verse is teaching that one 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 with an action), it is nevertheless 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 the principle of “mitzvah haba’ah ba’aveira”. The gemara in Succah teaches other sources for this principle — Malachi 1:13 and Yeshayahu 61:8 — but does not cite the verse in Tehillim from which our gemara derives 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”, rather it means “to separate”. Therefore, it is suited only to the case in our gemara, when a thief stole wheat and processed it, and then “separated” challah with a beracha, and ate that bread with a beracha (also while eating he “separated” the bread he ate from the larger loaf). The Maharsha adds that it is clear from the context of the chapter that verse 10:3 in Tehillim is speaking about a thief.

  • Bava Kama 94a

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