Talmud Tips

For the week ending 10 November 2018 / 2 Kislev 5779

Menachot 72 - 78

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“Exceptional” Mitzvahs

“What is the reason? Because the Torah states “your harvest” — but not a “harvest of a mitzvah.”

This explanation is offered by the gemara as the reason for early reaping being permitted in two cases taught in the mishna. Early reaping is normally forbidden, as the Torah states: “When you come to the Land which I am giving you, and you reap its harvest, you shall bring to the kohen an Omer of the beginning of your reaping.” (Vayikra 23:10)

The first and beginning of the reaping must be done only for the Omer mincha offering, according to the straightforward reading of this verse. Any reaping done prior to this is called chadash, new, and would presumably be forbidden. Accordingly, reaping is permitted only after the Omer offering was brought in the Beit Hamikdash on the second day of Pesach (and today, without the Beit Hamikdash and the Omer offering, this “permitting time” is the beginning of the second day of Pesach.) However, although early reaping is normally forbidden, sometimes it is permitted, as taught in the mishna.

Although three cases of early reaping are taught in the mishna as being permitted, our gemara has already taught, in an earlier section, the reason for allowing one of the three cases, and is focused in our sugya on the reason for allowing the other two: clearing a place in a field for blessing and comforting mourners (beit ha’avel), and clearing a place in a field to accommodate people who are learning Torah (beit hamidrash). “Why are these two cases permitted” asks our gemara? Our gemara answers that since the Torah states “k’tzirchem” (your reaping), this teaches that only early reaping for yourself is forbidden, but early reaping for the need of a mitzvah is permitted.

Commentaries ask why the Torah prohibition of early reaping does not apply even for a Rabbinic mitzvah, such as beit ha’avel, which refers to comforting and blessing the mourner. Rashi explains that space may be cleared in the field in order to make room for the people to stand there to bless the mourner. The blessing is certainly a Rabbinic mitzvah. And even if the mitzvah is seen as nichum aveilim, comforting the mourners, the Rambam writes that this mitzvah is a Rabbinic mitzvah as well.

This would not be a question if nichum aveilim is a Torah mitzvah, as some Rishonim write. One way of viewing it as a Torah mitzvah is that comforting a mourner is a fulfillment of the mitzvah of “ve’ahavta le’reiacha kamocha” (Vayikra 19:18) — to love one’s fellow person as oneself. (Ramban) Another approach is that comforting a mourner is included in the mitzvah of gemilut chasadim — performing acts of loving-kindness towards others. This mitzvah of chesed is derived from the Torah verse (Shemot 18:20), “And you shall make known to them the way they shall go and the deed they shall do.” Our Sages teach that one of the things we learn from this Torah verse is the mitzvah of chesed. Comforting the mourner is certainly an act of chesed and therefore can be considered a fulfillment of this Torah mitzvah. (Rabbeinu Yonah)

A completely different approach is also offered to explain why this early reaping is permitted, even if in fact the mitzvah of nichum aveilim is a Rabbinic mitzvah and not a Torah one. Since the Torah prohibited only early reaping that is for “you”, it only applies where it is being done for a mundane purpose and not for the need of a mitzvah. Therefore, even if the early reaping is being done to accommodate the fulfillment of even a Rabbinic mitzvah, such as nichum aveilim, it is permitted. (Rav Elchanan Wasserman)

On a different note, a linguistic question is addressed by the commentaries: “Why does the mishna refer to an open field as a beit ha’avel? Doesn’t the word beit (bayit) refer to a closed room or home?” One answer is that this usage of the word is in line with how it is used in the verse stating “And the beit of Pharaoh heard” (Gen. 45:2), which Rashi explains to mean his servants and household members, and not his physical house. Here too in the mishna, beit ha’avel refers to the people there in the field — the mourner and the people comforting and blessing him. (Tosefot Yom Tov) A second explanation for the expression of beit ha’avel here is that it refers to a space or area, as we find its usage in this sense in various places in Shas, such as beit hapras and beit ha’shlachin. Accordingly, beit ha’avel in the mishna means a place where a mourner is being blessed and comforted by others. (Tiferet Yisrael)

  • Menachot 72a

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