Sifting our words (Daf Yomi Pesachim 7)

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“No conclusive proof has been found for either side of this debate.”

So much of what I have read in the Talmud to date is about workarounds and contingencies. It can be argued that the entire Tractate Eruvin is a discussion about workarounds established through the construction of an eruv on Shabbat. It is an acknowledgement that we are not perfect, and can be forgetful, and a leavened crumb or two may be missed when a religious home is swept ahead of Shabbat (which we are told should be done during the second half of the fourteenth of Nisan.)

Today’s Daf Yomi considers the issue of nullification of leaven. If one is to nullify leaven from a distance – perhaps because he is sheltering-in-place away from his home during the coronavirus lock-down or is so enraptured with his Torah study that he forgot to remove a crumb from a forsaken corner of his home – he should do so during the fourth of fifth hour on the fourteenth of Nisan. The fourth hour is described as a “nondescript point in time” when there is particular danger “that perhaps he will be negligent and will not render it null and void, and the leaven will remain in his possession.” The fifth hour serves as the last call for rendering the leaven null and void.

From the beginning of the sixth hour onward, leaven is prohibited by Rabbinic law. Leaven is prohibited by Torah law from the end of the sixth hour. And so, we return to the discussion of how lenient one can be with following Rabbinic law, which is designed as a guardrail around Torah law in order to ensure observance. A good comparison is with the CDC’s guideline to stand six feet apart. I usually double that distance if I can when I am in a public place in order to be extra cautious. We are provided with a bit of conundrum concerning Rabbinic law and a marriage that is disqualified due to a man who tries to marry a woman using cheap wheat.

If a man uses hard wheat from the mountains in his marriage request to a woman during the beginning of the sixth hour of the fourteenth of Nisan when it is prohibited by Rabbinic law but not Torah law, we are told that there is a possibility that it will leaven. The Rabbis consider it leaven, even though the wheat is so hard that dribbling water on it will probably not cause leavening. The hard wheat, even though it can be considered leaven, is declared worthless. And for this reason, the marriage would not be allowed to proceed. I would like to add from my own perspective that it is for the best because the woman avoided a life of living with a cheapskate.

If one finds himself sitting in as study hall entirely captivated with a lecture late in the day on the fourteenth of Nisan, what should he do if he remembers that there might still be leaven in his home? He might have spent the earlier part of the day sweeping everything out, but during the lecture suddenly remembered that he forgot about a cabinet or closet somewhere in his home.

We are told that he can “render it null and void in his heart.” There is a clarification, however, and the speaking to one’s heart only works ahead of the time when the leaven becomes prohibited. If he is sitting in study hall after the prohibition takes place, he needs to look into his heart and admit the hard truth that it is too late.

There is a workaround if the forgotten leaven is in a breadbox along with several loaves that have become moldy and some matza; if the student could prove that the last loaf added to the bread storage is unleavened, it applies to all. A “last in rule” is applied and we are told that we should “follow the last item placed in the vessel, which even on the first day of Passover would be matza.” If the mold is extensive, however, the student is out of luck because the entire lot of the leftover bread would be considered leavened.

If our student is back home and has done everything right and completed his leaven search without missing a crumb, when should he say a blessing? Would it be before or after the search? This is where parsing of speech and paying close attention to the use of language becomes critical. Rav Pappi said that one should recite the following blessing: “who has made us holy through his mitzvot and has commanded us to remove leavened bread.”  Rav Pappa substitutes the following words: “concerning the removal of leavened bread.” The Gemara tells us that Rav Pappi’s version that includes the words“to remove” refers to the future. As a result, it concludes that the blessing should be recited at the time when someone is “about to begin fulfilling the mitzva of removing leaven.”

Rav Pappi says that the phrase “concerning the elimination of leaven” refers to the past and as result the blessing should be “recited after the performance of a mitzva was completed.”  Rav Pappa disagrees and maintains that his expression also “refers to the future.” Regardless of how the word “concerning” is interpreted, both Rabbis appear to agree that the blessing is performed prior to the start of the hunt for leaven, although they express themselves in very different ways. This is supported by both Shmuel and Rav, who rarely agree on anything. Shmuel had a simple rule: “with regard to all the mitzvot, one recites a blessing over them prior to [over] their performance.” Rav agreed with this rule, with a few exceptions.

Selecting words is like sifting flour. I learned though all my years of studying the English language that it is preferable to use active rather passive sentence construction. But there is a world of possibility in the word “concerning” which allows for certain leniencies. The Torah laws require absolute stringency. The Rabbinic laws allow for a range of practices in the “how” these laws are applied in the real world. The Rabbis were a practical lot that understood the fallacy of relying on the absolute perfection of human actions. And sometimes, it is fine to ignore the grammarians from our past and use passive speech if it allows for more flexibility and inclusion. Afterall, we are not being graded on our we live our lives.

About the Author
Penny Cagan was born in New Jersey and has lived in New York City since 1980. She has published two books of poems called “City Poems “ and “And Today I am Happy." She is employed as a risk manager and continues to write poetry. More information on Penny can be found at
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