Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Swine Does Not Become Kosher From Good Intentions and More Bava Metzia 89-92


Mixed Blessings 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses the Biblically mandated allocation given to field laborers to eat from the produce they harvest while they work (Devarim 23:25-26). This job benefit only accrues in regard to produce that grows from the ground, excluding milking, and making butter and cheese, as these forms of produce do not come from the soil. 

Tosafos here raises a contradiction between this Gemara’s parameters for produce of the ground versus the Gemara Eruvin (27b) which considers livestock to be produce of the ground for the redemption of maaser sheini. Tosafos answers that the parameters depend on context; livestock are products of land because they are sustained from the earth, but they are do not sprout and grow from the earth. Thus in regard to the harvesting of field laborers, the criterion is products that germinate from the soil. While for maaser sheini, which has to do with general agricultural production, livestock are products of the land. 

The Midrash reads various innuendos regarding Yaakov’s peacemaking entreaty to Esav (Bereishis 32:5):

“I lived (as a stranger) with Lavan…and I acquired oxen and donkeys.”

Rashi (ibid) elaborates that Yaakov was trying to placate Esav by telling him the blessings of the first born were not fulfilled, so he need not be angry with him for having stolen them. How so? I lived as a stranger with Lavan and did not achieve any prominence. Furthermore, while I did amass some possessions, Oxen and Donkeys, these were not the blessings of our father. Our father promised me, (27:28) “[God will give thee] of the dew of heaven and of the fat places of the earth” — Oxen and Donkeys are neither of the heaven nor of the earth.

Mizrachi points out that Rashi (and Yaakov) was following our Gemara, not considering livestock as a product of the land, thereby indicating that Yaakov’s material success did not come from the stolen blessings. Using Tosafos’ contextual distinction, we can legitimately argue that Yitschok’s blessing consisted of that which literally grows from the soil, (“the dew from heaven and the fat of the land”), and was referring to high yielding crops. Animals, as such, are not included, and Yaakov could claim that the blessing was not fulfilled.

Even considering Yaakov’s efforts to mollify a homicidal Esav, it seems odd that he would discredit his father’s ability to grant blessings. Additionally, Rashi quotes another Midrash that uses an anagram of the Hebrew word “I lived as a stranger Garti”, to allude that I lived with Lavan and nonetheless observed the 613 (Taryag) commandments. How would that last comment add to Esav’s interest in making peace? The Maharal (Gur Aryeh) combined both statements to communicate a multi-valent idea: “The material benefits that you thought were the main point of the blessings were not fulfilled, as I did not receive from the produce of the soil. The blessings are about spiritual sustenance, and this came as I observed the 613 commandments. As that is not your interest, you should not feel bad that you lost out on something.” To fit these derashos back into a simple, unified peshat, Yaakov was saying, “I lived a non-materialistic existence. The blessings, in terms of actual wealth were not accomplished or meant anything. I amassed transitory possessions but neither prestige nor significant assets.”

However, this raises another question. If that was the intent of the blessings, why was Esav fighting for them, and in such a state of bloodlust? If only Yitschok had said to Esav, “Don’t worry, those blessings that Yaskov stole were not really what you wanted anyway.” We might say, since Esav fooled his father into thinking he was righteous (see Rashi Bereishis 25:28 and Bereishis Rabbah 63:10), Yitschok did not think to give him such reassurance. Still, this answer does not satisfy. If these blessings were merely spiritual, would it really be necessary to resort to all this deception? Surely, spiritual matters can be sorted out by God. It’s one thing to argue that material benefits, though also divinely ordained, require human efforts and vying for the blessing of the first born could be part of this effort. But, is it necessary to chase after spiritual blessings via physical means? To paraphrase the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah 6a), “Everything is in God’s treasure vault”, and God can give these spiritual benefits to he who is most deserving.

I believe the answer is subtle. Yitschok’s blessing were a prophetic channeling of God’s will as it interacts with the person. No two people are alike, and therefore each person has a different purpose in life and a different blessing. Our sages teach (Makkos 10b), “God leads and assists a person along the path he wishes to follow.” If so, Yaakov’s presentation to Esav is more nuanced. Perhaps at the time Yaakov was trying to obtain the blessings, his character and mission in life had not yet been fully formed. Indeed those blessing might have been physical too. After his exile and resultant spiritual development, the blessings he sought were no longer even slightly material. After all those years, Yaakov was declaring to Esav, “The blessings I sought and received have taken a spiritual form. You need not worry that I will be in competition with you over territory or wealth. Those blessings are still available for you.”


Swine Does Not Become Kosher From Good Intentions

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph discusses an interesting moral and halachic dilemma regarding the Biblical directive to allow the animal to eat while it is working on the threshing floor:

בְּעוֹ מִינֵּיהּ מֵרַב שֵׁשֶׁת: הָיְתָה אוֹכֶלֶת וּמַתְרֶזֶת, מַהוּ? מִשּׁוּם דִּמְעַלֵּי לַהּ הוּא, וְהָא לָא מְעַלֵּי לַהּ? אוֹ דִלְמָא דְּחָזְיָא וּמִצְטַעֲרָא, וְהָא חָזְיָא וּמִצְטַעֲרָא?

If the animal was eating from the produce it was threshing, and it was excreting diarrhea [matrezet], what is the halakha? The Gemara explains the sides of the dilemma: Is the reason that one must let the animal eat because the food is good for it, and this produce is evidently not good for it, and therefore the animal should be muzzled to prevent it from harm? Or perhaps the reason for the prohibition against muzzling is that it sees food and suffers when it cannot eat, and this one also sees food and suffers when it cannot eat.

Rav Soloveitchik (Reshimas Shiurim) explains that the question revolves around what is the priority of the commandment? Is it to be sensitive to the animal’s immediate suffering in seeing the food and not eating, or to its long term health and suffering. If the animal was indulged now, it would suffer later from painful bout of diarrhea.

It is notable that with humans we have no such problem. Does anyone think it is a kindness to allow a child to eat sweets until he is sick, or for that matter, to give an adult a cigarette? Generally speaking, with humans the ultimate benevolent intention guides the mitzvah. This is why l’shon hora is permitted when there is a constructive motive and outcome. Swine doesn’t become kosher from good intentions, but chessed depends on intention and whether there are ultimately good results. This is probably what the Gemara (Berachos 33a) means when it  says, “It is forbidden to have mercy on a person who shows no intelligence (judgment or self-management).” However, this is in regard to a human being, who has transcendent and long term goals. On the other hand, since an animal has a less complex destiny and purpose in life, our Gemara’s question is that perhaps we should only consider its immediate gratification. Or, even so, should we care about its long term suffering?


You Live and You Learn

Our Gemara on Amud Beis further discusses the Biblically mandated allocation given to field laborers to eat from the produce they harvest while they work (Devarim 23:25-26). 

וְכוּלָּן לֹא אָמְרוּ אֶלָּא בִּשְׁעַת מְלָאכָה, אֲבָל מִשּׁוּם הָשֵׁב אֲבֵידָה לַבְּעָלִים אָמְרוּ: פּוֹעֲלִין אוֹכְלִין בַּהֲלִיכָתָן מֵאוֹמָן לְאוֹמָן, וּבַחֲזִירָתָן מִן הַגַּת,.

And with regard to all of these cases the Sages said that he may eat only at the time of work. But due to the obligation to restore lost property to its owners, i.e., so that workers would not neglect their task, they said that laborers may eat as they walk from one row of a vineyard or plantation to another row, and upon their return from the winepress. 

That is, even though technically the worker is only permitted to eat when actually performing the task, for practicality, the sages allowed eating while going from one task to another so the workers won’t have a negative incentive to work slowly and stay eating on the spot. 

The Chafetz Chaim (Shem Olam 5) explains that this ethos also applies in our relationship to God’s commandments. After a person prays and devotes time to his daily Seder studying Torah, he will need to go out into the world and earn his livelihood. If he sees himself as “remaining on the job”, that is, he is going about his business in order to serve God, then these are just temporary interruptions until he returns to the Beis Midrash. As such, he can still receive benefits as if he is working, i.e. reward for the commandments. Based on a verse in Mishle (3:6) and Gemara (Berachos 33a), the Rambam (Deos 3:3) says that a person can serve Hashem even in so-called mundane tasks:

Whoever walks in such a path all his days will be serving God constantly; even in the midst of his business dealings, even during intercourse for his intent in all matters is to fulfill his needs so that his body be whole to serve God.Even when he sleeps, if he retires with the intention that his mind and body rest, lest he take ill and be unable to serve God because he is sick, then his sleep is service to the Omnipresent, blessed be He.

On this matter, our Sages have directed and said: “And all your deeds should be for the sake of Heaven.” This is what Solomon declared in his wisdom: “Know Him in all your ways and He will straighten your paths” (Proverbs 3:6).

Along the lines of this metaphor, I will add from an additional upcoming Gemara (Bava Metzia 93a): Rav holds, that one who acts as a watchman over the produce is considered like one who performs labor, and therefore he has the status of a laborer and can eat from it while on the job. 

This too can be understood symbolically. Sometimes a person cannot be active in studying Torah, but as he goes out into the world, if he is careful to be a watchman and safeguard Torah values it is as if he is still working in the vineyard of Torah. You can learn Choshen Mishpat but you can also live Choshen Mishpat.


Support the Efforts Despite the Inconsistencies 

Our Gemara on Amud Aleph refers to an adage that the Nazir is expected to heed, but also is a general ethical direction to be cautious in not getting too close to temptations:

Go, go, we say to a nazirite, go round, go round; do not approach a vineyard. It is prohibited for a nazirite to eat any of the products of the vine. To keep a nazirite away from temptation, the Sages attempt to deter him from accepting work in a vineyard.

One of the most famous Nazirs was Shimshon. The Malbim used this Gemara to explain an incident from his life (Judges Chapter 14):

וַיֵּ֧רֶד שִׁמְשׁ֛וֹן וְאָבִ֥יו וְאִמּ֖וֹ תִּמְנָ֑תָה וַיָּבֹ֙אוּ֙ עַד־כַּרְמֵ֣י תִמְנָ֔תָה וְהִנֵּה֙ כְּפִ֣יר אֲרָי֔וֹת שֹׁאֵ֖ג לִקְרָאתֽוֹ׃

So Samson and his father and mother went down to Timnah.When he came to the vineyards of Timnah [for the first time], a full-grown lion came roaring at him.

וַתִּצְלַ֨ח עָלָ֜יו ר֣וּחַ ה׳ וַֽיְשַׁסְּעֵ֙הוּ֙ כְּשַׁסַּ֣ע הַגְּדִ֔י וּמְא֖וּמָה אֵ֣ין בְּיָד֑וֹ וְלֹ֤א הִגִּיד֙ לְאָבִ֣יו וּלְאִמּ֔וֹ אֵ֖ת אֲשֶׁ֥ר עָשָֽׂה׃ 

The spirit of GOD gripped him, and he tore him asunder with his bare hands as one might tear a kid asunder; but he did not tell his father and mother what he had done.

Various commentaries ask, if Shimshon was traveling with his parents, how could they not have seen this event. It’s hard not to notice a lion attacking and then being torn apart. What does the verse mean when it says, “He did not tell his father and mother what he had done.”? The Malbim answers, since the verse tells us that they were passing the vineyards of Timna, Shimshon parted company with his parents. They walked through the vineyard, and Shimshon took the long route to circumvent temptation. It was then that the lion attacked, and so his parents did not see any of the miracles transpire.

I must ask, why did his parents not accompany Shimshon on that route? It is dangerous to let someone travel alone, especially when we have a teaching that a lion does not pounce on two people (Shabbos 151a). I suppose the answer is that his parents were elderly and could not easily follow his path.

A more creative answer occurs to me as well. Where was Shimshon’s family going and why? The verses tell us, that he requested to marry a philistine woman, to the dismay of his parents ibid 2-3):

וַיַּ֗עַל וַיַּגֵּד֙ לְאָבִ֣יו וּלְאִמּ֔וֹ וַיֹּ֗אמֶר אִשָּׁ֛ה רָאִ֥יתִי בְתִמְנָ֖תָה מִבְּנ֣וֹת פְּלִשְׁתִּ֑ים וְעַתָּ֕ה קְחוּ־אוֹתָ֥הּ לִ֖י לְאִשָּֽׁה׃

On his return, he told his father and mother, “I noticed one of the Philistine women in Timnah; please get her for me as a wife.”

וַיֹּ֨אמֶר ל֜וֹ אָבִ֣יו וְאִמּ֗וֹ הַאֵין֩ בִּבְנ֨וֹת אַחֶ֤יךָ וּבְכׇל־עַמִּי֙ אִשָּׁ֔ה כִּֽי־אַתָּ֤ה הוֹלֵךְ֙ לָקַ֣חַת אִשָּׁ֔ה מִפְּלִשְׁתִּ֖ים הָעֲרֵלִ֑ים וַיֹּ֨אמֶר שִׁמְשׁ֤וֹן אֶל־אָבִיו֙ אוֹתָ֣הּ קַֽח־לִ֔י כִּי־הִ֖יא יָשְׁרָ֥ה בְעֵינָֽי׃

His father and mother said to him, “Is there no one among the daughters of your own kindred and among all our people, that you must go and take a wife from the uncircumcised Philistines?” But Samson answered his father, “Get me that one, for she is the one that pleases me.”

But as the verse (ibid 4) also tells us:

“His father and mother did not realize that his request was from GOD, who was seeking a pretext against the Philistines, for the Philistines were ruling over Israel at that time.”

Can you imagine the scene? Shimshon is demanding to intermarry but all of the sudden he’s too frum to walk in the vineyard, because he might be tempted? It is possible that his parents found his motives and behavior so inconsistent that they did not feel compelled to accompany him on a fool’s quest. As it says in Avos (2:5): “A brute is not sin-fearing, nor is an ignorant person pious.”

If so, this is an important lesson. Sometimes our loved one’s quest to perform a mitzvah or enact piety may seem incongruent or hypocritical. We should be careful to not judge quickly and consider supporting the efforts within reason, despite apparent inconsistencies. 

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
Related Topics
Related Posts