YESHIVAT HAR ETZION
ISRAEL KOSCHITZKY VIRTUAL BEIT MIDRASH (VBM)
Introduction to the Study of Talmud
by Rav Michael Siev
Sukka 04 - daf 25a-25b
A scan of the classic printed daf can be found at:
(You can find a scan with larger print by going to the e-daf.com homepage and selecting sukah 25a/25b)
Key words and phrases in Hebrew and Aramaic are marked in blue, and their translation/explanation can be seen by placing the cursor over them.
From time to time, the shiur will include instructions to stop reading and do some task on your own. This will be marked by a
It is highly recommended that you follow those instructions. I am working on a way to have your computer melt if you do not, but as of yet, the technical details are still beyond me.
Within the quoted texts, my explanations and additions are also noted in red.
Over the course of the first two shiurim, we have discussed some of the details of the rule that "ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva," one who is involved in a mitzva is exempt from performing other mitzvot. The Gemara opened by asking for the source for this concept. It then quoted a beraita that derives this concept from the phrase in the Shema that obligates one to recite the Shema only "while sitting in your house and while walking on the way" (Devarim 6:7), which the Gemara interpreted as referring to one who is engaged in his own activities, but excluding one who is engaged in a mitzva. The Gemara engaged in a discussion of this beraita—particularly regarding the exemption of the groom (chatan) from Keriat Shema on his wedding night. That is where we left off at the end of last shiur. At this point, the Gemara will now offer a second answer to the original question regarding the source of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva. The Gemara phrases this source not as an alternate answer but as a challenge to the first answer: how can that be the correct source when we have another beraita that offers a different source?
The fact that the Gemara has returned to a question that we have not explicitly dealt with since the first shiur offers us a good opportunity to hone our Gemara skills. Since the Gemara does commonly go off on tangents or break from the larger issue to examine a minor point that has been mentioned in the course of the discussion, it is always important to keep the big picture in mind. When the Gemara returns to the larger issue, we need to be properly oriented!
We begin the Gemara with the fourth to last line on 25a. (Again, the translation is for the most part literal, and a more explanatory commentary will follow.)
And "One who is busy with a mitzva is exempt from a mitzva" comes out (=we learn it) from here?
It comes out from there,
as it says in a beraita: "'And there were men who were impure to a human life,' etc. (Bamidbar 9:6)
Who were those men?
They were the bearers of Yosef's casket"—the words of Rabbi Yosei Ha-gelili.
Rabbi Akiva says: "They were Misha'el and Eltzafan, who were involved with Nadav and Avihu."
Rabbi Yitzchak says: "If they were the bearers of Yosef's casket, they could already have become purified; if they were Misha'el and Eltzafan, they could have become purified.
Rather they were involved with a mitzva-corpse, and their seventh day fell out on Erev Pesach. As it says (ibid.): 'And they could not perform the pesach on that day'—on that day, they could not do it, but on the next day, they could have done it.
We need it, for if we would hear (from) there—because the time of obligation for the pesach had not come; however, here, where the time for reciting the Shema has come, I would say no (=he is not patur). We need it.
And if we had heard (from) here—because there is no karet; however, there, where there is karet, I would say no. We need it.
והעוסק במצוה פטור מן המצוה מהכא נפקא?
דתניא: (במדבר ט) ויהי אנשים אשר היו טמאים לנפש אדם וכו'
אותם אנשים מי היו?
נושאי ארונו של יוסף היו, דברי רבי יוסי הגלילי,
רבי עקיבא אומר: מישאל ואלצפן היו שהיו עוסקין בנדב ואביהוא.
רבי יצחק אומר: אם נושאי ארונו של יוסף היו - כבר היו יכולין ליטהר, אם מישאל ואלצפן היו - יכולין היו ליטהר.
אלא עוסקין במת מצוה היו, שחל שביעי שלהן להיות בערב פסח. שנאמר (במדבר ט) ולא יכלו לעשות הפסח ביום ההוא, ביום ההוא אין יכולין לעשות, הא למחר - יכולין לעשות.
צריכא, דאי אשמעינן התם - משום דלא מטא זמן חיובא דפסח, אבל הכא דמטא זמן קריאת שמע - אימא לא, צריכא.
ואי אשמעינן הכא - משום דליכא כרת, אבל התם דאיכא כרת - אימא לא, צריכא.
The general progression here, as we alluded to earlier, is that the Gemara questions whether the source previously offered for the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva is in fact the authentic source - for another beraita seems to provide a different source! The Gemara then explains that in fact both sources are necessary.
The context of the beraita quoted here is a discussion of the details surrounding the commandment of Pesach Sheini. The basic story, as outlined in Bamidbar 9:1-14, is as follows: every Jews is obligated to bring a goat or sheep as a sacrifice (korban pesach) on Erev Pesach, the fourteenth day of the month of Nissan. After the sacrificial service has been performed in the afternoon, the meat is eaten on that night, the first night of Pesach. The first Pesach that the Jews commemorate in the desert, the year after they leave Egypt, there are some people who are ritually impure (tamei) on Erev Pesach and are therefore disqualified from partaking of the korban pesach. These people complain that it is unfair for them to lose out on the opportunity to participate in this mitzva. Hashem therefore introduces the concept of Pesach Sheini, the second Pesach, which is a make-up opportunity for those who are unable to participate in the korban pesach at its appointed time. Such people can offer the korban pesach on the fourteenth day of Iyar, one month after the korban pesach should have been brought.
The beraita here wonders who it was that was tamei on the 14th of Nissan Rabbi Yosei Ha-gelili suggests that it was Misha'el and Eltzafan. The Torah (Vayikra 10:1-5) relates that following the completion of the Mishkan, two of Aharon's sons, Nadav and Avihu, bring incense as a sacrifice in an improper way; instead of letting a heavenly fire consume the incense, they bring their own fire (see the commentaries there for a fuller discussion of the nature of their sin). They are killed on the spot for not properly respecting the sanctity of the Mishkan. Misha'el and Eltzafan, Aharon's cousins, are the ones who remove the bodies from the Mishkan, thus making the carriers tamei.
Rabbi Akiva offers a different explanation. On his deathbed, Yosef (son of Yaakov) makes his brothers promise to bring his bones with them to Eretz Yisra'el and bury them there (Bereishit 50:25), and Moshe ensures that Benei Yisra'el make good on that promise (Shemot 13:19). Rabbi Akiva suggests that it was the people entrusted with transporting Yosef's bones who were tamei and therefore unable to offer the korban pesach.
Rabbi Yitzchak rejects both of the aforementioned possibilities, because one who is tamei due to contact with or proximity to (being under the same roof as) a corpse can become tahor (ritually pure) within seven days. This makes it unlikely that the bearers of Yosef's bones were those who complained; Benei Yisra'el had already been encamped at the foot of Mt. Sinai for ten months by the time this Pesach came around, meaning that for ten months Yosef's bones did not have to be carried at all. Thus, they had plenty of time to purify themselves before Pesach! Even Misha'el and Eltzafan seem like unlikely prospects; Nadav and Avihu were killed on the first of Nissan, which still would leave enough time for Misha'el and Eltzafan to become purified by the 14th of Nissan. Rather, it was anonymous people who were involved with a mitzva-corpse. Rabbi Yitzchak infers from the fact that the verse states that they could not bring the korban on that day that they would have been able to bring it the next day: the 14th of Nissan was the seventh and final day of their being tamei.
(Rabbi Yitzchak's objections to the opinions of Rabbi Yosei Ha-gelili and Rabbi Akiva seem pretty convincing. In order to explain how they may have dealt with the question, some commentators assert that Rabbi Yosei and Rabbi Akiva believed that the first para adumma, the red cow used in the purification process was prepared on the 7th of Nissan, and there was not enough time for the people who had come in contact with a corpse to purify themselves. Alternatively, Misha'el and Eltzafan may have remained at the site of the burial of Nadav and Avihu for seven days as a sign of respect, and the bearers of Yosef's bones may have kept his coffin in a tent that they entered in order to guard it, thus making them tamei even though the nation was not traveling.)
What exactly do we mean by "mitzva-corpse"? Literally, this term refers to a corpse which one is obligated to bury. Normally, the reference is to an abandoned corpse. However, Rashi here (s.v. Teme'ei) points out that the sole relevant consideration is not the absence of relatives to bury the corpse, but the mitzva to arrange the burial. This exists in the case of an abandoned corpse, but it can also apply to a regular situation in which one's immediate relative passes away. In such a situation, it is the relatives' responsibility to bury the deceased; for them, it is a mitzva-corpse.
How does this serve as a source for the concept that ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva?
At first glance, this does not seem to be a regular case of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva. These people were not actively involved in any mitzva at the time of korban pesach. The reason they were unable to offer the korban was not because they were busy performing a different mitzva at that time, but because they were tamei and therefore disqualified from the korban. How, then, does this teach us that ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva?
Apparently, what we are learning from is the very fact that these people allowed themselves to become tamei to start with, despite the fact that their being tamei would disqualify them from offering the korban pesach. Korban pesach is a mitzva of unique importance. In fact, as the Gemara itself will point out, korban pesach is one of only two positive commandments that carries with it a punishment of karet (literally, "being cut off," generally understood as referring to early death or being spiritually severed from God) for those who do not fulfill it. The only other positive commandment that carries this punishment is berit mila. Therefore, if not for the fact that the people involved were exempted from taking other mitzvot into consideration at the time they performed the mitzva of attending to the dead, they would have refrained from becoming tamei until after they offered the korban pesach. (Some suggest that they would have made sure that someone who was in any event not eligible to participate in the korban pesach would have buried the dead.)
Now that we understand the source of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva as presented in the second beraita, we can proceed to the Gemara's question: why do two different beraitot present two different sources for the same rule? Are they just alternate sources, or do we actually need both in order to fully understand the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva?
Think about what makes the case of the korban pesach unique. What can we learn from this case of ha-osek be-mitzva that we would not have otherwise known? What would this case not teach us, such that we need the source mentioned in the first beraita?
The answer is based on the two unique factors that apply to the source quoted in the beraita we have examined today:
1) In the case of the korban pesach, the attendants performed the first mitzva (burying/ escorting the dead) before the second mitzva (korban pesach) applied at all; they could not possibly have offered the korban pesach at that time. This factor makes it more likely that they should not be required to take the second mitzva into account.
2) In the case of the korban pesach, the second mitzva (korban pesach) is so stringent that one is punished by karet for not fulfilling it. This factor would have made it less likely that they should be permitted to ignore the second mitzva.
Based on these two factors, the Gemara asserts that both sources are necessary. If we only had the source we examined today, we would not know that ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva applies even when one starts one mitzva at a time when he could also have performed the other. The chatan, for example, does not start to be preoccupied until nightfall, when he can already recite Keriat Shema; perhaps in that case we would have assumed that the second mitzva cannot be ignored. Therefore, as the Gemara states, "We need it"—we need the source previously cited in the Gemara to teach us that even in such a case, the exemption applies.
At the same time, if we only had the first beraita's source, we might have concluded that one is exempt from the second mitzva only when it is of standard significance. A mitzva of special import, though, like korban pesach, would not be pushed aside by a different mitzva. Therefore, as the Gemara concludes "we need it" - namely, the second source for ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva.
This concludes the Gemara's discussion of the source for the principle of ha-osek be-mitzva patur min ha-mitzva, and it is a good place to finish our shiur. Remember to review, and we will continue next week!