Meaning in Mitzvot?
Each year at Purim time we are treated to
a serious-sounding bunch of nonsense. The columns are NOT based on Rabbi
Meir's Meaning in Mitzvot on Kitzur Shulchan Arukh
by Rabbi Meir Asher
Nullification of Chametz
The Torah forbids us from having chametz
in our possession from noon on Pesach eve until the end of the holiday. But
since the Torah states, "no chametz shall be seen to you" (Shemot 13:7), we
learn that only chametz we own is included in the prohibition. (Pesachim 5b.
All chametz, however, is forbidden to eat.) This limitation seems to be very
far reaching, for it is actually forbidden to obtain any benefit from
chametz on Pesach (SA OC 443), and when a person is forbidden any benefit in
an object his ownership is effectively suspended.
A similar conundrum exists by a pit in the public domain. The Torah tells us
that one who digs a pit is liable if an animal falls into it (Shemot 21:33),
yet since the damage is done by the pit and not by the digger, it should
belong in the category of "damage done by property". Since a pit in the
public domain doesn't belong to anybody, there should be no liability!
To these difficulties the gemara comments: "There are two things which are
not in a person's possession, yet Scripture considered them as if in his
possession. They are: a pit in the public domain and chametz from six hours
onwards [i.e. after noon Erev Pesach]" (Pesachim 6b). Practically speaking,
this means that nullification of chametz can't be delayed; if someone
doesn't nullify chametz before Pesach he can't do so afterwards, because in
any case the chametz doesn't really belong to him.
What is the significance of this cryptic statement, and what is the common
denominator of these two prohibitions?
In general, there are two types of commandments in the Torah: commandments
applying to our actions, and commandments applying to our possessions. For
example, regarding torts, a person is liable for any damage caused by his
person and for specific kinds of damages caused by his property. Eating
chametz is a forbidden action, whereas the prohibition of possessing chametz
applies to our possessions.
In general, the distinction shows that a person has absolute responsibility
for his actions, whereas responsibility towards our environment is limited
to objects we benefit from. A related approach we have often mentioned is
that objects we acquire and enjoy -- have a special relationship to our
selves; they are like an extension of the self and so our sense of
responsibility extends to them as well.
The liability for a pit shows that enjoyment is not the only way we acquire
responsibility. When a hazard appears spontaneously, it is the
responsibility of the community as a whole to remove it. But when one person
creates a hazard, it is his sole responsibility to take care of it, even if
he obtains no benefit.
A similar message applies to chametz. Chametz is not only forbidden to eat
and benefit from during Pesach; it is necessary to take active steps to
eliminate it, as the Torah commands us, "Eliminate (tashbitu) leaven from
your houses" (Shemot 12:15). This commandment, which originates with our
pre-Pesach ownership, creates an individual responsibility, which can not
then be evaded even after our owner- ship is suspended by the prohibition.
Let us connect this idea to the theme of chametz as a symbol for our
acquisitive urge. This instinct is not useless or inherently worthless; on
the contrary, when used with a proper motivation it can be part of our
service of Hashem. But a necessary first stage is to renounce our dependence
on it; on Pesach we demonstrate that we begin our service of Hashem in a
spirit of modesty and self-effacement; at Shavuot, after the personal growth
of the S'fira period and receiving the Torah, we have the ability to use it
properly and then we bring the shtei halechem offering which must be chametz.
Delaying the nullification of chametz is in effect an effort to take a
short-cut; our spiritual ascent to Matan Torah will not be the full fifty
days but rather 49 or even less. By placing the chametz "in our possession"
during these days, the Torah tells us that no short cuts are allowed; the
purifying effect of the holiday is dependent on entering it in the proper
spirit of repentance, and after Pesach begins it's just too late to get the
full benefit of this period of time and our repentance is not completely
ABP - All but
printing. That's the word from Rabbi Meir. Table of Contents and Index are
done. As is the content of the book. Estimate of several weeks until the
two-volume Meaning in Mitzvot will be available to the public.
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