The Weekly Daf

For the week ending 12 December 2015 / 30 Kislev 5776

Sotah 46 - Gittin 4

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
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Our Hands Did Not Shed This Blood

The final perek of Mesechta Sotah deals with the Torah's instructions of what to do when a man is found on the road a victim of murder and his slayer is unknown. After judges from the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem have determined which is the nearest city to the corpse, the elders of that city must carry out the ritual of eglah arufah. A calf is beheaded at a hard, rocky spot. The elders wash their hands upon the beheaded calf and declare: "Our hands did not shed this blood nor did our eyes see it happen." (Devarim 21:7)

Is it at all imaginable, asks the gemara, that the elders are guilty of murder? What their statement really means, it is explained, is that "we did not send him away without food after coming to us, nor did we see him and fail to provide him with safe escort."

The elders of the community have the responsibility to care for a wayfarer and their declaration is an affirmation that they were not negligent in fulfilling that responsibility. We can easily understand that there is a measure of guilt involved in failing to provide escort which might have saved the traveler from his attacker. But what connection is there between failing to provide him with food and his death at the hands of a murderer, since it was not hunger which caused his death but the sword of his attacker?

Two different approaches are offered to this problem. Some commentaries (Korban Eidah and Tiferet Yisrael) suggest that perhaps if he had been properly fed he would have had the strength to ward off the murderous attack. Rashi, however, offers a very innovative approach. In speculating what might have been the motive of the murderer, we must also take into account the possibility that it was an over-reaction to the attempt of a desperately hungry man to take his food away from him. The declaration of the elders is that they were not guilty, through their failure to provide the traveler with food, of placing him in a situation where he was so desperate for nourishment that he tried to steal some from another traveler who over-reacted and slew him.

Rambam, in Moreh Nevuchim, writes that one of the reasons for the entire ritual of eglah arufah was to generate broad public interest in the murder and thus increase the chances of apprehending the murderer.

  • Sotah 46b

For Her Sake Only

Mesechta Gittin begins with the ruling of the mishna that one who brings a get (divorce document) from outside Eretz Yisrael to Eretz Yisrael must declare to the court that the get was written and signed in his presence. The Sage Rabba states that one of the reasons the Sages instituted this procedure is that many people outside of Eretz Yisrael are not familiar with the Torah's requirement that a get must be written (and/or signed according to the various opinions of sages) lishmah -- specifically for the woman involved. In order to determine whether the scribe did indeed write this get lishmah, the agent bringing it declares that it was written in his presence. His declaration will invite a query from the court as to whether it was written lishmah and thus will be established the validity of the get. This is all according to Rashi's commentary.

Tosefot raises the question why the sages were concerned about people outside of Eretz Yisrael lacking expertise only in regard to the law of lishmah and not in regard to the other requirements for a kosher get, such as writing it on a surface detached from the earth, making sure to write the correct names of husband and wife and avoiding writing the get during the day and signing it at night.

Rabbeinu Tam, one of the leading Tosefists, departs from the approach of his maternal grandfather, Rashi, and explains that there is no reason to assume that the people outside Eretz Yisrael are not expert in all the laws of get. The problem with lishmah is that this requirement is not explicit in the Torah and is deduced from the phrase "He shall write for her" which indicates that it must be written specifically for the purpose of divorcing a particular woman. This caused many people outside Eretz Yisrael to disregard this requirement and necessitated an investigation by the court to determine that the scribe did write it lishmah. Tosefot also disagrees with Rashi's approach that subsequent to the agent's declaration that the get was written in his presence the court asks him whether it was written lishmah. Since we find no mention in the gemara of such a question being put to the agent Tosefot concludes that when the agent testifies that it was written in his presence it is implicit in his words that it was written properly, i.e. lishmah (as Rashi himself suggests on the very next daf).

The gemara (5a) points out that at a later stage, even the people outside Eretz Yisrael "learned" the requirement of lishmah. According to Tosefot this means that they eventually accepted the requirement based on the interpretation of "He shall write for her" which they had previously been reluctant to accept.

  • Gittin 2b

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