Talmud Tips

For the week ending 20 June 2020 / 28 Sivan 5780

Shabbat 100-106

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Mitzvah or Aveirah?

The Yeshiva Sages asked a question on the mishna from a teaching in a beraita that says, “One who rends his clothing for his recently departed relative on Shabbat is chayav (obligated to bring a sin offering if done forgetfully) — and he fulfills his mitzvah of kriah (the mitzvah to rend one’s garment for a close relative’s passing from this world.)”

The gemara states that this beraita appears to directly contradict our mishna which states, “One who rends his clothing for his recently departed relative on Shabbat is patur (is exempt from bringing a sin-offering if done forgetfully), and for all destructive acts done on Shabbat one is patur.”The apparent contradiction: If a person tears his garment in mourning his relative, the mishna says he is not obligated to bring a sacrifice, but the beraita says that he is obligated!

The gemara answers that although both the mishna and the beraita state that he is tearing his garment for his relative, the mishna is talking about a distant relative (such as a cousin), while the beraita is teaching about a close relative (i.e. his mother, father, brother, sister, son, daughter or wife). Since he has no obligation to do kriah for a distant relative, his tearing the garment is a destructive act — an act not forbidden by the Torah and therefore he is exempt from bringing a korban. However, a person has an obligation to do kriah for a close relative, and therefore it is considered a constructive act and chillul Shabbat, for which he would be obligated to bring a korban. (Commentaries explain that kriah is an act that provides a constructive psychological release and comfort by the mourner venting his anguish in a controlled and religious manner.)

A question that seems to be especially troubling, although it does not appear in our sugya of a mourner tearing his clothing on Shabbat, is a principle known as “mitzvah ha’baah b’aveira” — literally, “a mitzvah that comes with a transgression.” Elsewhere in Shas we learn that a mitzvah ha’baah b’aveira is unacceptable and is not a mitzvah. (Succah 30a) The case taught in the beraita is one of a person rending his garment on Shabbat for a close relative, for which he is not only obligated a korban, but is also considered as having fulfilled his mitzvah of kriah. He fulfills this mitzvah by his act of tearing his garment, even on Shabbat, although this is considered a desecration of Shabbat and should seemingly fall into the problematic category of “mitzvah ha’baah b’aveira.” How can his tearing be considered a mitzvah if it is also an act of chillul Shabbat?

This question is posed and discussed in the Talmud Yerushalmi and is also widely addressed by the great Rishonim and Achronim throughout the ages. The key to each approach is to carefully define the phrase mitzvah ha’baah b’aveira. One approach is to carefully look at the relationship between the mitzvah and the aveira. Does the aveira have a direct affect on the performance of the mitzvah? If so, the “mitzvah” is not a mitzvah. It is an example of a mitzvah ha’baah b’aveira. For example, a stolen lulav cannot be used for the mitzvah of arbah minim on Succot since the lulav is affected by the transgression by retaining an “aveira-status” since the thief should be returning it instead of holding it in his hand to try to fulfill a mitzvah. In our case, however, the garment is just a garment with which a person is transgressing by tearing it on Shabbat. This transgression in no way relates to the mitzvah of kriah he wishes to fulfill by tearing it. The aspect of it being torn on Shabbat is a side issue (albeit quite serious), so to speak, since the mitzvah is for the mourner to tear his garment, an act which could be done not on Shabbat just as well.

  • Shabbat 105b

Anger Danger

Rabbi Shimon ben Elazar said in the name of the Sage Chilfa bar Agra who said in the name of Rabbi Yochanan ben Nuri: “A person who tears his clothing in anger, who smashes his vessels in anger and who wastes his money in anger, should be considered to you as if he is an idol worshipper. Why? Because this is the strategy of a person’s yetzer hara (evil inclination): Today it urges him to do something wrong; tomorrow it urges him to do something else that is wrong (i.e. worse); and so on — until it finally tells him to worship idols and he indeed goes and worships idols.”

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