Talmud Tips

For the week ending 6 February 2021 / 24 Shvat 5781

Yitro: Pesachim 79 - 85

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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Love Overcomes Fear

“And do not be amazed by this, since a mitzvah aseh (to do a specified act) overrides a mitzvah lo ta’aseh (not to do a specified act)…”

This is part of a beraita on our daf that explains why the prohibition in the Torah against breaking a bone of the korban Pesach applies even to a bone with meat inside it — despite the mitzvah to eat the meat of the korban Pesach and the well-established principle that “aseh docheh lo ta’aseh.”

Four verses are cited in the beraita: a mitzvah aseh to eat the meat of the korban Pesach on the first night of Pesach (Shemot 12:8), a mitzvah lo ta’aseh to not break a bone of the korban Pesach when brought in Nissan (Shemot 12:46), a mitzvah lo ta’aseh to not break a bone of the korban Pesach Sheini that is brought in Iyar when the Torah requires it (Bamidbar 9:12), and a verse teaching that all the laws of the first korban Pesach apply to the second one (Bamidbar 9:12).

The beraita states we might have thought that it would be permitted to break a bone of the korban Pesach to eat the meat inside, due to principle of aseh docheh lo ta’aseh. The conclusion, however, is that this is not so. Why not? The beraita explains that a seemingly redundant prohibition to not break a bone is written regarding Pesach Sheini. It isseemingly redundant since the Torah already taught this prohibition for the ‘first’ korban Pesach and also equated the laws of both Pesach offerings. The beraita concludes that this seeming redundancy is actually meant to teach that the Torah prohibits breaking a bone of the korban Pesach even to ostensibly fulfill the mitzvah to eat the meat within.

Torah commentaries ask: Why would we ever have thought that the principle of aseh docheh lo ta’aseh should apply in the case of breaking a bone to eat the meat inside the bone? We know that there are exceptions and limitations to this principle. For example, an aseh does not override both an aseh and a lo ta’aseh, such as on Yom Tov. Another example: an aseh is not docheh a lo ta’aseh that carries the severe punishment of karet, as taught in Yevamot 3a.

Another exception seems to be one that should apply in our case — the act of fulfilling the aseh and the act of transgression of the lo ta’aseh must be simultaneous. In other words, when one does the act of the mitzvah aseh, he is — at the same time — doing an act that the Torah normally forbids. This act cannot help fulfill the mitzvah aseh after the mitzvah lo ta’aseh has been violated. And that is what seems to be happening when breaking the bone and eating the meat. The mitzvah lo ta’aseh of breaking the bone occurs first, and only afterwards is the person able to take out the meat in order to fulfill the mitzvah aseh to eat the meat of the korban Pesach. So, why would we think that breaking the bone should be permitted?

One answer offered is that if the mitzvah aseh would not be possible to fulfill without transgressing the mitzvah lo ta’aseh, the mitzvah aseh overrides the mitzvah lo ta’aseh even if the mitzvah aseh is fulfilled only after the time of the mitzvah lo ta’aseh. Therefore, although not happening at the same time, the act of breaking a bone would be permitted in order to make possible the fulfillment of the mitzvah to eat the meat, including the meat inside the bone. Otherwise, the mitzvah could not be fulfilled correctly. (Piskei Tosefot)

A second reason is based on defining what constitutes the time of the mitzvah. When a person begins to do the act of a mitzvah, even though it is not complete, the beginning step is also considered as part of the mitzvah. Therefore, the mitzvah of eating the meat in the bone begins with breaking the bone in order to get to the meat inside. This satisfies the requirement for the act of mitzvah aseh to occur at the same time as the mitzvah lo ta’aseh is apparently transgressed. (Rabbeinu Nissim and Nimukei Yosef)

Aside from the legalistic derivation of aseh docheh lo ta’aseh found in Shas, a fascinating rationale for the principle of aseh docheh lo ta’aseh is found in the writings of the Ramban in his Commentary on the Chumash. He explains that a mitzvah aseh — an act of doing something that Hashem commands — stems from the mitzvah to love Hashem, whereas a mitzvahlo ta’aseh — refraining from an act that Hashem said not to do — stems from the mitzvah to fear Hashem. Since loving Hashem is relatively more important than fearing Him, there is a logical argument for a mitzvah aseh to override and supersede a mitzvah lo ta’aseh. (Of course, both the fulfillment of a mitzvah aseh and the non-transgression a mitzvah lo ta’aseh show both a great love for Hashem and a great fear and awe of Hashem.)

  • Pesachim 85a

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