Friday, August 14, 2009

Re'ay, Devarim 14:8, and Pirkei Avos 5:7-8. Expensive Esrogim and Swine Flu

I was just speaking to my middle son in Israel, and he told me that he is fine now, but last week his doctor told him that he and his family had Swine Flu. Baruch Hashem he is over it now.

Just after I found out about this, I was talking to a Rosh Yeshiva that is staying at my house. I don't want to mention his name, but he is one of the most respected Roshei Yeshiva in the world, and a very deliberate and experienced person as well.

He told me that I should look at the Mishna in this week's perek of Pirkei Avos, which says:

ה,ז [ח] שבעה מיני פורענייות, באין על שבעה גופי עבירות: מקצתן מעשרין, ומקצתן שאינן מעשרין--רעב של בצורת בא, מקצתן רעבים ומקצתן שבעים. גמרו שלא לעשר, רעב של מהומה ושל בצורת בא. שלא ליטול חלה, רעב של כליה בא. דבר בא לעולם על מיתות האמורות בתורה שלא נמסרו לבית דין, ועל פירות שביעית. חרב באה לעולם על עינוי הדין, ועל עיוות הדין, ועל המורים בתורה שלא כהלכה. [ט] חיה רעה באה לעולם על שבועת שוא, ועל חילול השם. גלות באה לעולם על עבודה זרה, ועל גילוי עריות, ועל שפיכות דמים, ועל שמיטת הארץ.

ה,ח בארבעה פרקים הדבר מרובה--ברביעית, ובשביעית, ובמוצאי שביעית, ובמוצאי החג שבכל שנה: ברביעית, מפני מעשר עני שבשלישית; בשביעית, מפני מעשר עני שבשישית; במוצאי שביעית, מפני פירות שביעית; במוצאי החג שבכל שנה ושנה, מפני גזל מתנות עניים.

The essence of these mishnayos is that if Klal Yisrael doesn't heed and respect the special rules pertaining to the fruits of the year of Shevi'is, it can result in the divine punishment of Dever. Dever is disease.

Last year was Shevi'is. One of the rules of Shevi'is is that the fruits cannot be marketed in the normal manner. This is the rule of "sechorah be'peiros Shevi'is." There are many ways around this rule, the most famous being the mechanism of Otzar Beis Din. From Rabbi Aron Tendler, writing on the Star K site:
Otzer Bais Din - literally the "Storehouse of Bais Din". This concept works as follows: although the Torah forbids marketing the fruits of the Sabbatical year, sheviis3, it is clearly permitted to eat them. Not only may the owner pick for his own needs, he may also pick fruit for a friend who needs, as long as he does not market the fruit as he normally does. Can I hire someone to go into my friend’s field and pick fruit for me? Certainly! This doesn't violate the laws of shmitta at all, since I'm not buying the fruit; rather I am paying someone for the labor on my behalf. Taken one step further, I can even hire the farmer himself to harvest the fruits for me, and pay him a flat hourly fee for his labor, as long as it is clear that the money paid is for his labor on my behalf, and not a purchase of the fruits, which I am taking for free.

Enter the Otzer Bais Din, as prescribed in a Tosephta. Based on the above principle, the Bais Din approaches a fruit growing farmer and hires him to harvest his own fruit for the public, in exchange for a flat wage. This agreement stipulates that the farmer will transport the fruit to a storehouse rented by the Bais Din, who will distribute the fruit to the public. The Bais Din is then permitted to pass on to the consumer the expense in making these fruits accessible to the public. Consequently, when the consumer picks up this fruit from a Bais Din distribution point, or from an authorized grocer , he isn't paying for the fruit as a consumer; rather, he is simply reimbursing the Bais Din for making the ownerless fruits of shmitta accessible to him. Our farmer has thus been transformed with this arrangement from a purveyor of fruits, forbidden by the Torah during shmitta, to a common laborer earning a wage for his labor, which is permitted during shmitta. (end quote)

Now, when one relies on Otzar Beis din, the price must reflect the unique character of the sale. In past years, Otzar Beis Din esrogim were sold unseen, in a sealed box that didn't let people choose quality and therefore we paid only for labor, which is the same for a good and for a bad esrog. Also, they are supposed to be far, far less expensive.

None of this was done last year. You picked your esrog, and the price was higher than it has ever been in the past. It could be argued that this was an affront and showed disrespect for the entire concept-- a barely if at all legal maneuver that resulted in a a total contradiction of the idea of sheviis. While a wonderful campaign was waged to support the holy farmers who adhered to the letter and spirit of the law of Shmita, the Esrog market was blithely relying on a tissue of hetterim that even if (I don't believe it, though) legal, was completely inappropriate and shameful.

There were individuals in the Esrog business who did adhere to the law of shmitta, and it was very difficult for them. And I certainly understand that not everyone can look at a big pot of money ready for the taking, money that can buy tranquility and respect and a chasan and apartments and so on, and say "No." Won't power is even more rare than will power. People who are adrift at sea have been driven by the torture of thirst to drink the salt water that surrounds them. It's a pity, but that doesn't change the consequences a ki hu zeh.

So; what does this have to do with Swine Flu? If the connection escapes you, the name is conveniently indicative of the metaphysical source of the problem, both Chazer and Chazer Fissel. The expression Chazer Fissel derives from the porcine habit of lying down with feet forward and head downward. This is said to symbolize the fact that a pig has one mark of kashrus,the cloven hooves, but does not chew its cud; it proudly presents its feet, its mark of kashrus, while hiding its mouth, the sign of its true treif nature. In other words, Chazer Fissel means "It may be wearing a shtreimel but it's still just a chazer." In English that would be "Pious pretensions to the contrary, it's still just a pig."

יד,ח וְאֶת הַחֲזִיר כִּי מַפְרִיס פַּרְסָה הוּא וְלֹא גֵרָה טָמֵא הוּא לָכֶם

If you would quibble that Dever is not the flu, you might be right. So it's a dever acher.


  1. That was worth the wait.

  2. Parshas Re'eh: Vilna Gaon - Give Tzedaka and Watch Your Step
    "Paso'ach Tiftach Es Yadecha Lo", open up your hand to the poor (Re'eh 15:8).
    The Gemara in Bava Basra (10a) tells the story how Rav Papa was walking up the stairs and his foot slipped and he was about to fall. Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti said to him, "Maybe a poor person came to you and you did not support him." What is the connection between an accident on the steps and not giving tzedaka? The Vilna Gaon in Kol Eliyahu explains using the "Trop". That is the notes used when reading in the Torah. If you look at the words Paso'ach Tiftach in the Chumash you will find something of great intrigue. The Trop on these words are "Darga" and "Tevir" which in Aramaic means "Steps" and "Break". Now we understand why after seeing Rav Papa's accident on the stairs, Rav Chiya Bar Rav MiDifti's first thought was it had to be a tzedaka issue, as he had just experienced seeing someone on steps that were breaking.
    This explanation of "Darga" and "Tevir" can explain another interesting Gemara in Shabbos. Dovid asks Hashem "when will I die"? Hashem replies "I can not tell you" .He goes on and asks at least tell me on what day of the week? Hashem answers him" it will be on Shabbos". Dovid with the information in hand has a plan to extend his life. Being that I must die on Shabbos I will learn all of that day and render myself untouchable to the angel of death. Being that the power of Torah will protect me. When the day of his death came the angel of death had his own counter plan. He made the trees outside rustle to such an extent that Dovid was forced to see what was happening. Dovid went up on a ladder the rung broke and as a result he died. Here again we have the theme of falling from the ladder .The question is what is the connection?
    The Gemara in Brachos gives Dovid's daily schedule and says everyday:
    כיון שעלה עמוד השחר נכנסו חכמי ישראל אצלו אמרו לו אדונינו המלך עמך ישראל צריכין פרנסה
    That is every day the wise men would come and tell Dovid the Jews need money he would say "let them do buisness with one another, and so they will earn their money" they further told him your system is not working so he said in that case capture the thieves and that will solve the problem.
    Reb Yonasan Eibshitz says this was a daily occurrence, he gave that answer on a daily basis and apparently it was not helping, Dovid was missing the point. The Jews needed Dovid to do or say something more practical .He brings down a Yalkut Shimoni based on a Posuk in Divrie Hayomim. There Dovid lists exorbitant amounts of money he had saved up to build the Beis Hamikdash. It further says when there was a three year famine in the land he refused to give up any of the money, as he was saving it for the Beis Hamikdash. The Yalkut brings down that this angered Hashem. Dovid had his priorities wrong because Hashem had said tzedakah is greater than the building of the Beis Hamikdash. Therefore he was punished by not being allowed to build the Beis Hamikdash. To add insult to injury the money was never used for the building of the Beis Hamikdash. As we know from Melachim that only after the completion of the Beis Hamikdash did Shlomo take out the money and put it away in the treasuries. That is because he was instructed by the Nevim of his day that this money was not to be used to build the Beis Hamikdash (Pesikta Rabbosi). Now we know why Dovid died with a fall from the ladder as he forgot the poor. Therefore he got the "Darga Tevir breaking step as his final death blow.