Acharei Mot – Kedoshim
Iyar 13th 5772
The Duty to Mourn the Passing of a Tzaddik
by Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita
At the beginning of this week’s parsha it is written, “Hashem spoke to Moshe after the death of Aaron’s two sons…. ‘Speak to Aaron your brother, that he shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary…. With this shall Aaron come into the Sanctuary: With a young bull for a sin-offering and a ram for a burnt-offering…. From the assembly of the Children of Israel he shall take two he-goats for a sin-offering and one ram for a burnt-offering’ ” (Vayikra 16:1-5).
We need to understand this passage. Why does the Torah mention the death of Aaron’s sons, given that this was already explicitly detailed in Parsha Shemini? As it is stated there, “They brought before Hashem an alien fire that He had not commanded them…and they died” (ibid. 10:1-2). It was then that the Torah should have immediately commanded, “He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary.”
In addition to the he-goat for Hashem, why did the Children of Israel need to bring another he-goat for Azazel, one meant to procure atonement for them? Would their repentance alone not have been sufficient to procure atonement for their sins? Was a second he-goat really necessary?
Even if the second he-goat is said to appease the Satan’s anger and prevent the Jewish people from being accused on Yom Kippur, we know that the Satan is not allowed to accuse on this day (Zohar III:255a). Thus again, one he-goat should have been enough. Furthermore, why did two he-goats have to be brought instead of, say, two sheep?
The death of Aaron’s two sons is again mentioned here in order to demonstrate just how important the death of the tzaddikim is in the eyes in the Holy One, blessed be He. The Sages have said, “The death of a tzaddik is put on a level with the burning of the House of our G-d” (Rosh Hashanah 18b), which is why it is always recalled before the Holy One, blessed be He. This is especially true when they die as an offering and atonement for the Jewish people, for the latter must learn a lesson from them for all time. Actually, Nadav and Avihu were not trying to rebel against Hashem by bringing this alien fire, for the Torah itself states: “Your brothers, the entire House of Israel, shall weep for the burning that Hashem has kindled” (Vayikra 10:6). Their intentions were certainly holy, and when they brought an alien fire before Hashem, it was with the goal of sanctifying His Name.
This is why the Torah again states, “After the death of Aaron’s two sons,” for it teaches us that Nadav and Avihu brought an offering in order to come closer to their Father in Heaven, as well as to draw the Children of Israel closer to Him. This idea is what motivated them to present an alien fire before Hashem. This alludes to the fact that when the Children of Israel would sin before Hashem (thus preventing the Shechinah from dwelling among them), they would be redeemed by the death of the tzaddikim. Hashem would then forgive them and make the Shechinah dwell among them. This is why we also read the account of the death of Aaron’s sons on Yom Kippur. It teaches us that not only is the death of the tzaddikim an atonement, but that recalling their death serves as an atonement for all the generations. In fact we cannot rely solely on repentance, for who can guarantee that our repentance is truly from the bottom of our hearts? Thus in addition to the holiness of this day, we must ensure that people hear about the death of the tzaddikim and weep for them, for in this way they will be forgiven. Whoever laments the death of the tzaddikim, the Holy One, blessed be He, proclaims: “Your iniquity has gone away and your sin shall be atoned for” (Isaiah 6:7).
According to this, we can also understand why the Children of Israel had to bring a he-goat (as opposed to another animal) for their atonement. In fact the he-goat for Hashem was meant to appease Him. It was meant for Hashem to recall the death of the tzaddikim, and thus by their merit to forgive the evildoers among the Jewish people for their sins. It was also meant for Him to forgive those who are not considered tzaddikim. In fact we know that “there is no man so wholly righteous on earth that he always does good and never sins” (Kohelet 7:20). Who knows whether a person is considered to be evil in the eyes of Hashem, though he may be considered, both by himself and others, as a tzaddik?
This is due to the fact that, as the Sages tell us, “The Holy One, blessed be He, deals strictly with those who are close to Him kechut hasa’ara [like a thread of a hair]” (Yebamot 121b). Hence a sa’ir (he-goat) comes to atone for sins that are considered as such by a judgment that is kechut hasa’ara. We now understand why he-goats were needed, not sheep or other kinds of animals.
If we ask why Hashem in His wisdom agreed that the death of the tzaddikim should atone for the Children of Israel, we must say that eventually a tzaddik leaves this world at the appointed time, as it is written: “The end of man is to die” (Berachot 17a). Thus for the death of a tzaddik to not have been in vain, Divine wisdom decreed that it should atone for the Children of Israel. Now when Jews repent through love, their involuntary sins become merits. Since it is the death of the tzaddik that brings about their repentance, the tzaddik becomes connected with the merit that accrues to the Jewish people. Not only that, but merit is added to the tzaddik for all the generations. In fact each year we recall the death of the tzaddikim and the atonement it brings about, and thus their reward is doubled. Consequently, the Holy One, blessed be He, in no way diminishes their reward.
The Sages refer to this by saying, “The righteous are greater after death than in life” (Chullin 7b). This means that by their death, the tzaddikim merit the atonement of the entire Jewish people. The result is that everyone repents and their deliberate sins are turned into merits. The tzaddikim therefore have a part in this reward, and they continue to elevate themselves in the World to Come. This is the opposite of what happens with angels, which Scripture describes as “standing,” as it is written: “I will grant you free access among these who stand here” (Zechariah 3:7). From this we learn that when a tzaddik leaves this world, everyone should weep for him, for the Holy One, blessed be He, considers his death as tantamount to the burning of the Temple. If we weep over the destruction of the Temple each year on Tisha B’Av, we should also weep over the death of the tzaddikim. It is only when we conduct ourselves in this way that the tzaddikim will be able to intercede for us in the world above.
Guard Your Tongue
The Difficulty and Reward of Remaining Silent
When someone finds himself among people who are gossiping about others and slandering them, he is forbidden to participate in their conversation and speak Lashon Harah. This applies even if he cannot leave their presence, and even if he feels extremely uncomfortable to be the only person not speaking. True, this is not an easy thing to do, for nobody wants to seem foolish or boring in the presence of others. However we must remember what one of our Sages said, namely that it is better to be considered a fool for your entire life by man, than to be considered wicked for even a single instant by G-d (Eduyot 5:6). Nevertheless we may be comforted by the thought of our reward, for as the Sages have said: “Commensurate with the effort is the reward” (Pirkei Avoth 5:21). Insofar as situations that require silence are concerned, it is also said that for every second a person remains silent, he will merit a hidden light that no angel or created being can comprehend.
Concerning the Parsha
Visiting His Temple
It is written, “He shall not come at all times into the Sanctuary, within the curtain” (Vayikra 16:2).
Rashi comments, “For I continuously appear there with My pillar of cloud, and therefore since My Shechinah is revealed there, he must be careful not to accustom himself to enter.”
This mitzvah warns the priests against becoming accustomed to coming into the Sanctuary at any given time. This is explained by the fact that the Creator perfectly understands how His created beings function, and is fully aware of their behavior and character traits. When a person hears something unusual or witnesses a sight that stands out in terms of beauty and content, he will initially be amazed and impressed. At first he will show great interest in the matter, but over the course of time, as he sees it again and again, his passion and enthusiasm for it will lessen until he is no longer amazed. Thus a Jew who is filled with a spiritual yearning to cleave to Hashem, when he witnesses the miracles and wonders of the Temple three times a year – taking in this incredible sight as he listens to the singing of the Levites and sees all the open miracles happening around him – he will be completely filled with faith and a fear of Heaven. This will sustain him until his next visit, when he will return to worship in the Temple. Nevertheless, if such a Jew were to constantly be there, he would grow accustomed to the Temple and eventually not be impressed anymore, for at that point things will no longer seem new to him.
King David said, “One thing have I asked of Hashem, that will I seek after: That I may dwell in the house of Hashem all the days of my life, to behold the pleasantness of Hashem and to visit His Temple every morning” (Tehillim 27:4). This request seems to contain an inconsistency, for at first King David asks to dwell in Hashem’s house all the days of his life, meaning that he wants to live there continuously. However he then asks “to visit His Temple,” which can only mean a temporary stay. In fact King David wanted to stay in Hashem’s Temple continuously, but he was afraid that constantly being there would cause him to lose his spiritual enthusiasm, and his reverential fear of Hashem would slowly diminish. This is why he composed a special prayer, in order that a prolonged exposure to holiness would be no different than a simple visit, in which case things would always seem new in a person’s eyes.
It is written, “When the populace comes before Hashem on the appointed days, whoever comes in by way of the north gate to prostrate himself shall go out by way of the south gate…. He shall not return by way of the gate through which he came in. Rather, he shall go out opposite it” (Ezekiel 46:9). In his commentary on Pirkei Avoth 1:4, the Ya’avetz explains that a person must not see the same gate twice, lest he compare it to the entrance of his own home. This is due to the danger of habit, which dampens a person’s enthusiasm and efforts to serve Hashem.
A Pearl from the Rav
In his book Pahad David, Rabbi David Hanania Pinto Shlita writes: The death of Aaron’s two sons was due to the fact that they brought an alien fire. Even though they did everything through lovingkindness, they were still punished by death because they approached too closely. Yet by their death they left the Jewish people with the power to atone for sin in every generation, which is why we read the account of their death on Yom Kippur. The Zohar states, “To instill devotion in the soul of every Jew.” “For on this day ichaper [he shall make atonement] for you” (Vayikra 16:30), the term ichaper being formed by the letter yud and the word kaper – atonement on the tenth (yud) day of Tishri. The word kaper also has a numerical value of 300 – twice the number of chapters (150) in the book of Psalms – to atone for the sins of the Jewish people and lead them to repentance. Justice is then transformed into mercy in order to redeem the Jewish people.
Starting with the More Serious and Ending with the Less Serious
It is written, “He shall make atonement for the holy place because of the impurities of the Children of Israel, and because of their transgressions with all their sins” (Vayikra 16:16).
It is surprising to note that we start with the serious transgressions and finish with the lighter, unintentional sins. We need to understand that the evil inclination starts off by inciting a person to commit the smallest, least significant sins. Once it has succeeded in doing that, it tries to make him sin once again, but this time with more serious transgressions. Thus Scripture states: “He shall make atonement for the holy place because of the impurities of the Children of Israel” – everything that was rendered completely impure on account of the evil inclination; “and because of their transgressions” – the sins that they deliberately committed in rebellion. The reason for all this lies “with all their sins,” meaning with the less serious transgressions. In other words, it was only because they began listening to the evil inclination and started committing lighter transgressions that they ended up committing grave sins and eventually become completely impure.
– Drawn from the Shulchan Gavoha (citing the Aruch HaShulchan)
As a Mother Cares for Her Baby
It is written, “So shall he do for the Tent of Meeting, which dwells with them in the midst of their impurity” (Vayikra 16:16).
The Zohar recounts that when Divine mercy is awakened and descends into this world, the Shechinah takes the form of a woman, a mother. Why does this happen? Both a father and mother love their child, and both embrace it in their arms. Nevertheless, when a baby dirties itself, the father no longer knows what to do, having lost the patience to deal with it. Thus the mother takes the baby and cares for it, cleaning and changing its diapers. Even when her baby has to be cleaned, she does not stay away, nor does she refrain from embracing it. We find a similar situation in the verse, “Which dwells with them in the midst of their impurity,” for Rashi explains this to mean: “Although they are impure, the Shechinah is among them.” Even when the Jewish people sully themselves with their sins, the Shechinah stays with them, taking on the form of a woman, a mother, and cleansing her children of their sins and making them pure.
The Accuser is Gone
It is written, “For on this day he shall make atonement for you” (Vayikra 16:30).
Rabbi Shmelke of Nicholsburg gave the following explanation for this verse: The son of a king rebelled against his father, and one of the royal officials constantly accused him before the king. One day, this accuser left the royal city, at which point the king’s son came running to see his father. As he wept, he told his father how he regretted his mistakes and wanted to return to him. The king immediately took pity on him. Likewise, on Yom Kippur the Satan has no right to accuse, and whoever wants to return to the King may do so.
– Drawn from Ma’ayanot HaNetzach
Even On Shabbat
It is written, “It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves; an eternal decree” (Vayikra 16:31).
This needs to be clarified. Since verse 29 states, “This shall remain for you an eternal decree: In the seventh month, on the tenth of the month, you shall afflict yourselves,” why are we now told, “you shall afflict yourselves”? The answer is alluded to in the Gemara: “Should Tisha B’Av fall on Shabbat…one may eat and drink as much as he needs, and he may load his table with as much choice food as Solomon did in his time” (Taanith 29b). This is why the commandment to afflict ourselves appears twice, for without it we might think that if Yom Kippur falls on Shabbat, the fast should be cancelled just as fasting on Tisha B’Av is cancelled on Shabbat. Hence the second time we are told, “It is a Sabbath of complete rest for you, and you shall afflict yourselves,” meaning that we must fast even on Shabbat, for it does not supersede Yom Kippur.
– Otzar Chaim
Who Needs to Eat?
It is written, “You shall afflict yourselves” (Vayikra 16:31).
Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Ohev Israel of Apt, used to say: “If I had the authority, I would annul every fast because the Jewish people are weak. However I would keep the fast of Tisha B’Av, when nobody has the heart to eat, and the fast of Yom Kippur, when nobody needs to eat!”
– Drawn from Ma’ayanot HaNetzach
I Am Hashem
It is written, “You shall observe My decrees and My laws, which a man shall carry out and by which he shall live – I am Hashem” (Vayikra 18:5).
Rashi comments, “ ‘I am Hashem’ – faithful to pay a reward.”
A famous question asks: Why does the Torah only describe our reward in this world for performing mitzvot, while our reward in the World to Come is nowhere mentioned?
“To what can this be compared?” asks the author of Ma’alot HaTorah. “It is like a king who commands one of his subjects to undertake a certain task, and then he adds: ‘Be careful to do what I ask, for I am the king.’ These words already hint to the fact that if he carries out the king’s command, he will be well-rewarded, as is fitting for a king to do. Similarly, since the Torah often mentions the performance of mitzvot, the expression ‘I am Hashem’ means: I am Hashem, Who will faithfully reward you. Even our eternal reward in the World to Come is included in this expression, for the Holy One, blessed be He, is eternal.”
– Drawn from Shulchan Gavoha
What Distinguishes a Brother from a Stranger?
It is written, “You shall not hate your brother in your heart. … You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:17,18).
Rabbi Tzvi of Lomza was asked, “Why does the Torah say ‘you shall love’ a Jewish stranger, whereas it is content on simply saying, ‘you shall not hate’ a brother?”
Rabbi Tzvi replied, “It is because love does not simply mean ‘not hate,’ in the negative sense, but to truly love. It is just as the concept of humility, for example, does not simply mean ‘do not grow proud,’ but to truly be humble. Hence when it comes to your brother, the son of your own parents, it is enough to not hate him, for love will naturally reign between you in any case. As for a stranger, it is possible to not hate him and not love him either, which is why the Torah tells us, ‘you shall love your fellow.’ ”
Loving G-d and Loving Others
It is written, “You shall love Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 6:5) and, “You shall love your fellow as yourself” (Vayikra 19:18).
It is fitting, says the holy Shelah, for both kinds of love to be equal. Just as loving G-d should be “with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your might,” likewise a love for others should possess these three characteristics: “With all your heart” – do not hate anyone in your heart; “with all your soul” - even if your brother is not perfect, you must support and love him, for G-d created him in this way; and “with all your might” – this pertains to hatred due to financial reasons, or due to the fact that every craftsman hates others who practice the same craft, feelings that can prevent a person from loving others.
The story is told of two prominent Jews, flour merchants who were competitors with one another, who possessed such love for one another that they gave each other business advice based on their own experience in making money. Every friendly conversation they had constituted a great preparation for prayer, for it elevated their souls.
– Drawn from Ma’ayanot HaNetzach
The Glory of the Face is its Beard
It is written, “You shall not round the corner of your head, nor shall you destroy the corner of your beard” (Vayikra 19:27).
The goal of the mitzvah to not cut the corners of the hair and the beard, says Rabbi Avraham ibn Ezra, is to set us apart from non-Jews. Since the hair of the head and beard were created for glory, it is not fitting to cut them.
In his commentary on the Torah, Rabbi Ovadia Sforno states that since the ways of G-d and His glory are to not profane the body of His people, whom He sanctified to serve Him, G-d commanded: “You shall not round.” Likewise He commanded us not to profane ourselves by cutting the extremities of the hair, as is the way of fools and drunks. Nor should we shave the beard, as the Sages have said: “The glory of the face is its beard” [Shabbat 152a], nor gash ourselves for the dead, for man’s life is greatly respected and we mourn his passing. Likewise for tattoos, we are prohibited from putting any sign in our flesh other than that of circumcision. Rabbeinu Bechaye ben Asher provides another reason for the prohibition against cutting the beard: It is in order not to destroy the sign placed by Hashem in males, which sets them apart from females, because one who does so is acting against Hashem, just as one who sows different kinds of plants. Regarding everything that the Holy One, blessed be He, made in Creation, it is written: “after its kind.” Yet doing this would mix the different kinds.
To Separate You
It is written, “I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine” (Vayikra 20:26).
A chassid of Rabbi Mordechai Malkowitz came to see him in order to complain about his difficult lot in life. What had happened? His non-Jewish landlord, who had loved him so much before, recently had a change in attitude and now detested and scorned him. The Rabbi shook his head and said, “It’s an explicit verse: ‘I have separated you from the peoples to be Mine,’ meaning that something should separate a Jew from a non-Jew. In the past, when you hated this non-Jew with all your heart, he was allowed to greatly love you. Yet now that your heart has secretly allowed itself to be persuaded to love him, he is obligated to hate you. It is simply a protection that the Holy One, blessed be He, has given to Jews in order to protect them, to prevent them from mixing among the peoples.”
– Otzar Chaim
Reasons for the Mitzvot
Only to Prevent Him From Feeling Lonely
It is written, “He shall send it away by the hand of an appointed man into the desert” (Vayikra 16:21).
In this week’s parsha we read that the High Priest must perform the highest religious service on Yom Kippur. This service is described by the words, “Fortunate is the eye that saw all of this. Indeed, to hear about it makes our souls grieve” (Avodah, Musaf Prayer of Yom Kippur). May the Holy One, blessed be He, quickly show us the rebuilt Temple and sacred service. Here at the highest point in the service, the High Priest sent the he-goat away to Azazel by means of a man who had been designated for this task on the day before. The Mishnah teaches: “Some of the nobility of Jerusalem used to go with him up to the first booth…. They went with him from booth to booth, except the last one, for he [the last person accompanying him] would not go with him up to the peak” (Yoma 66b-67a). We need to understand that Yom Kippur is a day of fasting, prayer, and repentance, a day when people had the opportunity to gaze upon the Divine service occurring in the Temple. People saw the great and holy house where the Shechinah dwelled, and they could witness the actions of the High Priest, who was like an angel. They could gaze upon the miracles that were occurring all around them, and they could see a crimson thread turning white. Although the people stood in the azarah (courtyard), they did not grow tired from being on their feet for so long. In fact they could not feel the crowds and the press of the people around them. A miracle occurred when the people prostrated themselves, for there was suddenly a distance of two yards surrounding each one. This space separated each person from the next so that no one could hear another individual’s confessions in prayer.
The High Priest could also be seen leaving the Holy of Holies in peace. Nevertheless, certain individuals would forgo this great spiritual wealth in order to accompany the man designated to bring the he-goat to Azazel, making the journey easier for him so that he would not feel lonely. It was not without reason that these individuals are described as “the nobility of Jerusalem,” for great and cherished are those who are prepared to sacrifice their own spiritual elevation for an act of kindness, accompanying a sole individual in order to comfort him and ease his feelings. Commenting on the verse, “Asser te’asser [You will surely tithe] all the produce of your field” (Devarim 14:22), our Sages in the Gemara said: “Asser k’day she’titasher [Tithe that you may become rich]” (Taanith 9a). Rabbi Shimon Shkop, the author of Shaarei Yosher, said that this principle not only applies to financial wealth, but to intellectual wealth as well. Anyone who has been given special intellectual abilities, enabling him to acquire a deep and thorough understanding of Torah, is but a custodian of such abilities. He must therefore use them for the good of the community. Hence if he devotes his time to helping others in Torah study and by giving them advice, he will be able to elevate himself in Torah even more. For example, let us suppose that this person needs a great deal of time to prepare a comprehensive Torah lecture or present a clear sugia. As a reward for having devoted his time to the community, he will find that discovering new Torah insights will be easier for him, and his lectures will soon shine.
By Her Merit
The family of the Chazon Ish’s wife consisted of simple folk, people who did not understand his way of life. In fact they held a grudge against him, for they could not understand why a young woman such as his wife should forgo all the pleasures of life and devote herself exclusively to earning a living for her “lazy” husband, a man who spent all his time in the Beit HaMidrash. Simply put, they failed to appreciate the rightful value of their wonderful son-in-law. The Chazon Ish’s wife paid little attention to what they said, and she continued to watch over her husband as the apple of her eye. In fact she considered the task of enabling him to study in peace as being her life’s goal. A great Sage of Israel once said, “Hillel the elder divided the money he earned. He gave half of it to the custodian of the Beit HaMidrash to let him study there, and the other half he gave to his wife for their home expenses. Although this was extraordinary on Hillel’s part, today we might still be able to find a man who does the same. However where can we find a Rebbetzin today like Hillel’s wife?”
Rebbetzin Batya, the wife of the Chazon Ish’s youth, did wonders from the day they were married, even forsaking the half that Hillel’s wife was given. Indeed, Rebbetzin Batya was the one who provided her husband with food and everything else he needed while they lived in the Diaspora.
– Pe’er HaDor
Your Eyes Shall Behold Your Teacher
Rabbi Ephraim Navon – The Author of Machaneh Ephraim
The gaon Rabbi Ephraim Navon Zatzal was born in the city of Constantinople, where he and his friend of the same age, the gaon Yaakov Sasson, studied Torah with their teacher Rabbi Alfandri Zatzal. Rabbi Ephraim continuously elevated himself in the rungs of Torah and the fear of Heaven, studying with extraordinary diligence and perceptiveness. When he reached the age of marriage, he married the daughter of the gaon Rabbi Yehudah Irgaz Zatzal, at which time he and his father-in-law left for Eretz Israel and settled in Jerusalem. Rabbi Ephraim remained isolated for 10 years, studying the entire Talmud with tremendous concentration and in great depth. During that time he also studied the works of the Rambam and the Beit Yosef. Thus Rabbi Ephraim’s name became famous in the Jewish world.
Sent by Rav Rosenheim, Rabbi Ephraim left Israel and returned to Constantinople, where he became the Rav of the city. At the same time, he wrote his famous book Machaneh Ephraim on various halachot, a book that the Chida described as being incredibly insightful and valuable. In fact his book was acknowledged by the entire Torah world, and even today both Machaneh Ephraim and its commentaries are studied in yeshivot throughout the world.
In reading Machaneh Ephraim, one can clearly see the author’s extensive scholarship and wisdom. It is even said that Rabbi Ephraim could perform wonders, knowing the sacred Names of Hashem and being able to use Kabbalah to save Jews from hardship and illness. Rabbi Ephraim Navon passed away on Nissan 26, 5491, as his soul ascended to the celestial academy. May the memory of the tzaddik be blessed.
Real Life Stories
Your Mitzvah is Exceedingly Broad
It is written, “He shall confess over it all the iniquities of the Children of Israel” (Vayikra 16:21).
During the time of the Rambam, there was a leading figure who did not recite the confessions on Yom Kippur, a practice that had always been the norm among the Jewish people. When this man was asked about it, he replied: “I know that I haven’t committed all the sins listed in the Yom Kippur confessions, so how can I lie by telling Hashem otherwise, for His seal is truth?” When the Rambam heard this, he summoned the man and said to him: “King David stated, ‘To every purpose have I seen an end, but Your mitzvah is exceedingly broad’ [Tehillim 119:96]. From here we learn that every mitzvah has its main components, roots, branches, and sub-branches that can be studied until the end of time. For example, the prohibition against theft includes, besides theft per se, stealing from a person just to cause him pain, even if one’s intention is to return the stolen object. It also includes stealing from a thief, not to mention stealing a person’s ‘mind’ [making him believe something that is not true, but without actually lying]. The prohibition against theft includes other things as well, and the same applies to every mitzvah.”
The Rambam concluded by saying, “Now if you evaluate each mitzvah in this way, you will realize that there is no sin that, in all its aspects, you have not committed. You should also realize that the greatest sin of all is to think that you have, in fact, not sinned!”
– Talalei Orot (citing the Chida)
The Deeds of the Great
The Gaon Was Right
A local governor said to Rabbi Jonathan Eibeshutz, “You Jews surprise me, for you adhere to laws that are completely illogical, devoid of all sense. As your Sages have said, when a fruit becomes infested with a worm after it falls from a tree, it becomes forbidden to eat if the worm has emerged from the fruit, but permitted to eat if the worm is still inside. What difference does it make if the worm has emerged from it or not? What’s the logic behind this, since in any case it’s still a worm?”
(Note: This ruling appears in Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh Deah 84:4. However if a fruit has become infested with a worm while still on a tree, it is forbidden even if the worm has not left the fruit. If there exists a doubt as to when the fruit became infested with a worm, it is forbidden, as explained in paragraph 7.)
The gaon took a clean spoon from the table and said to the governor, “If you would, please spit into the spoon.” When he did, the gaon said, “Now please put the saliva back into your mouth.” The governor refused, saying that he found it disgusting to swallow. The gaon replied: “Why is it disgusting? One moment the saliva was in your mouth, and the next it was in a clean spoon. How does that change things?” The governor replied, “Even if the saliva was in my mouth, once it left it became disgusting to swallow.” The gaon therefore said, “The same applies to fruit. As long as a worm is inside the fruit itself, having not emerged from it, it is considered as part of the fruit itself. Hence it is not disgusting. However once it has emerged from the fruit, even for an instant, it becomes disgusting. This is the reason why it is forbidden.” The governor then admitted that the gaon was right.