By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 30 – If I am Only for Myself What am I?
Even though Rabi Nechunyah ben Ha’Kaneh holds that kareis can exempt one from having to pay money, says Rav Chisdah, he agrees that one who steals cheilev and eats it is obligated to pay. Why? Because the monetary liability was incurred as soon as he picked up the piece of cheilev, whereas the kareis penalty only falls upon him when he subsequently eats it.
However, it is possible, says the Gemara, to have a case where the monetary liability and kareis penalty are both generated at the same moment. How is that? Someone else inserted the piece of cheilev directly into his throat. It was deep enough that he would only have been able to spit it out with difficulty.
The way Rashi explains this is that the cheilev was forcibly stuffed into his mouth by that someone else.
Since that other person stuck it in so deep, the cheilev already got ruined by that other person’s action; spitting it out would not save the owner thereof from the monetary loss of the cheilev being ruined. The damage was already done, and that damage was not perpetrated by the swallower.
What the swallower could theoretically be charged for is the benefit and enjoyment he got from consuming the cheilev. But that happens at the moment he swallows which, since he could have regurgitated it, is also the same moment he becomes chayav kareis. Seeing that the potential monetary liability would have coincided with the kareis penalty, he is exempt from the former according to Rabi Nechunyah ben Ha’Kaneh.
Tosafos explains that, according to Rashi, it would not have been possible for the case to be that the swallower was wittingly allowing the cheilev to be inserted into his mouth.
Because if that would have been the case, the swallower would definitely have effected a kinyan gezeilah (theft-acquisition, the point at which the object is considered stolen and the thief is liable for it) immediately upon the entry of the cheilev into the cavity of his mouth even before it gets deep inside and ruined.
This is so even if the cheilev is still on the fork that the inserter is holding. If the insertion of the cheilev into his mouth was with the swallower’s consent, the fact that the person inserting it may still have the ability to withdraw it does not detract from the koach of kinyan which takes effect when an object is in someone’s hand or mouth.
Therefore, were the case to have been that the swallower is allowing the cheilev to be inserted into his mouth, he most certainly would have to pay for it since the acquisition of theft occurs immediately upon entry into his oral cavity, whereas the kareis penalty only comes about when he subsequently swallows it.
This exposition of Tosafos illustrates the tremendous koach of kinyan yad, the acquisition one is able to make by dint of an object being in his direct, physical space. Power of acquisition in general is something that tells us a lot about the way a person interacts with his surroundings. It serves as an indication of the power with which the Creator invested in us to be able to effect and control the material world which we inhabit.
In that sense, the kinyan of yad can be considered a particularly powerful kinyan. In fact, some mefarshim hold that whereas other forms of acquisition are effective because of the action being performed, yad is automatic. It doesn’t need a maaseh. The object is just inherently subsumed into the individual’s ownership simply by dint of the fact that it is inside his space, his domain. For this reason, some mefarshim even hold that kinyan yad does not require any intent whatsoever.
Now, Purim starts tonight, so there ought to be some way that we can connect this discussion to Megillas Esther. And there is.
The Vilna Gaon, in his pirush on Megillas Esther (3:13), writes that the four things that we were given on Purim correspond to the four facets of our being that Haman wanted to destroy.
The pasuk says that Haman sought to do four things: l’hashmid, laharog, l’abeid, and shlalam lavoz. L’hashmid refers, explains the Gra, to the fact that Haman wanted to wipe out any trace of mitzvos which correspond to the neshama. He wanted to destroy the neshama of the Yid. But that was not enough for him. He also wanted to kill, laharog, the Jewish spirit, the ruach which is the second level down of a person. Furthermore, he wanted to eradicate, l’abeid, the physical bodies and snuff out the lives (guf v’nefesh) of the Jewish People. Finally, he wanted to uproot the fourth facet of being which is a person’s property, u’shlalam lavoz.
In absolute negation of his evil plans, we received on Purim four things. Krias Ha’Megillah, which is an extra mitzvah corresponding to neshama. Corresponding to the ruach that resides in the heart which is the seat of emotion, Hashem gave us simcha. Mishteh, making a party of drinking and eating, was given to us corresponding to the body which enjoys it. And counteracting Haman’s desire to uproot the existence of Jewish possession of property, we have matanos la’evyonim. So that everyone should have at least some object of monetary value they can call their own; even the most destitute amongst us.
In addition to providing an amazingly eye-opening insight into the mitzvos of Purim and how each one is precision-calculated to fulfill a specific role in the Purim saga, we also see from this commentary of the Gaon that one’s monetary possessions are, in a very real sense, a part of him.
When you make a kinyan on something, you are exerting and asserting the power of your being on that object to subsume it into your metzius. It becomes a part of you. Your ability to impact your surroundings is extended, because your metzius has branched outward.
This sheds a lot of light on why it is that people are so driven to amass more and more and more monetary acquisition. It makes them feel bigger. Literally. And that also explains why people can have such a hard time parting with their money. They feel, as one wise man put it, as if it is coming out of their kishkas.
Because it is.
Of course, being is only meaningful if it possesses some meaning. So if all the person has is himself, ani l’atzmi, and just more and more and more of himself, then what is he? Mah ani? If monetary acquisition becomes its own end goal, then instead of being a means to meaningful extension of self, it mutates into a catch twenty two of an endless amount of fluff, with no purpose or meaning.
Purim, the Yomtov that celebrates our etzem metzius, the very fact that we exist, teaches us – in the most enjoyable and sweetest way imaginable – what the meaning of that existence is.
The significance of the various facets of our being all find expression in a non-stop, almost-frenzy of avodas Hashem carried out with such boundless joy.
And, as the halacha indicates, the centerpiece of this exalted expression is in the mitzvah of matanos la’evyonim. In that facet of our being which manifests the potential, endless expansion of self, we are given a beautiful mitzvah that guides us to the purposeful expression of that self-extension. I employ that facet of my being which potentially affords me endless self-expansion, my possessions and innate power of acquisition, to give to others. To reach out and connect with my fellow Jews who are in need, and to afford them the ability to experience this expansion of self as well. I use my power of expansion to create a source of help and beneficence that bonds me with my fellow Jew in giving him the same opportunity and experience. In so doing, I am emulating my Creator whose whole purpose in creating us all was and is only to give; to share, kavayachol, His metzius with us. And that, as the Rambam writes, is the greatest simcha there could possibly be.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at email@example.com.