Minimum Number of Coins of Different Denominations – Bava Basra 166

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Minimum Number of Coins of Different Denominations

The braisa teaches that when a shtar mentions that a person borrowed “gold dinarin” but it does not mention the number of dinarin, the creditor may claim only two gold dinarin, since the minimum possible amount to which the plural “dinarin” refers is two — “mi’ut rabim shenayim.” The braisa earlier (165b) teaches the same with regard to a shtar that says “silver dinarin.” Similarly, the Mishna (165b) states that when a shtar mentions that a person borrowed “zuzim,” “sela’im,” or “darkonos,” and the number of those coins was erased, the creditor may claim only two, which is the minimum possible amount of the plural word used in the shtar.

Why does the Mishna and braisa need to repeat itself with regard to these different types of coins? The Mishna and braisa need only teach this in one case, and then we would know that whenever there is an unspecified amount of “coins” (in the plural) — regardless of what type of coin — the creditor may collect only two!?

The Penei Shlomo answers that the Mishna (and braisa) is teaching a novelty in each case. Since the subject of the shtar is coins, which are divisible entities, we might have thought that even though the word used is plural, it refers not to two coins but to one and a half coins. The Mishna is teaching that the creditor is entitled to more than one and a half coins — he is entitled to take two full coins of the specified denomination, because if it is true that the borrower only borrowed one and a half coins (such as a sela and half a sela), then the value of the half-coin would have been expressed in terms of a smaller denomination (a sela and two dinarin).

The Penei Shlomo adds that this is also why the Mishna and braisa use the phrase, “It is not less than two…,” instead of saying, “He may only collect two.” “It is not less than two” excludes a “lesser” amount, and implies that we might have thought that the creditor is only allowed to collect an amount which is less than two (such as one and a half). “He may only collect two” excludes a “greater” amount, and implies that we might have thought that the creditor should collect more than two. Since the Mishna is teaching that he “may” collect more than just one and a half, it says, “It is not less than two.”

The Mishna and braisa, therefore, needed to teach this novelty with regard to each denomination of coins, since we would not have been able to learn one from the other. People might write “one and a half zuzim” without expressing the fractional zuz in terms of a smaller denomination. Therefore, the Mishna must teach us in each case that the plural word is not less than two.

The Tiferes Yisroel explains that each case in the Mishna is necessary for the following reasons. In the case of “Kesef zuzim which are…,” where the number of zuzim was erased, we might have thought that the creditor is entitled to collect four zuzim, since the words “Kesef zuzim which are…” imply that the author of the shtar is defining an equal value for “Kesef zuzim.” The lowest number of zuzim which are equivalent to a different coin is four, and the shtar originally said, “Kesef zuzim which are one sela.” Therefore, the Mishna needs to teach us that the creditor may only collect two zuzim, because perhaps the author of the shtar was giving a number of zuzim, and not an equivalent value in another denomination.

In the case of “Kesef sela’im which are…,” where the number of sela’im was erased, we might have thought that the author of the shtar was referring to two “inferior” sela’im (as mentioned earlier in the Mishna), which are equal to seven zuzim (or 6 2/3 zuzim), and not 8 zuzim, and the shtar originally read, “Kesef sela’im which are seven zuzim.” Therefore, the Mishna teaches that the creditor may collect two standard sela’im and not inferior ones.

In the case of “Kesef darkonos which are…,” where the number of darkonos was erased, we might have thought that certainly the author of the shtar was referring to inferior darkonos, for the following reason. A darkon is a large, valuable gold coin, and people do not usually pay back debts with such coins. Accordingly, we might have thought that the author of the shtar meant inferior gold darkonos, and that is why he was writing the actual value of the darkonos, which was “less” than the value of two standard darkonos. Therefore, the Mishna needs to teach us that the creditor is indeed entitled to collect two normal darkonos and not inferior ones.

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