Rav Mosheh Twersky zt”l Hy”d on Parshas Shemini


By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman

וכי יתן מים על זרע   יא:לח

This pasuk teaches us the halacha of hechsher mashkin, that the only way a food item can become tamei (by coming into contact with a sheretz, neveilah, etc.) is if it first came into contact with water (or one of the other seven liquids).

The Gemara in Bava Metzia (22a-b) brings the following Braisah: Dew (which is one of the seven liquids) fell on some produce without the owner’s awareness.  When he subsequently found out about it, he was happy.  If the dew is still on the produce, the produce is muchshar (= now susceptible to becoming tamei), but if it has already dried, it is not.

This Braisah, explains the Gemara, seems to disprove Rava’s opinion regarding yiush sheh’lo mi’daas being effective.  If someone lost something in a way that he will for sure give up hope on ever getting it back, the finder can keep the lost object even though the original owner is still unaware of the fact that he lost it.  His potential yiush, Rava maintains, is effective even before it occupies his conscious thoughts.

The apparent contradiction from the Braisah, explains the Gemara, is that we see that the produce-owner’s subsequent satisfaction with his produce having gotten wet with dew is not able to take effect retroactively (l’mafreiah).  Since the produce was already dry by the time he found out it had gotten wet with dew, it is too late.  So too, asserts the Gemara, should it be regarding yiush: if the owner only discovered his loss after the finder took the object, his despair should be ineffective.

The Gemara deflects this kashya, though, by explaining that hechsher mashkin is different because the pasuk says yitein, which means that the person has to do an act of making the produce come into contact with a liquid.

So then why is his approval effective if the dew is still on his produce when he found out about it since, after all, he did not do any act of making it wet?!  That, says, the Gemara, is precisely what Rav Papa addressed: on the one hand, the word is written as yitein – which would indicate a definite action on the part of a person – whereas we read it as yutan, which would imply even if the liquid came into contact with the foodstuff without any human involvement or intervention whatsoever.

The resolution to this apparent contradiction, says Rav Papa, is that we require a yutan which is similar to yitein.  Namely, that just as yitein is with approving awareness, so too must yutan be with approving awareness.  In other words, hechsher mashkin is effective even if the liquid came into contact with the foodstuff on its own, provided that the person involved is happy about that fact.

My grandfather (Rav Yosef Dov Soloveitchik zt”l) explained – and I subsequently saw that this explanation is also in the Shaarei Shmuos – that this does not mean that there is a gezeiras ha’kasuv that there must be some element of human involvement which comes in the form of daas.  Rather, it is only through a person’s action that hechsher mashkin can take effect, and the derasha is telling us what the definition of an action is regarding this halacha.  Namely, that if the person becomes happily aware of the liquid while it is still there, his daas makes it that the placement of that liquid is attributed to him.  He is considered as if he actually put the water on his produce by dint of his conscious approval.  The reason for this is that nesinas mayim is not limited to actually putting the water on the foodstuff, but even the water just being on the foodstuff, or, alternatively, the result of it having been put there.  The owner’s approving awareness makes it that he is the one who is considered responsible for this state/result.

The Gemara in Kiddushin 59b is practically an explicit proof to this understanding.  It says there, “shaini machshava d’tumah d’chi maaseh dami, conscious approval of hechsher mashkin is different because it is considered an action.”

Now that we understand that hechsher mashkin is a function of the person’s action, it is perfectly understandable why this cannot work retroactively.  Obviously, when the dew first fell on his produce, he was not the one who did that action.  You can’t say that because he later become happy about it, it is as if he was the one who initially put the dew there.  But so long as the dew is still there, you can and we do say that his current approving awareness makes it as though he is the one who is right now making the dew be in contact with the produce.

If you read Rashi carefully – particularly where he says adayin hein b’nesinaso – you’ll see that this pshat is practically explicit in his words.

Now, according to this pshat, it should come out that the hechsher only takes effect from the point he becomes approvingly aware and onward.  Meaning, if a sheretz (etc.) came into contact with the produce after the dew fell on it but before the owner became aware, the produce is not tamei.  Only if the sheretz (etc.) touched the produce after the owner became approvingly aware would the produce become tamei.  Rav Moshe Shmuel Shapiro, in his Shaarei Shmuos, in fact avers that this is the case.  However, it is a big chiddush to say this and tzarich iyun if it is true l’halacha.

The Mishna at the beginning of Maseches Machshirin says that a person’s ratzon – his conscious desire – is effective whether it came at the beginning or at the end.  What this means is the subject of a dispute between the Rishonim.

The Rambam (Hilchos Tumas Ochlin, perek 12) says that in order for water to be able to be machshir a foodstuff to be mekabeil tumah, it must be that it was consciously removed from the ground.  If a person did not willingly draw the water from its source it is considered as if the water is still connected to the ground and cannot be machshir.  In addition to that, there also has to be ratzon regarding the water coming into contact with the foodstuff.  And it is regarding that latter aspect that the Mishna says either in the beginning or the end.  Meaning, if the person was not aware of it when his produce first got wet, it suffices that he later became aware of it and was happy about it.  Alternatively, if he was happy about it at first, but later did not want it to be wet, his ratzon in the beginning was enough for the hechsher to take effect.

The Raavad and other Rishonim, on the other hand, argue with the Rambam and explain the Mishna differently.  Namely, that “beginning” is referring to when the water was drawn and “end” is referring to when the water came into contact with the foodstuff.  If the water was deliberately removed from its source it will be machshir the foodstuff it subsequently touches even if that contact was completely unwanted.  Likewise, if the subsequent contact was desirable the foodstuff becomes muchshar even if the water was initially separated from its ground-source without any desire on the part of a person.

Reb Chaim (Brisker) explains the machlokes.  The Rambam holds that there are two separate dinim: one is regarding the cheftza of the water and the other is as far as the actual act of hechsher is concerned.  For the water to be considered a mashkeh (liquid) that can be machshir, it has to be that it was deliberately drawn from its source.  That is one halacha.  Then there is the halacha that defines the parameters of the actual hechsher, the contact between the mashkeh and the foodstuff.  And for that, it suffices that there was ratzon (human desire) at some point in time while the wetness was still present on the foodstuff.

The other Rishonim, though, hold that the only material point is the separation of the water from its source.  If the water was drawn deliberately then that obviously suffices to make it that it can subsequently be machshir.  But even if that didn’t happen – and the water somehow become separated from its source without any human involvement whatsoever – the person’s approving awareness when the water is on his foodstuff is also enough to be considered that the water was deliberately removed from its source.  The fact that he is happy that the water is currently on his foodstuff means that he wants it to be in the state that it currently is – disconnected from its source and thus usable for this purpose – and that is considered that the water was deliberately separated from its source.



Our minhag is to break the matza before maggid (Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 473:6).  The Rambam (Hilchos Chametz u’Matza 8:6), however, puts it right before ha’motzi, after netilas yadayim.

The basis for this difference of opinion is the Gemara in Maseches Pesachim (115b) that darshens two things from the fact that the pasuk refers to matza as lechem oni: a) lechem sheh’onin alav devarim harbei (we say many words over the matza), and b) just as a poor person usually eats broken pieces of bread, so too must the matza be a broken piece.

Tosafos (Pesachim 116a) holds that the halacha that the matza must be a broken piece does not affect the general requirement to have lechem mishneh (two whole loaves) on Shabbos and Yomtov.  Thus, we have two full matzos to fulfill the requirement of lechem mishneh, and an additional broken piece to fulfill the requirement that the matza be lechem oni.  We break the matza before maggid because of the other derasha that we say many words – meaning the words of relating the account of the redemption from Mitzrayim – over the matza.  And in what state is this matza over which we recite maggid supposed to be?  Broken.  Therefore, we break the matza before maggid so that we have the appropriate matza over which to recite maggid.

The Rambam, though, does not bring the halacha of onin alav devarim harbei.  What the reason for this is, I do not know.  But the fact is that the requirement to recite sippur yetzias Mitzrayim over the matza does not appear in the Rambam.  Accordingly, there is no reason for the Rambam to put yachatz (the breaking of the matza) before maggid.

And the Rambam has a very strong reason to have the matza broken right before ha’motzi.  Unlike Tosafos, the Rambam holds that the halacha of lechem oni – that the matza has to be a broken piece – is specifically coming to cancel out the normal halacha of lechem mishneh.  According to the Rambam, and some other Rishonim as well, there are only two matzos: one full one and one broken one.  That is why the Rambam holds that the matza should be broken right before ha’motzi.  To show clearly that, even though we have two whole matzos, we are deliberately breaking one of them because that is the halacha of matza on the seider night: that it must be a broken piece, and not whole.

In terms of the extent of the mitzvah of eating matza on seider night, the Rambam (Hilchos Chametz u’Matza 6:1) says, “once he has eaten a k’zayis he has fulfilled his obligation.”  This strongly implies – and the Netziv says this in his Haggadah – that if one eats more matza he gets more of a mitzvah.  His fulfillment of eating the matza is even bigger if he eats more.  This is similar to the mitzvah of wearing teffilin.  If a person puts them on for one moment, he is yotzei.  However, if he leaves them on he gets a mitzvah for every additional moment he wears them.

A certain great talmid chacham made the following pithy remark: there are two things that one must be careful to not overindulge in the whole year, eating and talking (see Avos 1:17 and Rambam Hilchos Deios 4:15); and on leil ha’seider regarding both of those things we say kol ha’marbeh harei zeh meshubach.  When it comes to talking about sippur yetzias Mitzrayim it is explicit, as we mention in the Haggadah, and regarding eating matza it is a very strong inference, as we just elaborated.


Quote of the Week

“What is the very first mitzvah that we do on leil ha’seiderSimchas Yomtov!”


Featured Story

In 5758 Rav Moshe Meiselman, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshivas Toras Moshe, made a chasuna, Rav Michel Feinstein and his Rebbetzin came.  Rav Michel left immediately following the chuppah, but his rebbetzin stayed. When she was ready to leave she did not want to travel in the taxi by herself out of concerns for the prohibition of yichud.  Therefore, R’ Naftali Katz, who was then a bachur, accompanied her.  During the drive, R’ Naftali asked her if she could tell him about her father, the Brisker Rav.  There was dead silence for a few minutes. Then she broke the silence and said, in Yiddish, “He had a beard; that I can say with certainty.”

When I later related this interchange to Rav Twersky at a Shabbos seuda at his house, he said, “Don’t think that her way of responding was an absurdity.  It’s not.”

To read more divrei Torah and stories of Rav Twersky visit VayigdalMoshe.com