September 27, 2023

“Then the servant took ten camels of his master’s camels …” (Bereishis 24:10)

Rashi expounds that the camels of Avraham Avinu were distinguishable from other camels because they were muzzled in order to ensure that they did not graze in fields that did not belong to their master.

The Talmud relates (Chulin 7a) that when Pinchas ben Yair came to an inn, his hosts offered barley to the donkey to eat, but the donkey refused it. Pinchas ben Yair asked whether the barley had been tithed. Indeed, once the barley was tithed, the donkey ate, albeit one does not have to give ma’aser from the animals’ food. The Medrash observes that the status of Pinchas ben Yair’s donkey was greater than the level of Avraham Avinu’s camels. The Talmud notes here that Hashem would not allow a tzaddik to sin by eating forbidden foods, since He even prevents the animals of the righteous from doing so.

Yet, we learn (Makkos 5b) that Yehuda ben Tabai, the great rabbinic leader at the time of the Hasmonean kings, wrongly condemned an eid zomem (a witness who “schemes” not to be truthful) to death in his courtroom.

Similarly, the Talmud (Shabbos 12b) cites the Mishna that one may not read a book by candlelight on Shabbos lest he will adjust the wick. The Tosefta then relates that R’ Yishmael ben Elisha said he would not forget that it was Shabbos and would not transgress. Yet, we learn that once when he read by candlelight on Shabbos he did tilt the lamp. So we see that a mishap can be generated through a tzaddik.

Our sages tell us that it is only specifically through food that a mishap is not generated through a righteous person, because it would be disgraceful if a tzaddik consumed forbidden food. Unlike other prohibitions, the consumption of forbidden food internalizes the transgression as it becomes part of his physical body. When one eats prohibited food it becomes absorbed into his limbs and bones and becomes an integral part of his being. It desensitizes the person’s heart and causes him to be more susceptible to sin.

Tosfos then points out that we do find instances in the Talmud where forbidden food was eaten. R’ Yirmiyah bar Abba tasted some food after Shabbos before havdalah (Pesachim 106b) and the Jews in Bovel were eating on Yom Kippur because they thought it was already the 11th of Tishrei (Rosh Hashana 21a). They were not aware that the month of Elul had been declared a “full month” and therefore it was in fact the tenth of the month.

Tosfos sets forth that in these cases the food in and of itself was permissible according to Jewish law; the prohibition was with regard to the time when the food was consumed. Thus, we see that it is only by means of food that no mistake is generated through a tzaddik, and then only in the case where the food itself is prohibited. Although the food that is consumed at the wrong time is also absorbed by the body, there is no adverse effect because the food itself is permissible and has no negative element.

Rabbi Shlomo Levenstein contends that we can now understand the observation of the medrash that the donkey of Pinchas was greater than the camels of Avraham Avinu. The donkey refused to eat food that had not been tithed, food that was intrinsically prohibited; the camels of Avraham Avinu were being muzzled to restrain them from eating food that was prohibited because it was not theirs, but was otherwise permissible food.

The Torah cautions us often not to take an oath or vow. Yet, we learn (Devarim 6:13), “you shall fear Hashem and you shall serve Him, and in His Name shall you swear.” Rashi explains that if one has fear of Hashem (Yiras Shamayim) and serves Him faithfully, then he can swear in His Name, because such an individual will be extremely vigilant not to misuse or exploit the name of Hashem and take an oath.

R’ Shlomo Zalman Porush, the founder and director of the renowned Shaarei Chesed Gemach (free loan fund) in Yerushalayim, was a loyal and honest administrator.

Over the years, the gemach had lent great sums of money, and kept documents on record confirming the loans. One day, when R’ Shlomo Zalman came to collect the outstanding loan of a kollel that had come due, he was told that the loan had already been repaid.

R’ Shlomo Zalman refuted that assertion and the matter was brought to the bais din of R’ Shmuel of Salant, the Rav of Yerushalayim. R’ Shmuel ruled that R’ Shlomo Zalman had to swear that the loan had not been repaid. When R’ Shlomo Zalman heard the judgment he began to tremble. In accordance with the Torah’s admonitions, he was reluctant to take an oath, even though he was telling the truth.

When R’ Shmuel heard this, he summoned R’ Shlomo Zalman and decreed that he must swear to the fact that he had not collected any money from the kollel. R’ Shlomo Zalman instead offered to pay the entire loan out of his own pocket. R’ Shmuel Salant argued, though, that if he did so it would undermine his integrity and reputation, which would harm the community. R’ Yehoshua Leib Diskind agreed with the verdict of R’ Shmuel Salant fully.

R’ Shlomo Zalman had no choice, then, but to accept the ruling, and a date was set for his compliance. It was a distressing day for the family, and they all fasted and prayed before coming together in the great shul of R’ Yehuda HaChossid in the presence of the revered bais din.

A few hours after the oath was taken, R’ Shlomo Zalman’s righteousness was proven. One of the daughters of the director of the kollel found the bundle of money in the house that had been set aside for payment. Once it was misplaced no one had been aware that the money had never actually been paid.

Because R’ Shlomo Zalman was so scrupulous not to transgress Hashem’s commandments, he was rewarded with the immediate affirmation that he was indeed honorable and righteous.

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