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23 Tammuz 5763 - July 23, 2003 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Eating Lamb, Thinking It's Pork

by R' Yerachmiel Kram

Her husband has made them void and Hashem shall forgive her" (Bamidbar 30:130.

Eating Lamb, Thinking It's Pork

If her husband has made her vow void, why does she require forgiveness from Hashem?

This question is asked in the gemora: "Our Sages taught: `Her husband made them void and Hashem shall forgive her.' Of what is the Torah speaking? Of a woman whose husband made void her vow and she was unaware of it. She still requires forgiveness and atonement (if she ate from what she thought to be forbidden to her). Whenever R' Akiva encountered this verse, he would weep: If one who intended to eat pork and had the good fortune to eat lamb instead, requires atonement and forgiveness, what of one who intended to eat pork -- and did eat pork! How much more does he require atonement and forgiveness!" (Nozir 23a).

Here is the case of a woman who ate food which she did not know was permissible, nor did she know that her husband had made void her vow and that what she was eating was permissible. She maintains that she ate forbidden "pork" but since her husband annulled her vow, she really ate lamb. Nevertheless, she requires atonement since she intended to sin and rebel against Hashem.

A sin of this sort also requires atonement and forgiveness.

"See If They Tell Stories Like These About You!"

The Chofetz Chaim was once required to give testimony in a civil court which was about to pass a death sentence upon Efraim Leibowitz, a student of Yeshivas Radin, for espionage on behalf of the German army. This was at the height of World War I, a period when every minor military court was empowered to carry out an execution upon the slightest suspicion of treason. This young man was in grave danger for his life, because of a suspicious map which someone had maliciously thrust into his pocket in order to incriminate him.

R' Yisroel Meir wept copious tears on behalf of this young man and prayed that his life be spared. On the day he was called upon to bear his testimony before the court, the entire yeshiva fasted and prayed.

The Chofetz Chaim was asked by the judges to tell all he knew about this particular student. In a calm voice, he told the judges that the young man in question was a devoted student who spent his whole time in study and that the entire episode must have been framed in order to incriminate him. He was willing, in fact, to take an oath that this student had not been involved in any form of spying.

This was a character testimony upon which the Chofetz Chaim pinned all of his hopes.

It was now the defense's turn to present before the judges a character endorsement of the Chofetz Chaim himself, so that they would appreciate the value of his word and his readiness to vouch, and even swear, for his student. Thus, if the Chofetz Chaim was truly called upon to give his oath, it would bear the ultimate weight.

One of the young man's defenders asked for the right to speak. He began,

"I would like to tell the honorable judges who is this Jewish rabbi who just testified before you," he began. He proceeded to tell about the time the Chofetz Chaim was once waiting in the Warsaw train terminal when a thief snatched his valise and ran away.

"Do you know what his reaction was?" he asked the judges rhetorically. "The rabbi ardently declared that he was hereby giving the valise as an outright gift to the thief. He disclaimed all ownership to it and forgave the thief for having stolen it!"

The judges looked at the attorney in disbelief. "And you believe this tale?" one of them asked.

The attorney had apparently anticipated such a reaction and said, "What difference does it make whether I can verify the truth of this story or not? Tell me if such stories are told of any of you, here!"


Forgiveness for Theft Declared Out Loud

Not everyone is capable of believing that this story is authentic. Nor are we responsible for its veracity. There are, however, many who do believe that it actually took place and they add an interesting detail which the defense did not present upon that occasion.

When the Chofetz Chaim forgave the thief his theft, he did not suffice with a mere declaration. He expressed his disclaimer and his forgiveness in full voice which the thief was able to hear. "Why does the Rebbe have to shout?" his traveling companion asked. "Why can't you just forgive the thief in a normal tone, for your own sake?"

"I did not merely intend to save him from the sin of theft. I also wanted to spare him the sin comparable to one who intended to eat pork but ended up eating lamb," was his reply.

(It should be noted here that the concept of mechiloh does not avail for something that is physically present like a valise. It only applies to abstract obligations, such as a debt, as is explained in Choshen Mishpot 241:2).

This matter of a person intending to sin by eating pork, for example, and really eating something permissible, applies to many things in our daily lives. How often does a person open up a newspaper which he knows to be improper and which he is aware will contaminate his eyes through forbidden photos etc. -- only to find dry facts which do not interest him in the least? Can such a person be considered to have intended to `eat pork,' as it were? He was fortunate enough not to have stumbled and to have `eaten lamb,' that is, to have seen innocuous news. But his intent was to read what was unsuitable and forbidden!

Does it not happen that a person visits a place where the kashrus is questionable and partakes of the refreshments there without a minimal investigation of the source of that food? It may turn out that the food was permissible and that it did, in fact, bear a most reputable supervision. But the guest had been prepared to eat `pork,' so to speak, even though he had actually been spared that violation, and had eaten permissible `lamb.'

When we pound our chests on Yom Kippur, let us bear this matter well in mind.

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