​Shiur #11: The Prohibition of Bal Yeira’eh and Bal Yimatzei (Part 3 of 3)

  • Rav Moshe Taragin


Rashi's View of Bal Yeira'eh



In the previous two shiurim (#09 and #10), we outlined the unique dimensions of the prohibition of bal yeira'eh and bal yimatzei. Unlike typical issurim which depend solely upon legal ownership, regarding this issue, ownership may not be sufficient OR it may even be necessary. By stipulating a prohibition to "see" chametz or to "have chametz found," the Torah is clearly diverting us from a purely ownership-based view of the prohibition.


Several interesting comments of Rashi may be combined to provide a unique view of his opinion. This opportunity is rare because Rashi's style is more of a running commentary; in addition, his comments are often brief or even terse. The combination of these factors often makes it difficult to determine Rashi's true opinion about a particular halakha. Unlike many other Rishonim, who wrote “essay pieces” about gemarot in which they address a broad topic (and often reference their own related statements), Rashi's brief statements often "seem" episodic and compartmentalized. Often, we are left to conjecture about his view. In the case of bal yeira'eh, however, several comments may yield a clear picture.


The two most clarifying comments are actually inversely related. The first comment surrounds a gemara (6a) that discusses a person who leaves his home prior to Pesach without intent to return. If he leaves before 30 days prior to Pesach without intent on returning, he does not have to rid himself of the chametz in his home. The gemara parallels this with someone who converts his residence into a storehouse; if the conversion occurs at least 30 days prior to Pesach without intent to re-convert to a residence, the chametz does not have to be addressed. Most Rishonim maintain that the gemara assumes that a person will perform bittul, and is merely discusses the ADDITIONAL need for physical removal. Even though bittul will obviously be performed, and bal yeira'eh thus neutralized, the danger of actually EATING the chametz requires an ADDED physical removal under ordinary circumstances. The parameters of when a person leaves and his intent on returning govern the question of whether the danger of eating chametz has to be addressed through bedika.


Rashi does not mention the performance of bittul, and his ensuing comments suggest that he does not require bittul in this case. Rashi equates these situations to one in which a building collapsed upon chametz, chametz shenafla alav mapolet, which, according to the gemara (Pesachim 31b), does not require bittul de-oraita. Taken on its own, the mishna describing chametz under a collapsed building seems very logical. As the chametz has been physically destroyed by the rubble, no further action is necessary. If this were the reasoning, however, Rashi could not have possibly compared the scenario of someone departing 30 days before Pesach to chametz under a collapsed building. In the case of a traveler, the chametz is perfectly intact, yet Rashi does not require any action, similar to the fact that the gemara does not require any action (mi-de’oraita) for chametz under a collapsed building.


Evidently, Rashi maintains that bal yeira'eh is determined by personal INTEREST in the chametz. If a person departs without interest in his chametz, converts his room (and the chametz on the floor) into a (non-food) storage area, or allows his chametz to remain lodged under a collapsed building, he has indicated his lack of interest in, or connection with the chametz. Indeed, in previous shiurim, we discussed the position of many Rishonim who claimed that involvement and affiliation with chametz and not legal ownership enables bal yeira'eh. Rashi EXPANDS this principle in two ways:


1)    Not only can affiliation with chametz ENABLE bal yeira'eh even in situations where no ownership exists, but is can DISABLE bal yeira'eh even in situations in which ownership DOES exist. This is a new and more extreme application of the aforementioned principle.

2)    The level of affiliation can be defined in purely subjective terms. If the owner journeys away from his chametz or positions it under storage, he has PERSONALLY demonstrated his disinterest in the chametz. Typically, affiliation was indicated by “institutionalized” measures, such as accepting legal liability for chametz or placing the chametz in a particular physical possession. Rashi allows a person's own attitude to determine the level of connection with the chametz.


            A second comment of Rashi (6b) relates to an interesting gemara that questions the need for bittul, why is bittul necessary? If physical removal was performed, bal yeira'eh has been addressed. The simple answer (and one which evidently both Tosafot and the Ramban asserted) is that bittul is geared to solve bal yeira'eh for chametz that was not located and physically removed. Rashi differs, evidently maintaining that simply checking for chametz disqualifies the concern of bal yeira'eh. Even if some chametz was not located and was not physically removed, the very pursuit of THAT chametz with intent to remove would eliminate bal yeira'eh. Again, Rashi is consistent – a subjective and non-institutionalized display of DISINTEREST (through searching for, though not necessarily locating chametz) is sufficient to solve bal yeira'eh.


            In fact, Rashi explains the need for bittul to help solve a very limited scenario. If the unfound chametz would appear on Pesach and the person would tarry in burning it, he might temporarily violate bal yeira'eh. To avoid this danger, bittul was instituted. Once again, Rashi presents consistent logic. No bal yeira'eh existed prior to the discovery of the unfound chametz. As it was pursued with intent for removal, no association exists and no bal yeira'eh is violated. If the person were to burn the chametz IMMEDIATELY upon discovery, he would still be immune to bal yeira'eh, since he has not demonstrated any INTEREST in the chametz. However, since he might TARRY and place temporary value upon the chametz, he may violate bal yeira'eh. This issur is based solely upon affiliation with chametz; that affiliation is defined in purely subjective terms.


A third comment of Rashi is perhaps the most radical. The gemara (5b) disqualifies bal yeira'eh for chametz which a person does not own (and, as the gemara adds later, one does not accept financial acharayut for). Presumably, this determines that any chametz which is not yours does not engender bal yeira'eh. Yet Rashi comments that only chametz belonging to a Gentile is immune to bal yeira'eh. The clear implication of Rashi is that if a Jew owns the chametz (and has not attended to bal yeira'eh), another Jew would violate bal yeira'eh (and practically be allowed/obligated) to remove that chametz. This striking conclusion was developed and adopted by the Vilna Gaon (comments to Orach Chayim 443) and obviously changes the entire picture of chametz and bal yeira'eh.


Rashi is unclear about which Jews would be in violation of bal yeira'eh for “another Jew's” chametz: would every Jew violate bal yeira'eh or just those who have some connection (family member, neighbor)? Ultimately, however, this radical position of Rashi stems from his previously stated opinions. Bal yeira'eh is based on a connection with the chametz, even in the absence of any legal title. According to Rashi, that connection exists between one Jew and another Jew's chametz and is sufficient to enable bal yeira'eh even though there is absolutely no legal or monetary title upon another person's chametz.


Having aligned these three statements of Rashi, we may consider an additional statement of Rashi. On his comments to Pesachim (6a), Rashi indicates that unseen chametz does not entail a violation of bal yeira'eh. He returns to this issue in his comments to a later gemara (21a), although in this instance, he is merely explaining a hava amina of the gemara. The concept that violation of bal yeira'eh requires visibility was already discussed in a previous shiur and was attributed to several Rishonim (Kesef Mishna, Rabbenu Dovid). However, seen against the backdrop of these previous three statements of Rashi, it is better understood. Bal yeira'eh is gauged by personal connection and not legal ownership. Without question, a person is less connected to unseen chametz and therefore does not violate bal yeira'eh.


It should be noted that most Rishonim who adopt this “visibility requirement” do so regarding the lone issur of bal yeira'eh; they all agree that invisible chametz would still entail a violation of bal yimatzei – effectively eliminating any halakhic nafka mina. Rashi implies, however, that the chametz that is not visible does not entail a violation of bal yeira'eh OR bal yimatzei. This would be an additional extreme statement of Rashi, but would be parallel to his other comments.


Of course, Rashi's position about the nature of bittul is also logically consistent. Tosafot maintain that the efficacy of bittul chametz was based on hefker. By denouncing ownership the person can avoid bal yeira'eh because the chametz is no longer his. Again, in consistent fashion, Rashi (see his comments to 4a, s.v chovat) claims that bittul is a manner of subjectively redefining chametz as DIRT and demonstrating lack of INTEREST. Presumably, an act of hefker would also disable bal yeira'eh, since the person would no longer own the chametz. However, according to Rashi, bittul is not hefker and hefker is not NECESSARY. By displaying disinterest in the chametz, the person has created disassociation and has eliminated bal yeira'eh and bal yimatzei.


Of course, an act of bittul is more objective, legal, and institutionalized than merely traveling away from the chametz or converting one’s house into a storage area. That is why many Rishonim agree with Rashi's definition of bittul but do not agree with his more extreme positions.