114b - Kavana

  • Rav Ezra Bick

            Last week, we began the gemara, with the statement of Resh Lakish that "mitzvot tzerichot kavana," mitzvot require intention. Resh Lakish derives this principle from our mishna. The gemara then proceeds to reject the derivation, explaining the mishna in a manner consistent with the position that mitzvot do NOT require kavana.

            Today, we shall continue to examine this principle. First, however, it is imperative that you review the gemara from last week's shiur, since today's portion is a direct continuation of the argument from last week. So, before beginning the new section from the gemara, read over the gemara from the mishna, with Rashi (or, even better, the Rashbam), making sure you follow the argument.


            Now we can proceed. First, the address of the webpage for today's shiur.


            The webpage includes:

  1. A scan of the daf.
  2. The glossary of Aramaic from today's lesson.
  3. The answer to the question at the end of the shiur.

            We are at the line in the gemara whose last word is "ve'od" (Line 15), and we begin from that word. (On the webpage, the exact place is marked).

Ve'od Tanya

And also, we learnt (in a beraita, a tannaic source that is not found in a mishna but in one of the other collections known to the gemara):

If he ate them "dmai," he has fulfilled (his obligation); if he ate them without intention he fulfilled; if he ate them in halves, he fulfilled, on the condition that he not wait between eatings more than the time it takes to eat a "pras."

            Tannaic statements are often extremely concise, almost in code. This one assumes that you understand the technical terms used. What's more, in this case, even Rashi and the Rashbam assume that you understand most of the terms used, so we will have to avail ourselves of an outside source to help us decipher this statement (namely, myself).

            Before we can understand the statement as a whole, we must define the different terms used. So here is a dictionary and some background.

  1. Dmai – Produce grown in the Land of Israel must be tithed; that is, a portion is set aside to be given to the Kohanim, and other portions for Levi'im, and the poor. The details are not important now. The original produce, before tithing, may not be eaten until these portions are separated from the produce. This prohibition is called "tevel."

A situation existed in the Talmudic period where many farmers were suspected of not completely removing the tithes from their produce. As a result, the Sages instituted a rabbinic prohibition on all produce purchased from unreliable sources, and decreed that it must be tithed by the purchaser. This prohibition is called "dmai," (meaning "uncertain'). This is a rabbinic prohibition, since according to Torah rules, we could rely on a statistical probability. The suspicion that the produce has not been tithed is based only on a minority of cases; hence following the majority rule would allow us to permit eating the produce. The Sages enacted a stringency and prohibited the food despite the statistical probability that it had been tithed.

A prohibited food-substance cannot be used to fulfill a mitzva, such as matza or maror (See mishna Pesachim, 35a). Hence, if the maror is from untithed foods (tevel), one would not fulfill the obligation to eat maror when eating it.

  1. Halves – There is a minimum amount which must be consumed in order that an act of eating have full halakhic status. In most cases, this amount is a "kezayit," the equivalent of a medium-sized olive. This applies both to prohibitions and to positive commandments, such as matza and maror.

If one eats only half of the minimum amount (or any other fractional portion), one has not fulfilled the mitzva. Suppose one divides the food into two, each part half a kezayit, and eats them both. He is eating the maror "in halves."

  1. Pras - The beraita states that the two halves join together, on the condition that the eating of both take place within a limited time period. This period is called "kedei achilat pras," the time it (normally) takes to eat a "pras," which is either three or four kezeitim (the plural of kezayit). If one waits a greater period of time between the two eatings, they do not join together, and, in effect, one has twice eaten a half-kezayit, and neither eating is sufficient to fulfill the obligation.

            Now, read the beraita again. How many different statements are there in this beraita? Make sure you understand each one.


            The one statement that is not immediately clear relates to the dmai. If dmai is prohibited, and if a prohibited food cannot be used to fulfill an eating mitzva, why can dmai be used to fulfill the mitzva of maror? The answer, I am sorry to say, is not in Rashi. But, fortunately, it is in the Rashbam (s.v. "achlan dmai"):

Achlan dmai yatza – If he ate them dmai, he has fulfilled – For if he wishes, he can make his possessions ownerless ("hefker"), and be a pauper, and then (the food) is fit for him; so now too it is fit for him.

            The Rashbam here is referring to a peculiarity of the prohibition of dmai. Although, like tevel, dmai is prohibited, it may be eaten by the poor. The prohibition is a rabbinic enactment, and when the Sages prohibited dmai, they specifically decreed that a pauper may eat it without tithing. This is not true for other rabbinic prohibitions, and is a specific exception made in the case of dmai.

            As a result, there exists a practical method for anyone to eat dmai. All he has to do is to renounce his ownership over all his possessions and thereby become a pauper. Ownerless objects are called "hefker" in halakhic Hebrew. The method of renouncing ownership and making something hefker is called to be "mafkir" and does not involve a complicated legal procedure; i.e., you do not need a lawyer. It can be done with a simple verbal formula. Hence, technically, if you really want to, you can eat dmai without any great difficulty. All you have to do is to be mafkir ALL your possessions.

            The Rashbam states that given this simple method of permitting one to eat dmai, the dmai is considered to be "fit for consumption EVEN IF HE HAS NOT BEEN MAFKIR his possessions. When he eats it, he does in fact violate a rabbinic prohibition; nonetheless, he can simultaneously fulfill the mitzva of maror even as he violates the prohibition of dmai. If however he would have eaten a food that bears a Torah prohibition, or even one that is prohibited only rabbinically but does not share the specific peculiarity of dmai that allows the prohibition to be removed at will, he would not have fulfilled the mitzva.

            Explain the reasoning of this halakha. This basically involves defining the status of a food whose prohibition prevents it from being used to fulfill an obligation. A significant hint is found in the formulation of the Rashbam, who twice refers to the "fitness" of the food. This is not an easy question, and requires careful halakhic formulation. You have to first define why prohibited foods invalidate the fulfillment of the mitzva and then explain why dmai is not considered a prohibited food for this purpose. We will take a five minute break while you think about this.


            Why is dmai not like other prohibitions when used to fulfill a mitzva?

            The reason that prohibited foods invalidate mitzva fulfillment is not because there is a contradiction between fulfilling God's will and transgressing it. The basic rule of halakha would be to separate the two areas and conclude that one has simultaneously fulfilled a mitzva and committed a transgression. Although morally there would appear to be a problem here, halakhically, that is legally, the two actions, the mitzva and the prohibition, should be kept distinct. Rather, the fact that the produce is prohibited renders it unfit (to use the Rashbam's term) for human (or rather, Jewish) consumption. In other words, it is no longer defined as a "food." Hence, the act of consuming it is not considered to be "eating." You can only eat foods. (This sounds better in Hebrew, where the word for "food" and the verb "to eat" are both from the same root - AchaL). "Food" is a halakhic category, and the halakha defines it as something which can be eaten. If it cannot be eaten halakhically (although it surely can be eaten physiologically), this halakha decides that it is not a food.

            Dmai, however, despite the fact that it is prohibited, can be eaten. You merely have to be mafkir all your possessions. Hence, it is "fit" for human consumption, even though one will transgress a prohibition if you eat it without being mafkir your possessions. There is therefore no reason why if one does eat dmai lettuce, one has not fulfilled the mitzva of maror, even though one has transgressed the prohibition of dmai.

            The beraita should now be clear. There are THREE laws formulated in the beraita.

1. Eating dmai.

2. Eating without intention.

3. Eating "halves."


            Now that you understand the beraita, the next question is: What is the gemara doing with this beraita? What purpose does it have in the continuing argument of the gemara?

            The previous discussion of dmai, in fact, has nothing to do with our gemara. The focus of the gemara's citation of this beraita is clearly the middle statement in it, the one that said that "if he ate them without intention he fulfilled (his obligation)." The gemara is bringing a proof-text AGAINST Resh Lakish. Not only has Resh Lakish failed to sustain his proof from our mishna, since the mishna can be read in a manner consistent with the assumption that "mitzvot do NOT require intention," but this assumption is directly and explicitly supported by the beraita we are studying.

            The Rashbam puts this succinctly on the very first line of this statement:

Ve-od Tanya – And also we learnt - explicitly that mitzvot do not require intention, and this is a refutation of Resh Lakish.

(Notice how you are meant to read the "sub voce" together with the comment in one sentence).

            Why is this a refutation of Resh Lakish and not merely an opposing opinion? The answer is that Resh Lakish is an "amora," a scholar of the post-mishna period, whereas the beraita belongs to the tannaitic period of the mishna. The assumption of the Talmud is that an amora does not disagree with a tannaitic source. The Mishna and the beraita are the sources that the amoraim discuss and comment on. They are the primary material for the gemara, and hence, with rare exceptions, the conclusions of these sources is authoritative.

            This explicates the logic behind the gemara's answer to the refutation of Resh Lakish. "Tana'i hee" – it is (a disagreement among) the tannaim. In other words, both positions – mitzvot require intention and mitzvot do not require intention – are based on tannaic opinions, and hence Resh Lakish is not bound to accept one of them. Given the tannaic disagreement, the question remains open, and the amoraim may themselves express opinions on this question.

            The gemara answers.

It is tannaic, as we learned: R. Yossi says: Even though he dipped with lettuce, it is a mitzva to bring before him lettuce, charoset, and two cooked foods.

            "It is tannaic" ("tana'i hee") is a standard formulation in the Talmud, which basically means, "this matter is a tannaic subject." In other words, Resh Lakish's position is the subject of a tannaic dispute. Although there may be sources which disagree with Resh Lakish, there are also sources which support him. The following quote ("R. Yossi says....") is meant to demonstrate this.

Where are there two opinions here? Obviously, the gemara means that the previous beraita ("dmai") clearly maintains the position that mitzvot DO NOT require intention, and R. Yossi maintains that they DO require intention. (See Rashbam, s.v. "tana'i").

            Is it clear that R. Yossi maintains that mitzvot do require intention (like Resh Lakish)? Why? After all, is not his statement basically equivalent to that of the mishna? And did we not already reject the assertion that the mishna must be read in agreement with the position of Resh Lakish? Why is R. Yossi's statement a more unequivocal expression of the position that mitzvot require intention than the mishna?

            Read over R. Yossi's statement and see if you can identify the feature that led the gemara to conclude that his position can only be explained in accordance with that of Resh Lakish.


            In this case, there are two places where we can find the answer to that question, if we have not answered it ourselves. The obvious one would be to look in Rashi or the Rashbam, and in fact, the Rashbam does answer the question for us. The less obvious route would be to continue reading, as the gemara itself asks the question and gives the answer. So that is what we shall do.

Ve'akati – but yet, from what (do you conclude that which you concluded)? Perhaps R. Yossi holds that mitzvot do not require intention, but the fact that two dippings are required is due to the need for a "recognition" for the children?

            This was precisely the explanation given (last week) for how to read the mishna, which also has us dipping lettuce twice, in accordance with the position that mitzvot do not require intention.

            The gemara answers:

"Alef-Kaf " = Im ken – If so, what is "mitzva?"

            Since we know the gemara asked our question, this line must be the answer. Maybe we should look in the Rashbam after all.

Rashbam s.v. "mitzva l'havi":

"It is a mitzva to bring …." - In other words, it is a Torah mitzva to bring, as he has not yet fulfilled the mitzva to eat maror since he did not have intention, as mitzvot require intention.

Rashbam s.v. "Ee hachi"

If so, what is "mitzva to bring" - It should have read, "they bring."

            The mishna simply stated that after dipping lettuce, one brings lettuce (for maror). The gemara explained that this could be due to a need for two dippings in order to arouse the curiosity of the children. But in the beraita of R. Yossi, it states that it is a MITZVA to bring the second serving of lettuce. The Rashbam explains that the use of the word "mitzva" implies a higher degree of obligation than "hekeira," the need to arouse the children. In fact, the Rashbam claims that calling it a mitzva, a commandment, implies that it is a biblical (Torah) obligation, which can only mean the mitzva of maror. This implies that he has not yet fulfilled the mitzva of maror, although he ate lettuce during the first dipping (karpas). The explanation can only be that mitzvot DO require intention.

            This concludes the discussion in this gemara of the principle that mitzvot require intention. Does the gemara reach a conclusion concerning this question? In other words, according to the conclusion of the gemara, do mitzvot require intention or do they not? The correct answer to this question indicates whether you have understood the entire thread of the argument in the gemara.

            Before you close your gemara, or turn off your computer, reread and explain the entire section in the gemara from the beginning of last week's lesson (immediately after the mishna) until the point we have reached. It is, after all, one extended debate. Now answer the last question.

            The correct answer, in my opinion, is posted as item three on the webpage of today's lesson. If you did not reach the same conclusion, reread the gemara again. If you still do not agree, write me. I shall be happy to argue.


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The webpage: http://www.gush.net/talmud/04.htm