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Defining the Prohibition of Bal Te'achar Part 2

  • Rav Moshe Taragin
In a previous shiur, we introduced the basic question surrounding the issur of bal te'achar, the prohibition of delaying korbanot and hekdesh-related obligations. Is the issur defined as delaying obligations (possibly initiated through verbal declaration, or possibly even autonomous obligations)? Or does the prohibition consist of withholding monies belonging to hekdesh or hekdesh-like accounts? Several cases in which the latter possibility was not relevant were considered for possible bal te'achar application. In this shiur, we will explore additional issues of bal te'achar that may stem from this fundamental question.
The gemara in Rosh Hashana (5b) applies bal te'achar to the delay in processing a first offspring (bekhor) of a korban-suitable animal. It is not clear from the gemara, however, at which stage bal te'achar sets in. Does it legislate the delivery of the animal to the Kohen, demanding that it be given prior to the passage of three regalim? Or does it govern the second phase, during which the Kohen must deliver this animal as a korban, similar to any other korban? Although the gemara does not address this question, the Chakham Tzvi (12) and the Minchat Barukh (104) each discussed this issue. Presumably, this question emanates from the fundamental definition of bal te'achar. If the prohibition surrounds the delivery of “owned” assets, bal te'achar would affect the initial stage, during which a person must deliver the animal to the Kohen, its rightful owner. If, however, the issur governs the performance of the mitzva obligation, it would govern the second stage – the actual performance and conclusion of the mitzva.
The assumption that the question of which stage of bekhor is governed by bal te'achar is really a question relating to the nature of bal te'achar may generate some interesting secondary applications. For example, would bal te'achar apply to a bekhor born with a mum (blemish) that renders it unfit for a korban, although it is still the property of the Kohen? If bal te'achar is essentially a prohibition to withhold assets, it probably would apply. What about the reverse case of a bekhor born to a Kohen, which also must be offered as a korban? Since the animal is in possession of its rightful owner, no assets are being withheld, and that model of bal te'achar therefore should not be relevant. Potentially, however, the alternate version of bal te'achar – delay in performing a korban-based mitzva – may apply. These interesting test cases are suggested by the Kehillat Ya'akov in his commentary to Rosh Hashana.
A similar question arises from an interesting position of Rabbenu Tam surrounding the application of bal te'achar to tzedaka. Does bal te'achar govern the stage of delivering pledged monies to the charity distributor (gabbai), or does it govern the stage of his delivering these monies to actual poor people? Conceivably, this is an identical question to the application of bal te'achar to bekhor regarding which stage of bekhor it governs. Rabbenu Tam (cited by Tosafot, Rosh Hashana 4a) claims that once funds have been deposited with the gabbai, no bal te'achar exists regarding further distribution to poor people. Evidently, he viewed bal te'achar as withholding of funds; once the funds are credited to the gabbai, they are not being withheld from their proper account.
This position of Tosafot is premised on the notion that tzedaka monies legally belong to an estate of poor people, which is represented by the gabbai distributor. This question is debated and affects issues such as whether this money can be loaned with interest (see Beis Yosef, Yoreh De'ah 160, quoting the Rashba), as well as whether classic laws of shomer apply to charity funds (see Teshuvot HaRosh 13:8).
An interesting manner of probing this question is to isolate factors that may trigger bal te'achar even though they may not affect the monetary status. If these “mitzva-triggers” enable bal te'achar, it may indicate that bal te'achar is unrelated to monetary dynamics, but is rather impacted by the mitzva schedule and inordinate delays. For example, an interesting Tosafot (Rosh Hashana 4a) claims that if a poor person is present (triggering a more “pressing” mitzva of tzedaka), bal te'achar is violated even through a minor delay. By contrast, if poor people are not soliciting, bal te'achar is only violated after three regalim have elapsed. The solicitation of a poor person does not affect the status of monies dedicated to tzedaka; even prior to the solicitation the monies were the assets belonging to poor people. By conditioning bal te'achar upon solicitation, Tosafot probably viewed bal te'achar as expediting a mitzva. Once the poor person petitions, the mitzva is incumbent and even minor delays constitute bal te'achar.
A similar trigger emerges from an interesting Tosafot regarding bal te'achar for matnot Kehuna and Levi'a, the tithes and produces designated for Kohanim and Levi'im. The gemara asserts the application of bal te'achar, but Tosafot question this based on the fact that these tithes already have a deadline. The cumulative tithes must be delivered by Erev Pesach of the 4th and 7th year of the Shemitta cycle! How can bal te'achar apply if a different prohibition already sets a timetable? Tosafot provide an interesting solution. If the tithes have not been assigned, bal te'achar does not apply; in that case, the 3rd and 7th year of the shemitta cycle represent the deadline. Once the tithes have been assigned, however, bal te'achar is triggered and the deadline occurs after three regalim. Again, it appears as if a process that advances the mitzva performance leads to the onset of bal te'achar. The requisite tithes already belong monetarily to the Kohanim and Levi'im prior to assignment. If assignment accelerates bal te'achar, it is probably because bal te'achar demands expeditious mitzva performance and not just relinquishing monies belonging to a different estate.
We have probed several instances of bal te'achar to determine whether the prohibition consists of delaying a hekdesh-related mitzva or as withholding monetary funds associated with a different account. Perhaps the most provocative application of bal te'achar surrounds the declaration of nezirut (see Nedarim 4a). A nazir evolves from a hafla'ah declaration and obligates a bundle of obligations and prohibitions. If bal te'achar is defined as delaying a verbally created mitzva, its application to nezirut is completely logical. If, however, bal te'achar entails withholding funds belonging to a different account, the nezirut application is difficult to understand. A nazir indeed offers a korban at the end of his nezirut term, and one position in the gemara limits bal te'achar solely to delaying that korban and not to delaying the advent of nezirut in general. However, most positions cited by the gemara apply bal te'achar to delays of various non-korban related aspects of nezirut. The various activities and behaviors of a nazir do not pertain to monies that are withheld, yet bal te'achar applies. This would, on the surface, support the notion that bal te'achar consists of delaying mitzva performance.