October 23, 2022

Ketubot 99

As part of its discussion about the laws of agency (שליחות), reference was made in yesterday’s daf (Ketubot 98b) to the principle of מעילה (which primarily applies to the unlawful use of consecrated property). Specifically, the Gemara quoted from Mishna Meilah 6:1 which teaches us that if an agent (שליח) did not follow the instructions given to him concerning consecrated property, then the agent is guilty of מעילה.
Today’s daf (Ketubot 99a) continues on this theme, and through its discussion it seems clear that the laws of מעילה can have applications in broader cases than specifically those relating to consecrated property. Pondering this fact – especially as we approach the end of Sukkot and Simchat Torah – I am reminded of the stirring words of the Rambam at the end of his Hilchot Meilah (8:8) where he writes:
“It is appropriate for a person to meditate on the judgments of the holy Torah and know their ultimate purpose according to their capacity. If someone cannot find a reason or a motivating rationale for a practice, they should not regard it lightly…See how severe the Torah rules concerning misappropriating sacred property (מעילה). Now if wood, stones, earth, and ash become holy because the name of the Lord of the world was called upon them through speech alone and anyone who treats them as ordinary articles violates the prohibition against מעילה and even if they acted unknowingly then they are required to secure atonement, how much more so with regard to the mitzvot which God ordained for us should a person not treat them derisively just because they do not understand their rationale…”
What the Rambam is saying here is crucially important – which is that by virtue of the Torah being sacred, there is a manner in which we should treat not just a Torah scroll but also Torah words and concepts. Given this, we should not treat Torah “lightly”, and when we discuss laws or values, especially those that we struggle to comprehend, our analysis should be thoughtful, respectful, as opposed to derisive or dismissive.
For some people this may be easy, however others may struggle with this. And this is why, when we say our Torah blessings every morning, we should not just thank God for the Torah, but also – at the same time – remind ourselves of the manner in which we should respectfully approach Torah words and concepts every day, for if we do not do so, we too may fall foul of the laws of מעילה.
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