January 18, 2022

Moed Katan 5

We were previously taught in the Mishna (Moed Katan 1:2) that it is permissible to fix markers on an unmarked grave – or what is known as ציון קברות – on Chol HaMoed to serve as a warning to those passing by from contracting Tum’at Met. And in today’s daf (Moed Katan 5a), there is an extensive discussion about the scriptural verse which serves as a source for this practice.
According to Rav Abahu, the duty of ציון קברות is derived from Vayikra 13:45 which states, ‘and a Metzora shall call out “Tamei! Tamei!”’. According to Abaye, it is derived from Vayikra 19:14 where we are instructed, ‘and before a blind person do not put a stumbling block’. Rav Pappa is of the opinion that it is derived from Yeshayah 57:14 where we are told, ‘pave, pave, clear the road’. Rav Chanina argues that it can be derived from the later part of Yeshayah 57:14 from the instruction to ‘remove the obstacle from My people’s path’. Rabbi Yehoshua the son of Rav Idi claims that it can be derived from Shemot 18:20 where we are taught, ‘and you shall make know to them the path in which they should go’. Mar Zutra suggests that it can be derived from Vayikra 15:31 where we are told, ‘and you shall separate Bnei Yisrael from their Tum’ah’. Rav Ashi claims that it can be derived from Vayikra 18:30 where we are commanded, ‘and you shall safeguard my charge’. While Ravina argues that it can be deduced from Tehillim 50:23 which states, ‘and one who sets the way, I will show him the salvation of God’.
Significantly, the reason why each of these Amoraim cite a different verse is because each understand the duty to notify passers by about an unmarked grave slightly differently as reflected by the specific verse that they choose (nb. see the Maharsha as well as the Ein Eliyahu commentary on the Ein Yaakov who explain how each biblical proof contains its own unique perspective). However, I would particularly like to focus on the biblical proof offered by Abaye who claims that the duty to mark graves is derived from Vayikra 19:14 where we are instructed, וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל – ‘and before a blind person do not put a stumbling block’. This is due to the fact that, as numerous commentaries point out, this verse seems mismatched with the law being taught here since surely all we can derive from וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל is that we should not place a stumbling block ahead of someone who is considered ‘blind’ (i.e. unaware). However, what Abaye seems to be saying is that וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל not only instructs us about ‘not’ putting a physical or spiritual danger ahead of people, but also about ‘actively’ telling them about an impending physical or spiritual danger.
Yet, as Rabbi Baruch Halevi Epstein confirms in his Torah Temimah commentary to Vayikra 19:14, ‘it would seem from here that the prohibition of וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל not only includes the fact that we should not do anything that causes a person to stumble and sin… but also that whoever is responsible in any given setting is, in fact, responsible to warn people that they should not come and stumble’. What this approach – which is also reflected in the rulings of a number of other contemporary poskim – teaches us is that there is an ‘active’ element of וְלִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל which demands that we speak up and inform people about physical or spiritual dangers in our vicinity.
Unfortunately, there are those who erroneously think that just because they are aware of information which could ensure that others are not harmed and do not stumble, they do not need to share it with others. Yet what we learn from our daf, and from Abaye’s invocation of לִפְנֵי עִוֵּר לֹא תִתֵּן מִכְשֹׁל as a scriptural proof for ציון קברות, is that if we are aware of an unmarked danger – which obviously includes knowing individuals who are dangerous but who are currently ‘unmarked’ – we are dutibound to actively speak up, to warn people, and to make public markers, so that others should not come and stumble.
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