December 22, 2020

Pesachim 31

Having discussed the prohibition of owning, eating or benefiting from chametz on Pesach, the Mishna (Pesachim 2:3) in today’s daf (Pesachim 31b) addresses the question of what should be done if chametz becomes totally inaccessible – such as in the case where a wall has collapsed underwhich chametz products, owned by a Jew, have become trapped and are now inaccessible?
According to Rav Chisda, though this chametz cannot be accessed, and though few people would wish to eat those chametz products even if they did become accessible, the Jew who owns these chametz products must still nullify them and thereby render them ‘like the dust of the earth’.
Yet it is of interest that Rav Chisda does not state that the person needs to ‘say’ they are nullifying their chametz. Instead, he teaches וצריך שיבטל בלבו – ‘the person must nullify the chametz in their heart’, and this raises the question of whether ביטל חמץ must be said, or needs only to be thought by the person.
On the basis of the rabbinic teaching (Kiddushin 49b) that דברים שבלב אינם דברים – ‘words in the heart are not [considered to have the legal authority of] words [uttered]’, Rabbeinu Nissim suggests that what Rav Chisda meant is that though the individual must actively say they are nullifying their chametz, they need not hear their own words.
However, Rabbi Menachem Meiri disagrees with this explanation and, instead, he explains that in all matters between ourselves and God, words of the heart are sufficient since our Rabbis teach us (Sanhedrin 106b) that רחמנא ליבא בעי – ‘God wants [us to serve Him with] the heart’.
Clearly there is something particularly exquisite in the Meiri’s interpretation. But while – in this case of ביטול חמץ – the halacha may not require that words be explicitly uttered, it is essential that we understand his remarks as part of a broader understanding of performing a practical mitzvah. As the Chafetz Chaim (as cited by Rabbi Saul Weiss in ‘Insights: A Talmudic Treasury’ Vol. 1 p. 317) once explained, ‘there are those who say that a Jew can discharge their obligation with a good heart alone, and they cite what the Sages say רחמנא ליבא בעי – ‘God wants [us to serve Him with] the heart’. Yet the matter is not so, as the Torah says, ‘The Lord commanded us to observe (לעשות)’, meaning literally, ‘to do’. This implies that action and deeds are required, and not mere thought alone’.
What we learn from here is while an inner emotional and spiritual connection is something we must seek and foster, this should be done as part of our blended spiritual pursuit which intertwines the heart which God wants, as well as the actions and deeds that God commands us to fulfil.
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