1) THE SIGNIFICANCE OF THE "TECHELES"
OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that in the merit of Avraham Avinu's words when he said, "Im mi'Chut..." (Bereishis 14:23), the Jewish people were rewarded with the Mitzvah of Techeles. The Gemara asks, what is so special about the Mitzvah of Techeles? The Gemara answers by citing Rebbi Meir in a Beraisa who says that Techeles is unique from all of the other colors because the color "Techeles is similar to the sea, the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the sapphire stone, and the sapphire stone is similar to the Kisei ha'Kavod," the Throne of Hash-m's Glory. What is the significance of this fact?
(a) RASHI in Menachos (43b, DH v'Raki'a) explains the Gemara in apparently the most straightforward sense. The Techeles reminds its wearer that Hash-m is above him by reminding him of the Throne of Hash-m's Glory.
(b) RASHI here in Chulin (DH sheha'Techeles Domeh), however, explains the Gemara in the opposite manner. He explains that when Hash-m looks at the Throne, He is reminded of the Mitzvah of Techeles that we perform. Why does Rashi not explain the Gemara here the way he does in Menachos?
It appears that Rashi here wants to explain what physical benefits the Jewish people derive from Techeles, since the Gemara implies that the Mitzvos of Tefilin and Techeles bring glory to the Jewish people. If Techeles reminds only us of Hash-m's Throne, it does not necessarily lend us prestige.
(c) RASHI in Menachos (ibid.) offers another approach. By wearing the Techeles, it is as if one carries the Holy Throne of Glory on his body, which certainly is prestigious.
(d) RASHI in Sotah (17a, DH sheha'Techeles) suggests another interpretation of the Gemara, based on the Sifri (Parshas Shelach). By wearing Techeles one is considered to have greeted the Shechinah of Hash-m.
2) BECOMING CLOSE TO THE SHECHINAH IN THIS WORLD
QUESTION: The Gemara quotes Rebbi Meir who says that "Techeles is similar [in color] to the sea, the sea is similar to the sky, and the sky is similar to the sapphire stone, and the sapphire stone is similar to the Kisei ha'Kavod," the Throne of Hash-m's Glory, as it says (Shemos 24:10), 'They saw the G-d of Yisrael, and under His feet was something like a sapphire stone, bright as the color of the sky.'"
The reason why the sky is included in the string of comparisons is easy to understand. Since we have never actually seen the Throne of Hash-m, we must first bring textual proof to the color of the Throne before we assert that Techeles is similar to it in color. The verse likens the color of the Throne to that of a much more familiar object -- the sky ("under His feet was something like... the color of the sky"). Therefore, it is necessary for Rebbi Meir to point out that Techeles is sky-colored (as we see for ourselves) before he concludes that the Throne of Hash-m's Glory is also sky-colored (as the verse states).
Why, though, does the Gemara mention the sea as an intermediary step in this comparison? Rebbi Meir could simply have compared the color of Techeles directly to that of the sky, without mentioning the sea!
(a) RASHI in Sotah (17a) explains that Techeles is not exactly the same color as the sky; it is more similar to the color of the sea. The sea's color is somewhere between the color of Techeles and the color of the sky (the sky being the color of the Throne). This is why the Gemara, in demonstrating that the Techeles is reminiscent of the Throne, needs to describe the similarity in stages. Techeles is similar to the sea; the sea, in turn, is similar to the sky, which is similar to the Throne. (TOSFOS SHANTZ in Sotah offers the same explanation.)
This approach, however, leads to another question. If Techeles, in fact, is not really the color of the Throne, then why was Techeles chosen to be the color by which we remember the Throne? If the purpose of the Techeles in the Tzitzis is to remind us of Hash-m's closeness to us, then why do we not dye the thread with a dye that is sky-blue, rather than a color which is only reminiscent of the sky's color through a two-step comparison?
RAV HADAR MARGOLIN (of Har Nof, Yerushalayim) suggests the following answer. Rashi in Sotah refers to the Sifri (#115) which states that the point of Rebbi Meir's statement is to prove that when one performs the Mitzvah of Tzitzis, it is as if he is having an encounter with the Shechinah. This stands in contrast to the Gemara in Menachos (43b), which formulates this theme somewhat differently: "Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai said, 'Whoever is careful to perform the Mitzvah [of Tzitzis] will merit as reward to have an encounter with the Shechinah.'" The encounter with the Shechinah (that is, in the World to Come) is referred to in Menachos as an ultimate reward for the Mitzvah, while according to the Sifri the performance of the Mitzvah is tantamount to ("k'Ilu") encountering the Shechinah.
The Sifri's statement might explain why the color of Techeles is not identical to that of Hash-m's Throne. A true encounter with Hash-m is not possible in this physical world. Nevertheless, the Tzitzis strings that hang from the four corners of our garments can elevate us to feel as though ("k'Ilu") we are in direct contact with the Divine Presence, by reminding us that the Divine Presence watches over us from every angle. This "encounter" with Hash-m is what is hinted to by the twice-removed comparison between the Techeles thread worn on our Tzitzis and Hash-m's Throne. The color of Techeles thus demonstrates that our Tzitzis grants us an appreciation of the Divine Presence even in the mundane world in which we live, where a glimpse of His true Presence is distant from our grasp.
(b) In his commentary to Menachos, Rashi seems to offer another approach to the question of why Rebbi Meir mentions the color of the sea in connection with the Techeles. Rashi there (DH Domeh) comments cryptically, "Techeles is similar [in color] to the sea -- where miracles were performed for Yisrael."
What is Rashi's intention in mentioning the miracles performed at the Sea? What is the connection between the miracles performed at the Sea and the color of Techeles?
RAV YITZCHAK ISAAC HA'LEVI HERZOG zt'l (in an article on the subject of Techeles) suggests that Rashi may be alluding to a comment made by the Sifri (ibid.), "Why is [the color used in Tzitzis] called 'Techeles' (from the root Kaf-Lamed)? It is because the Egyptians were annihilated ('Kalu,' from the root Kaf-Lamed) in the Sea."
The color, as well as the name, of Techeles is hinting to what happened at the Sea. Rashi is teaching that the color of the Techeles has a dual significance: first, it reminds us of Hash-m's Throne, and, second, it recalls the miracles wrought for us at the Sea. This is why Rebbi Meir mentions two similarities of color when he describes Techeles: "Techeles is similar to the sea, and the sea is similar to the sky (which is the same color as the Throne of Glory)." Both of these similarities are significant in their own right.
One may add to Rav Herzog's insightful comment that the two symbolisms of the color of Techeles are not unrelated. When Hash-m led the Jewish people through the Sea, not only did He split open the waters of the Sea, but "He revealed himself to them in all His glory, until the people were able to point to Him and say, 'This is my G-d...'" (Rashi, Shemos 15:2).
Perhaps the point of the Techeles is to remind us that, as Jews, we are able to raise ourselves to a spiritual height at which we can perceive the Shechinah in this world. In order to substantiate this claim, Techeles recalls as well the events which occurred at the Sea, during which the Jews actually did perceive the Divine Presence. The semblance of Techeles to the color of the sea serves to reinforce the theme that we are able to perceive the Divine Presence in this world.
It is interesting to note that TOSFOS in Sotah (17a, DH Mipnei), quoting the Yerushalmi (Berachos 1:2), presents another version of Rebbi Meir's statement, in which Techeles is first compared to the sea, the sea is compared to grass, and grass is then compared to the sky, which is the color of Hash-m's Throne of Glory. Why is the color of grass added in the progression of the comparison of colors?
In light of the explanation offered above for Rashi in Menachos, the added mention of grass in Rebbi Meir's statement is especially appropriate. The Gemara earlier in Sotah (11b) relates that when the Egyptians came out to the fields to kill the infants there, Hash-m miraculously caused the babies to be swallowed up into the ground, where they were safe from the Egyptians' evil designs. The Egyptians, in an effort not to be deterred, proceeded to plow up the ground. After they left, Hash-m miraculously caused the babies to sprout up out of the ground like the grass
of the field, as it says (Yechezkel 16:7), "I made you as numerous as the grass of the field...." (See Insights to Sotah 11:1
Perhaps the color of Techeles is intended to remind us of this miracle as well. Techeles is similar in color to grass, which reminds us of the manner in which Hash-m miraculously protected the Jewish population during the Egyptian exile. Techeles alludes to that because the Gemara there says that when Hash-m revealed His glory to the Jews at the splitting of the Sea, it was these infants (now adults) who exclaimed (Shemos 15:2), "This is my G-d...." The infants who "grew as the grass" were the first to recognize Hash-m's Divine Presence, Rashi explains, because they had already witnessed His glory on a previous occasion. That is, these children experienced in Mitzrayim an encounter with the Shechinah on a level comparable to the one which the Jews experienced at the splitting of the Sea.
Accordingly, Rebbi Meir (in the Yerushalmi's version of his statement) mentions the color of grass in his list for the same reason that he mentions the color of the sea. Recalling the story of the miraculous births in Mitzrayim helps to substantiate for us -- in the same manner as the miracles at the Sea -- that it is possible for a human being to experience a close encounter with Hash-m's Divine Presence in this world! (See Parshah Page, Shelach 5755 and 5756.) (For a discussion of the identity of the Techeles dye, see Insights to Menachos 44:1
3) THE ASHES OF AN "IR HA'NIDACHAS"
QUESTION: Rebbi Ze'ira (or Rabah bar Yirmeyah) teaches that one may use the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas for the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam. The Gemara asks, why may one use such earth for Kisuy ha'Dam if one is forbidden to derive any benefit from the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas? Ze'iri answers that only "the dirt of its dirt" may be used.
RASHI (b'Afar Ir ha'Nidachas) explains that the Gemara originally thought that Rebbi Ze'ira was referring to the ashes of a burned Ir ha'Nidachas when he mentioned the "Afar" of an Ir ha'Nidachas. Ze'iri answers that Rebbi Ze'ira was referring to the dirt of the ground of an Ir ha'Nidachas, and not to its ashes.
Why should the ashes of an Ir ha'Nidachas be prohibited? The Gemara in Temurah (34a) teaches that it is not prohibited to use the ashes of items which the Torah commands to burn (with the exception of the ashes of an Asheirah tree that was worshipped as Avodah Zarah).
ANSWER: TOSFOS in Temurah (33b, DH ha'Nisrafin) explains that even though, in most cases, one may use the ashes of items which the Torah commands to burn, the ashes of an Asheirah tree are forbidden because the verse states with regard to Avodah Zarah, "v'Lo Yidbak b'Yadcha Me'umah Min ha'Cherem" -- "Nothing from the prohibited property shall remain in your hands" (Devarim 13:18). Indeed, the verse is written in the context of the laws of an Ir ha'Nidachas. Accordingly, it is obvious that the Torah prohibits using the ashes of an Ir ha'Nidachas for the same reason. (MINCHAS CHINUCH 464:4)
4) "MITZVOS LAV LEIHANOS NITNU"
QUESTION: Rebbi Ze'ira (or Rabah bar Yirmeyah) teaches that one may use the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas for the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam. The Gemara asks, why may one use such earth for Kisuy ha'Dam if one is forbidden to derive any benefit from the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas? Rava answers that "Mitzvos Lav Leihanos Nitnu" -- the Mitzvos were not given to derive benefit from them, and thus the benefit derived from a Mitzvah is not considered Hana'ah.
When Ravina taught the answer of Rava, Rav Rechumi asked that Rava himself ruled (Sukah 31b) that a Lulav of Avodah Zarah may not be used for the Mitzvah, which presumably means that one does not fulfill the Mitzvah when one uses such a Lulav. Ravina answers that it means that l'Chatchilah one may not use such a Lulav, but one who used such a Lulav, b'Di'eved, has fulfilled the Mitzvah.
What was Rav Rechumi's question in the first place? Even if benefit derived from Mitzvos is considered benefit, and one may not use items of Isurei Hana'ah even for Mitzvos, why should one not fulfill the Mitzvah if he used such an item b'Di'eved?
(a) The RITVA in Rosh Hashanah (28b) gives two answers to this question. In his first answer, he explains that one should not fulfill the Mitzvah with an item of Isurei Hana'ah because the Mitzvah would be a "Mitzvah ha'Ba'ah b'Aveirah" -- a Mitzvah performed through the transgression of a prohibition.
This answer suffices according to those Rishonim who maintain that the principle of "Mitzvah ha'Ba'ah b'Aveirah" is a general principle that applies to all Mitzvos. However, some Rishonim maintain that the principle of "Mitzvah ha'Ba'ah b'Aveirah" applies only to a Korban; one may not bring a Korban that was acquired through an Aveirah, and if one brings such a Korban he has not fulfilled his obligation. The reason why the principle of "Mitzvah ha'Ba'ah b'Aveirah" is limited to the Mitzvah of bringing a Korban is that the verse from which this principle is derived refers specifically to a Korban: "Sonei Gezel ba'Olah" (Sukah 30a; see RAMBAN to Pesachim 35a, and Insights to Sukah 30:1); since the specific purpose of bringing a Korban is to appease Hash-m, Hash-m is not appeased when it is done with an Aveirah. Any other Mitzvah, however, that is done through an Aveirah is valid, since any other Mitzvah is not done specifically for the sake of appeasing Hash-m. Why, then, does one not fulfill the Mitzvah of Lulav when he uses an item of Isurei Hana'ah? The answer is that the Mitzvah of Lulav is an exception, since Lulav is also for the sake of appeasing Hash-m, like a Korban (see RASHI to Sukah 37b, DH Kedei).
(b) In his second answer, the Ritva explains that since using the item of Isurei Hana'ah is prohibited only if the person fulfills the Mitzvah with the item (thereby deriving benefit from it), it is logical to assume that the Torah does not want him to fulfill his obligation. The Torah does not allow a person to fulfill a Mitzvah when the very fulfillment of the Mitzvah will cause him to transgress an Aveirah. In such a case, the Torah wants to prevent the person from transgressing an Aveirah, and therefore it states that one does not fulfill the Mitzvah. (See also Insights to Rosh Hashanah 28:1.)
5) "KETUTEI MICHTAS SHI'UREI" AND "KISUY HA'DAM"
QUESTION: The Gemara explains the difference between using an object of Avodah Zarah for the Mitzvos of Shofar and Lulav, in which case one does not fulfill the Mitzvah, and using the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas for Kisuy ha'Dam, in which case one does fulfill the Mitzvah. A Shofar and Lulav of Avodah Zarah must be burned, and the rule is that "everything that must be burned is considered to be burned already." When there is a Mitzvah to burn a certain object, that object is considered already burned and reduced to ashes, and consequently it does not have the minimum size necessary for the Mitzvah. This is called "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei." In contrast, the Mitzvah of Kisuy ha'Dam requires no minimum amount of dirt. In fact, the more finely the dirt is crushed, the better it is for the purpose of Kisuy. Therefore, even though the dirt is considered to be burned already, it is still valid for Kisuy ha'Dam.
The Gemara's distinction is not clear. Kisuy ha'Dam also requires a minimum Shi'ur of earth; there must be enough earth to cover all of the blood! If the earth of an Ir ha'Nidachas is considered to be burned (since the city must be burned), then the earth being used to cover the blood lacks the minimum Shi'ur!
ANSWERS: There are two different approaches in the Rishonim to explain the principle of "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei," and thus there are two ways to understand the Gemara.
(a) The RAMBAM (Hilchos Shabbos 17:12) writes, "One may erect a Lechi (an object at least ten Tefachim high that serves as a fourth wall, thereby creating a Halachic partition in an opening into a courtyard and enabling people to carry in that courtyard on Shabbos) even from a live object, and even from an object of Isurei Hana'ah. A Lechi made from Avodah Zarah or an Asheirah is valid, since there is no requirement for the Shi'ur of its width."
The Rambam is explaining why a Lechi may be made from Avodah Zarah. Since a Lechi has no minimum width, the status of "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" does not invalidate it. The RA'AVAD asks, however, that although a Lechi has no minimum Shi'ur for its width, it does have a minimum Shi'ur for its height; it must be ten Tefachim high! How, then, can an object that is "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" be used for a Lechi?
CHIDUSHEI RABEINU CHAIM HA'LEVI here explains that the requirement of ten Tefachim is not a Shi'ur of the Lechi. Rather, it is a requirement in the courtyard. The courtyard must be fenced-in to a height of ten Tefachim on all sides in order to permit people to carry there on Shabbos. "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" does not take away the fact that this side of the courtyard has a fence (the Lechi) that is ten Tefachim high. Even though the Lechi itself is considered not to have ten Tefachim because of "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei," the reality is that the courtyard has a fence on that side that is ten Tefachim high.
The same applies to Kisuy ha'Dam. There is no minimum Shi'ur of dirt that is needed for Kisuy ha'Dam. Although there must be enough dirt to cover the blood, this is not a requirement in the Shi'ur of the dirt. Rather, it is the blood that needs to be covered in its entirety. This is similar to the courtyard of Shabbos, where the entire ten Tefachim height of the courtyard must be enclosed, and it is considered to be enclosed even though the Lechi does not have a Halachic Shi'ur of ten Tefachim. "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" does not change the reality that the blood is covered, and therefore the dirt of an Ir ha'Nidachas may be used.
(b) The RA'AVAD (ibid.) gives a different reason for why a Lechi is valid even when it is made from Avodah Zarah. He writes that the purpose of the Lechi is to serve as a reminder ("Heker") to signal the border of Reshus ha'Rabim and Reshus ha'Yachid. Consequently, "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" makes no difference. Even if the Lechi is considered by Halachah to have no Shi'ur, people still see it and it still serves as a "Heker."
The Ra'avad understands that "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" means that if destroying the object will render it unusable for its Mitzvah, then it cannot be used for the Mitzvah. A Shofar and Lulav cannot be used when they are crushed, and thus "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" invalidates them. A Lechi, in contrast, serves as a "Heker" even in a crushed form (if all of the crushed pieces would be attached to the wall of the courtyard), and thus it is valid even though it is "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei."
This also explains why dirt of an Ir ha'Nidachas may be used for Kisuy ha'Dam. Dirt may be used even if it is crushed (and the more it is crushed, the better), and, therefore, "Ketutei Michtas Shi'urei" does not invalidate it. (Mordechai Zvi Dicker)
6) THE "GID HA'NASHEH" OF A FETUS
QUESTION: The Gemara explains that the prohibition of Gid ha'Nasheh applies to a fetus, according to the Tana Kama of the Mishnah, and its Gid is prohibited from the moment of its inception, just as the prohibition against eating the offspring of an animal of Kodshim takes effect from the moment of its inception.
However, in the Mishnah earlier (74a), Rebbi Meir, whose opinion is the stringent one, prohibits only the Gid of a nine-month-old fetus. Until it is nine months old, the Gid is not prohibited, even according to Rebbi Meir! (TOSFOS DH b'Velados)
answers that Rebbi Meir indeed prohibits the Gid of a fetus from its inception. However, when the mother of the fetus is slaughtered
, Rebbi Meir permits the Gid of its fetus from that point onward. (For a logical approach to understanding this, see Insights to Chulin 75:3
.) (M. KORNFELD