1) HALACHAH: THE POWER OF A CURSE
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that the mother of the Kohen Gadol would bring gifts of food and clothing to the accidental killers in the Arei Miklat. She did so in order to persuade the accidental killers from praying that her son should die (since the accidental killers are released from the Arei Miklat upon the death of the Kohen Gadol). The Gemara infers that if the killers would pray that the Kohen Gadol die, then the Kohen Gadol indeed would be in danger of dying. The Gemara explains that such a prayer would not be considered a "Kilelas Chinam," a curse uttered in vain which cannot take effect, because the Kohen Gadol does carry some responsibility for the accidental killing, since he should have prayed more for the well-being of the people of his generation.
Does a curse indeed take effect, as the Gemara implies, when even a very subtle offense was committed?
ANSWER: The Gemara in Bava Basra (153a) records an incident in which a woman approached Rava with the following question. The woman, while she was a Shechiv Mera, gave her property away as a gift to someone by writing in a Shtar that she was giving her property "from life and in death." She then recovered from her illness and wanted to retract the gift. Rava, consistent with his opinion in such a case, ruled that the gift is considered like a normal gift of a healthy person and it took effect already while the woman was a Shechiv Mera, because she wrote "from life" in the Shtar. Accordingly, the woman may not retract the gift. The woman harassed Rava about his ruling. In order to get her to stop harassing him, Rava told his scribe to write a Shtar for her declaring that she was entitled to retract her gift, but he instructed the scribe to add in the Shtar words from the Mishnah in Bava Metzia (75b) that would make it clear to any knowledgeable person who reads the Shtar that the Shtar was written only to get rid of the bothersome woman. The woman understood his intentions and cursed him that his boat should drown. The students of Rava soaked his clothes in water in order to cause the curse to be fulfilled in a harmless way. Nevertheless, the Gemara relates, Rava's boat sank at sea. Why was the woman's curse effective if Rava did nothing wrong?
The NIMUKEI YOSEF and RITVA there explain that there indeed was something that Rava did wrong that allowed the curse to take effect. Rava's opinion in this matter (the Shtar Matanah of a Shechiv Mera in which the words "from life and in death" are written) was a minority opinion that was not accepted as the Halachah (as the Gemara earlier in Bava Basra states). Rava, therefore, should not have ruled in accordance with his own opinion when that opinion was overruled. As a result of ruling incorrectly, the principle that "an unintentional mistake in one's learning is equivalent to an intentional transgression" -- "Shigegas Talmud Olah Zadon" (Bava Metzia 33b) applied. Even though it was an unintentional error, it sufficed to allow the woman's curse to take effect. (See Insights to Bava Basra 153:1 for another reason why the curse was able to take effect.)
This is also the basis for the efficacy of the prayer of the accidental killer mentioned in the Gemara here. For even such a small offense as not praying enough for his people, the Kohen Gadol was vulnerable to the effectiveness of a curse.
This concept is also mentioned in Bava Metzia (75b), where the Gemara says that one who lends money without witnesses causes a curse to come upon himself. RASHI there explains that when he makes his claim in court, everyone curses him that he caused a man to sin by giving him room to deny his claim (by not having witnesses). The lender is certainly not a thief; on the contrary, he is a generous man who did a favor by lending money and now he is merely trying to get his own money back. Nevertheless, the curse can take effect because there is reason (even though the reason is minimal) for it to take effect. (Y. MONTROSE)
2) ERASING THE NAME OF HASH-M IN ORDER TO SAVE THE WORLD
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when David ha'Melech dug the Shisin (the hollow under the place where the Mizbe'ach of the Beis ha'Mikdash eventually would be built, into which the water and wine libations flowed), he inadvertently removed a potsherd that covered (and plugged) the hole of the Waters of the Deep. The waters arose and threatened to drown the world. David ha'Melech inquired whether he was permitted to write the name of Hash-m on the potsherd and to throw it back into the water in order to stop the deluge. No one gave him an answer, until he pronounced a curse on anyone who knew the ruling but would not reveal it to him. Achitofel told him that he was permitted to write the name of Hash-m on the potsherd and throw it into the water, even though Hash-m's name would be erased by the water.
What was David ha'Melech's question? He certainly was permitted to write the name of Hash-m and cause it to be erased, because it was a situation of mortal
danger, and Piku'ach Nefesh overrides every prohibition except Avodah
Zarah, Giluy Arayos, and Shefichus Damim.
(a) HA'GA'ON RAV YOSEF SHALOM ELYASHIV shlit'a (in HE'OROS B'MASECHES SUKAH) cites the RAMBAN (in Sanhedrin 73a) who writes that the law that Piku'ach Nefesh does not override the prohibitions of Avodah Zarah, Giluy Arayos, and Shefichus Damim ("Yehareg v'Al Ya'avor"), includes any branch ("Abizraihu") of those prohibitions. Accordingly, David ha'Melech was unsure about whether erasing the name of Hash-m is included in a subcategory of Avodah Zarah, and therefore he waited until he received a Halachic ruling in the matter.
(b) The ARUCH LA'NER in Sukah (53a) answers that David ha'Melech was concerned that his action might involve a Chilul Hash-m. The transgression of Chilul Hash-m does not override Piku'ach Nefesh. Achitofel answered that the laws of Sotah show that erasing Hash-m's name is not considered a Chilul Hash-m.
(c) However, in his commentary to Makos, the Aruch la'Ner explains the Gemara differently. The Gemara cannot mean that the whole world was in danger of destruction, because Hash-m promised Noach that He would never bring such destruction via a flood upon the world again. Since Eretz Yisrael is higher than the lands around, the imminent danger must have been to a nearby country to which the water of the depths would flow, and not to Eretz Yisrael. Although there would be no danger to the Jews, the surrounding areas would be in a state of unrest. David ha'Melech was in doubt about whether this situation warranted the erasing of Hash-m's name. Achitofel understood from the laws of Sotah that if Hash-m allows his Name to be erased in order to bring peace between a man and wife, then He also would allow it to be erased in order to bring peace between many people in the areas surrounding Eretz Yisrael.
(d) RAV SHLOMO KLUGER (in TUV TA'AM V'DA'AS), the KLI CHEMDAH, and others answer that David ha'Melech's dilemma was due to the nature of the way that erasing Hash-m's name would save lives. Although it is obvious that prohibitions are suspended when there is a question of life and death, perhaps they are not suspended when the act of the prohibition will save lives only in a supernatural way. This seems to be the view of the RAMBAM (in Perush ha'Mishnayos to Yoma 8:6). Therefore, David ha'Melech did not know what to do until Achitofel taught him that it is permitted, as derived from the laws of Sotah.
(e) Rav Elyashiv shlit'a further suggests that the water posed no actual mortal danger to the world. Rather, the rising water threatened to disrupt the normal lifestyle and routine of the world's inhabitants. There was no question of Piku'ach Nefesh, and therefore David ha'Melech waited until he received a Halachic ruling in the matter. (See also Insights to Sukah 53:2.)
3) PRAYING FOR A FAVORABLE VERDICT
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that if a person kills accidentally, and the present Kohen Gadol dies before the killer is sentenced to Galus by Beis Din, then the killer leaves the Ir Miklat only when the next Kohen Gadol dies.
The Gemara asks that it was taught earlier that the Kohen Gadol's death is an atonement for the accidental killers, since he should have prayed more to ensure that such calamities not occur to the people of his generation. The second Kohen Gadol, however, was not the Kohen Gadol when this killing occurred. Since he was not responsible for the people at the time of the killing, why is his death an atonement for the killings? Why is he held partially responsible for the killings, if there was nothing he could have done to prevent them? The Gemara answers that he should have prayed -- when he was appointed as the Kohen Gadol -- that this accidental killer be found innocent.
What does this mean? If the person indeed killed accidentally, then why should the new Kohen Gadol pray that the judges of the Sanhedrin find him innocent and exempt him from Galus? How can he pray that Sanhedrin err in their judgment of the killer? If the killer is guilty, then he should be judged accordingly!
(a) The ARUCH LA'NER and CHEMDAS YISRAEL suggest a novel idea. They explain that the Kohen Gadol should have asked for Heavenly mercy that Hash-m forgive the killer's sin. If Hash-m would have forgiven the sin, the perpetrator would not have needed to go to Galus in Hash-m's judgment, and thus Hash-m would have swayed the hearts of the judges to declare him innocent as well (since he no longer needed atonement). The court's judgment would not have been in error, but rather it would have been what the person genuinely deserved according to the Divine plan.
(This approach implies that a sinner who does complete Teshuvah for his sin will not be found guilty by Beis Din, which is a problematic implication. See further discussion on the matter in Insights to Makos 13:2.)
(b) The IYUN YAKOV answers that the Gemara in Sanhedrin (17a) teaches that when all of the members of Beis Din agree unanimously that a person is guilty in a case of capital punishment, he automatically is exonerated from punishment (see Insights to Sanhedrin 17:2 for the reasoning behind this law). If the Kohen Gadol intervenes by praying to Hash-m and causing the sin to be forgiven, then this will cause the Beis Din to unanimously rule that the defendant is guilty. In this way, Beis Din will not be making a mistake regarding the judgment, and the defendant will be exempt from receiving a punishment that he no longer deserves. (Y. MONTROSE)