1) TRANSGRESSING THE TORAH PASSIVELY FOR THE SAKE OF MAN'S HONOR
QUESTION: The Gemara concludes that it is permitted to forgo bringing the Korban Pesach or circumcising one's son in order to bury the dead when there is no one else to bury it, because one is only passively -- and not actively -- violating the Torah by refraining from performing those Mitzvos.
RASHI (DH Shev v'Al Ta'aseh) asks that we know that a Nazir and a Kohen are allowed to be Metamei themselves actively in order to bury the dead when there is no one else to bury it (see Rashi 19b, DH ul'Achoso). Why does the Gemara not prove from here that one is allowed to violate a Mitzvah actively for the sake of man's honor?
(a) RASHI answers that the Torah never forbade a Nazir or Kohen from becoming Tamei for a body that needs burial. Therefore, the Nazir or Kohen is not violating a Torah-commandment when he becomes Tamei by burying the dead, and we cannot learn from there that one may violate a Mitzvah for the sake of man's honor.
TOSFOS (DH Shev v'Al Ta'aseh) questions Rashi's explanation. The Gemara in Yevamos (4a) says that we learn that a Mitzvas Aseh (positive commandment) overrides a Mitzvas Lo Ta'aseh (negative commandment) from the fact that the Torah permits a mixture of wool and linen (Sha'atnez) for the Mitzvah of Tzitzis. Thus, we see that the Mitzvas Aseh of Tzitzis overrides the Lo Ta'aseh of Sha'atnez. Tosfos asks that perhaps an Aseh never overrides a Lo Ta'aseh -- not even the Aseh of Tzitzis. The only reason why one may make Tzitzis out of Sha'atnez is because the prohibition of Sha'atnez was never said with regard to a garment that is obligated in Tzitzis! How, then, can the Gemara derive the rule that a Mitzvas Aseh overrides a Lo Ta'aseh from the fact that Torah permits Sha'atnez for Tzitzis?
Tosfos answer that it must not be as Rashi says, that there are situations in which a prohibition does not apply. Rather, the prohibition applies in all situations, but the Mitzvas Aseh overrides it.
The CHAVOS YA'IR (#95) defends Rashi's explanation. Rashi does not mean that whenever the Torah explicitly states an exception to a prohibition (such as in the case of using Sha'atnez to make Tzitzis) the prohibition never applied in such a situation. Rather, if the Torah states both the prohibition and the exception in the same place, then we say that the prohibition indeed never applied. In the case of using Sha'atnez to make Tzitzis, the words from which we learn that Tzitzis may be made of Sha'atnez ("Gedilim Ta'aseh Lecha" in Devarim 22:12) were not written as an exception to the rule of Sha'atnez (in Devarim 22:11). The prohibition of Sha'atnez and the commandment to make Tzitzis are two separate verses; it is merely from the proximity of the verses that we learn that the Mitzvah of Tzitzis overrides the prohibition of Sha'atnez. (Similarly, an elderly person's exemption from the Mitzvah to return lost objects is not written as an explicit exception from the obligation to return lost objects. Rather, it is written two verses earlier (in Devarim 22:1). Therefore, it is not classified as an exception to the obligation, but rather, his honor overrides the obligation.)
The only case in which the Torah did not apply the prohibition in the place of a Mitzvah is when the Torah states the exception explicitly, in the verse in which the prohibition appears, such as in the case of a Nazir or Kohen. The same verse (Bamidbar 6:7) that states that a Nazir may not be Metamei for close relatives (i.e. the prohibition), implies that he may be Metamei for a body that has no one to bury it (i.e. the exception).
(b) TOSFOS (ibid.) answers that we cannot learn from the case of a Nazir and Kohen that one may violate a Mitzvah for the sake of man's honor, because the prohibition of a Kohen being Metamei and the prohibition of a Nazir being Metamei are weaker than other prohibitions. A Kohen's prohibition is weaker because it applies only to him and not to non-Kohanim, and therefore it is pushed aside for the sake of man's honor. A Nazir's prohibition is weaker because it can be annulled retroactively if the Nazir finds grounds to annul his Nezirus. Therefore, these two prohibitions can be pushed aside for the sake of man's honor.
Tosfos' answer, though, is problematic. Why does the Gemara itself not ask that question (we should prove from a Nazir and Kohen, who may become Tamei in order to bury a Mes Mitzvah, that one is allowed to violate a Mitzvah actively for the sake of man's honor) and give that answer (the prohibitions of a Nazir and Kohen becoming Tamei are weaker prohibitions)? (Indeed, the RASHBA writes that the text of some printings of the Gemara actually includes that question and gives that answer.)
2) THE AMORA'IM WHO SAT NEAR THE MIKVAH WHILE WOMEN IMMERSED THEMSELVES
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that Rav Gidal used to sit next to the Mikvah and instruct the women how to immerse themselves. The Rabanan asked him, "Are you not afraid of your evil inclination?" Rav Gidal answered, "They (the women) appear to me like white geese."
The Gemara then relates that Rebbi Yochanan used to sit next to the Mikvah so that the women would see his beauty when they came out and would have beautiful children. The Rabanan asked him, "Are you not afraid of the 'evil eye'?"
Why did the Rabanan not ask Rebbi Yochanan if he was afraid of his evil inclination?
(a) Rebbi Yochanan's eyelashes were so long that he could not see anything, as the Gemara relates in Bava Kama (117a). (BACH)
(b) Since Rebbi Yochanan just wanted the women to see his beauty as they came out, he sat a distance away from the Mikvah. Rav Gidal, however, had to sit close to the Mikvah in order to instruct the women how to immerse themselves properly. (RASHASH)
3) CHILDREN AND MITZVOS
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that "women, slaves, and children are exempt from Keri'as Shema and Tefilin, and they are obligated in Tefilah, Mezuzah, and Birkas ha'Mazon." To what type of child is the Mishnah referring? If the child has reached the age of Chinuch, then he is obligated in all of the Mitzvos. If he has not yet reached the age of Chinuch, then he is exempt from all of the Mitzvos!
(a) RASHI (DH Ketanim) explains that the Mishnah is referring to children who have reached the age of Chinuch. They are exempt from Keri'as Shema, Rashi says, because they are not always near their father when the time for the Shema comes and thus he is unable to instruct them to say the Shema regularly. (The Yerushalmi mentions a similar reasoning. It seems from Rashi that part of the Mitzvah of reciting the Shema is to recite it with regularity. Since the father will not be able to instruct his child to recite the Shema on a regular basis, he is unable to instruct his child to perform the Mitzvah the same way he would perform it were he an adult, and thus the child is entirely exempt. From the Gemara in Erchin (2b; see Insights to Erchin 2:2) it is apparent that there is no obligation of Chinuch unless the child will perform the Mitzvah with all of its components, the same way he would perform the Mitzvah were he an adult. -M. KORNFELD)
(b) TOSFOS (DH v'Ketanim) cites the RI, who explains that when the Mishnah says that children are exempt from Keri'as Shema it is referring to children who have not reached the age of Chinuch. When the Mishnah, in the end, says that they are obligated in Tefilah, it is referring to children who have reached the age of Chinuch.
(c) RABEINU TAM (cited by Tosfos) explains that when the Mishnah says that children are exempt from Keri'as Shema, it is referring to children who have not reached the age of Chinuch. The end of the Mishnah that says "they are obligated in Tefilah, Mezuzah, and Birkas ha'Mazon" is not referring to children at all, but only to women and slaves.
HALACHAH: The SHULCHAN ARUCH (OC 70:2) cites both the opinion of Rabeinu Tam and the opinion of Rashi and concludes that it is proper to conduct oneself like Rabeinu Tam and instruct children who have reached the age of Chinuch to recite Keri'as Shema.
4) WOMEN PERFORMING MITZVOS AND EXEMPTING MEN
QUESTION: The Gemara asks whether a woman's obligation to recite Birkas ha'Mazon is mid'Oraisa or mid'Rabanan. If a woman is obligated only mid'Rabanan, then she cannot recite the blessing for a man in order to exempt him from his obligation, which is mid'Oraisa.
The Gemara later (48a), however, says that a man who ate only a k'Zayis of bread (and whose obligation to recite Birkas ha'Mazon is only mid'Rabanan) may exempt a man who ate his full (and whose obligation is mid'Oraisa). Why, then, is a woman -- whose obligation is also mid'Rabanan -- unable to exempt a man, even if his obligation is mid'Oraisa?
ANSWER: The ROSH (3:13) answers that the reason why a man who ate only a k'Zayis may exempt a man who ate his full is because of the concept of "Arvus" -- "responsibility." Every Jew is responsible to see that every other Jew fulfills the Mitzvos. The Torah thus allows one man to exempt another man even if the first one ate nothing. The Rabanan, though, instituted that in order to exempt another man, he must eat at least enough to obligate himself to recite the blessing mid'Rabanan.
Women, on the other hand, do not bear group "responsibility"; they have no obligation to see to it that every other Jew fulfills his obligation of Birkas ha'Mazon. Therefore, unless a woman's obligation to recite Birkas ha'Mazon is on the same level as a man's (i.e. mid'Oraisa), she cannot exempt him from his obligation.
The DAGUL MEREVAVAH (OC 271:2) refers to the MAGEN AVRAHAM (271:1) who says that when a person says the Shemoneh Esreh of Ma'ariv on Shabbos night, he fulfills his Torah obligation to recite Kidush (although he still must fulfill the obligation mid'Rabanan to recite Kidush over a cup of wine). The Dagul Merevavah writes that according to this, even though a woman normally has the same obligation of Kidush as a man has, if a woman recited Ma'ariv on Shabbos night she cannot exempt a man who has not recited Ma'ariv. Since her obligation is now only mid'Rabanan (because she already fulfilled her mid'Oraisa obligation), she cannot exempt a man's mid'Oraisa obligation, because a woman is not in the category of "responsibility" that would enable her to exempt another person even when she herself is not obligated.
REBBI AKIVA EIGER (ibid.) explains that when the Rosh writes that women are not bound by group "responsibility," he does not mean that they are never responsible for another Jew's fulfillment of the Mitzvos. Rather, only when it comes to a Mitzvah that she is not obligated to perform herself is a woman relieved of "responsibility." With regard to a Mitzvah that she, too, is obligated to perform mid'Oraisa, she does have "responsibility" for other Jews. Therefore, she could exempt a man from his mid'Oraisa obligation to recite Kidush.
Support for the Dagul Merevavah may be adduced from the Gemara in Sotah (37b) that says that all 600,000 men who stood at Sinai became responsible for one another. That number did not include the women. This implies that women are not included in "Arvus" at all.