QUESTIONS: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair was on his way to fulfill the Mitzvah of Pidyon Shevuyim, he came to the Gina'i River and asked it to split for him so that he could continue traveling. The river refused to split for him, arguing, "You are on your way to fulfill the will of your Creator, and I am on my way to fulfill the will of my Creator. For you, it is a doubt whether you will fulfill His will. For me, I certainly will fulfill His will."
Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair said, "If you do not split, then I will decree upon you that no more water will ever flow through you!" The river split. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair then demanded that the river split for another Jew who was carrying wheat for Pesach, and to split for a Nochri who had joined the group of travelers.
There are a number of questions on this narrative.
1. Why did the river need to argue that it certainly fulfills Hash-m's will, while there is only a doubt about whether Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair would fulfill His will? Even if Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair also would fulfill Hash-m's will beyond a doubt, the river could have argued simply that since, in that situation, only one of them will be able to fulfill his obligation, it should be the river, because one Mitzvah is not greater than the other. Since the river is already in the process of fulfilling its obligation, it should not have to stop in order to let Rebbi Pinchas fulfill his obligation, because "Shev v'Al Ta'aseh Adif" -- the river should continue running its course and not have to stop for someone else.
2. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's response to the river is difficult to understand. The river used a logical argument to refuse Rebbi Pinchas' request that it split. If Rebbi Pinchas had no logical counter-argument to use against the river, then he should have conceded to the river's argument. He should not have used a threat of supernatural means to coerce the river to split!
3. RASHI (DH d'v'Mitzvah Asik) explains that when the Gemara says that the other Jew was carrying wheat for Pesach, it means that he was involved in the Mitzvah of guarding flour that had been ground and sifted from coming into contact with water. Why does Rashi explain that the Jew was involved in the Mitzvah of guarding flour of Matzah? He should explain simply that the Jew was involved in the Mitzvah of bringing wheat to be made into Matzah (especially since the Gemara itself says that the Jew was carrying "wheat" and not flour).
ANSWER: It is clear that the purpose of the creation of the world is for man to fulfill the will of Hash-m. The river certainly knew that man's fulfillment of Hash-m's will is more important than its own continued flowing. Man was granted with absolute freedom of choice, and thus his fulfillment of Hash-m's will is more important than the acts of inanimate objects that have no freedom of choice. Accordingly, the argument of "Shev v'Al Ta'aseh Adif," that the river should not have to stop flowing in order to let man go and fulfill his obligation, is not valid. The river certainly must stop flowing in order to allow man to fulfill his obligation, since man's obligation is more important. Therefore, the river argued instead that its own definite fulfillment of Hash-m's will is more important than man's doubtful fulfillment of Hash-m's will. This answers the first question.
Rebbi Pinchas argued that due to man's singular importance in the world, he has been given the ability to rule over nature, even through supernatural means, when doing so is necessary to fulfill Hash-m's commands to man. This is what Rebbi Pinchas meant when he told the river that if it does not split for him, then he will cause its waters to stop flowing. Rebbi Pinchas was arguing that even though there was only a doubt that he would fulfill Hash-m's will, his mission of possibly fulfilling Hash-m's will overrides nature's fulfillment of His will. This answers the second question.
However, the ability to dominate nature is given only to the Tzadik, as the verse says, "v'Sigzar Omer v'Yakam Lach" - "You shall issue a decree, and it shall be established for you" (Iyov 22:28). The Tzadik can decree that the river stop flowing, but an ordinary Jew does not have that ability, and thus the river can refuse to split for a Jew whose successful fulfillment of his obligation is doubtful.
For this reason, Rashi explains that the other Jew who was traveling with Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair was fulfilling a Mitzvah at that moment, the Mitzvah of guarding flour for Pesach from becoming wet. Rashi does not explain that he was merely involved in the preparation of the Mitzvah of making Matzah by carrying wheat for Pesach, because that action is also only a doubtful fulfillment of a Mitzvah (since perhaps the wheat might not be used for Matzah). Only the definite fulfillment of a Mitzvah by an ordinary Jew overrides the definite fulfillment of Hash-m's will of an inanimate object, as the river itself admitted in its original claim. This answers the third question. (SEFER MARBEH CHAYIM AL MASECHES CHULIN, by RAV YAAKOV D. HOMNICK of Yerushalayim and Miami)


OPINIONS: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair returned to Rebbi's home to accept his invitation to be his guest, he saw white mules (which are very dangerous) behind the gate he entered. He exclaimed, "The Mal'ach ha'Maves is in this one's home, and I am going to dine with him!?" He refused to enter the home of Rebbi. Rebbi went out to meet Rebbi Pinchas and offered to sell the mules, but Rebbi Pinchas said doing so would be a violation of "v'Lifnei Iver" (Vayikra 19:14). Rebbi asked if he should make the mules Hefker, but Rebbi Pinchas said that doing so would cause them to do even more damage, having no owner to watch them. Rebbi suggested that he cut off their hooves, which would prevent the mules from doing damage by kicking, but Rebbi Pinchas replied that doing so would be a violation of causing pain to animals, Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim. Finally, Rebbi offered to kill the mules, but Rebbi Pinchas replied that doing so would be a violation of Bal Tashchis (Devarim 20:19).
Why did Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair not respond that Rebbi could not kill the animals, because killing the animals would also be a violation of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim?
(a) The NODA B'YEHUDAH (YD 2:10), in his Teshuvah about the sport of hunting, writes that the prohibition of causing pain to animals does not apply to killing an animal. Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim applies only to leaving an animal alive in pain. He proves this from the words of Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair. From the fact that Rebbi Pinchas told Rebbi that removing the hooves of the animal is forbidden because of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim, while killing the animals is forbidden only because of Bal Tashchis, one may infer that killing an animal is not included in the prohibition of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim.
In practice, the Noda b'Yehudah rules that hunting for sport is forbidden because of cruelty. He points out that the only people in Tanach known to have been hunters were Nimrod and Esav, both of whom were Resha'im. Hunting for sport is not the way of the descendants of Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yakov. Purposeless killing of animals for the sake of the hunter's enjoyment alone is not a Jewish activity.
(b) The TESHUVOS SHO'EL U'MESHIV (second edition, 3:65) writes that the Noda b'Yehudah did not see the words of the SEFER HA'CHINUCH (#451) who writes that one of the reasons why the Torah commands us to slaughter animals with Shechitah is to minimize the Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim involved. Similarly, the reason why Shechitah may not be performed with a knife that has indentations in the blade is to prevent unnecessary pain to the animal when it dies. (See PRI MEGADIM in the end of his introduction to Hilchos Shechitah, who writes that these are not the definitive reasons, since we cannot fully know the reason for any Mitzvah.) The Sefer ha'Chinuch clearly maintains that Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim is applicable even at the time of the death of the animal.
How does the Sefer ha'Chinuch understand Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's response to Rebbi's suggestion that he kill the animals? Why did Rebbi Pinchas not say that it is forbidden because of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim?
The SHO'EL U'MESHIV explains that the proof from the Gemara here is not a valid proof that Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim does not apply at the time of the death of the animal. Since Rebbi kept the mules in his home, it is apparent that he felt that they posed no clear danger, and that they had never caused any damage. Therefore, there would be no justification for transgressing the Isur of Bal Tashchis by killing them. However, there would be justification for transgressing the Isur of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim by killing them. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair clearly was disturbed by the mules. His emotional distress caused by their presence was more important than the pain the animals would experience by being killed. His discomfort would override the Isur of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim, but it would not override the Isur of Bal Tashchis. Therefore, Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair did not reply that killing the animals would be prohibited because of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim, but only because of Bal Tashchis.
In contrast, removing the hooves of the animals would cause a permanent source of pain to the animal, while Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's distress was only temporary. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's temporary pain would not override the permanent pain the animals would experience. Therefore, he ruled that Rebbi may not remove their hooves because of the Isur of Tza'ar Ba'alei Chayim. (D. BLOOM)
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that after Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair saw the "Mal'ach ha'Maves" in the home of Rebbi, he declined Rebbi's invitation to eat in his home (see previous Insight). Rebbi pleaded with Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair to be his guest, but Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair declined, and "a mountain rose up between them" and separated them. Rebbi cried and declared, "If this is what is done for Tzadikim in their lifetimes (that Hash-m fulfills their every desire), then how much more so after their deaths!"
What prompted Rebbi to refer to the greatness of the righteous after their deaths? In what way was Rebbi's declaration related to Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair's refusal to be his guest?
(a) The MAHARSHA explains that the greatness of the righteous after death is that no one can approach them (see TOSFOS DH Gedolim). They are separated both physically (as the Gemara relates regarding Elisha) and spiritually from all others, residing in their own special section of Gan Eden (see Bava Basra 75a). When Rebbi saw that he was separated from Rebbi Pinchas by a mountain, he exclaimed, "Even in this world I cannot approach him, and how much more so in the World to Come!"
(b) Perhaps the mountain in the story was not a sudden, miraculous growth, but rather a metaphor. (According to the Yerushalmi's version of this story, they were separated by a "fire that came down from heaven.") The "mountain" is a metaphor for death (as a mound of earth represents the grave, or, in the Yerushalmi's version, a fire from heaven represents the passing of a Tzadik, as the Navi (Melachim II 2:11) describes the passing of Eliyahu ha'Navi). When Rebbi Pinchas died, and Rebbi never succeeded in persuading him to be his guest, Rebbi eulogized Rebbi Pinchas by saying that a great mountain, death, had come between them. (M. KORNFELD)
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that "they said about Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair that he never ate (Batza) a piece of bread that was not his." RASHI explains that this means that he never recited a blessing of ha'Motzi on bread that belonged to someone else, because he did not want to benefit from a k'Zayis of food of someone else.
Rashi's words imply that on less than a k'Zayis of bread one does not recite a blessing of ha'Motzi. This contradicts the Halachah (OC 210:1) and Rashi's own words in Sukah (26b, DH Natlo) that one must recite a Berachah Rishonah on any amount of bread, even if it is less than a k'Zayis. (CHIDUSHEI RAV ZALMAN SENDER)
ANSWER: CHIDUSHEI RAV ZALMAN SENDER answers as follows. The Gemara in Berachos (37b) states that when a k'Zayis of bread crumbs is mixed with honey or gravy such that the crumbs no longer have the appearance of bread, one still recites the blessing of ha'Motzi. If less than a k'Zayis of crumbs is mixed with honey or gravy, but the dish still has the appearance of bread, then one also recites ha'Motzi. The Yerushalmi argues and states that less than a k'Zayis of crumbs never has the appearance of bread.
The ROSH (Berachos 6:10) cites the view of RABEINU CHANANEL that one does not recite ha'Motzi even on plain bread crumbs, unless they have the form of bread. If the Halachah follows both the view of Rabeinu Chananel (that one does not recite ha'Motzi on plain bread crumbs that do not have the form of bread) and the view of the Yerushalmi (that less than a k'Zayis of bread crumbs never has the form of bread), then one does not recite ha'Motzi on a piece of bread less than a k'Zayis. Rather, he recites the blessing of Borei Minei Mezonos.
Perhaps this is Rashi's intention here. Rebbi Pinchas ben Yair never recited ha'Motzi on another person's bread, because he never ate a k'Zayis of another person's bread. When he ate less than a k'Zayis, however, he certainly recited a blessing -- the blessing of Mezonos. When Rashi in Sukah says that one must recite a blessing for even less than a k'Zayis of bread, he does not specify which blessing one must recite; perhaps the blessing of Mezonos suffices. (Z. Wainstein)