1) CONCISE AND CLEAN SPEECH
QUESTION: The Gemara teaches that a person should speak with refined speech. In order to teach this lesson, the Mishnah expresses the requirement to search for Chametz at night with the words, "Or l'Arba'ah Asar," rather than with the words, "Leilei Arba'ah Asar." Similarly, in a number of places the Torah uses the words "Lo Tahor" instead of "Tamei."
Why does the Tana use the word "Or" to mean night specifically in the Mishnah here, when, in many other Mishnayos, the Tana uses the word "Leil"? In addition, why does the Torah use the words "Lo Tahor" in some places, while in other places it uses the word "Tamei"?
(RASHI (DH Asher Einenah) explains that the Torah uses the more refined phrase in only a few places in order to teach the lesson that one should speak with refined speech. Why, though, were these verses in particular chosen to teach this lesson?)
(a) The BA'AL HA'ME'OR explains that only in certain verses can the Torah use the words "Lo Tahor." In the other verses, the Torah needs to use the word "Tamei," because it is teaching why one must stay away from the object of Tum'ah. For example, the Torah must say that one who touches an object of Tum'ah cannot enter the Beis ha'Mikdash because the object is Tamei. It is the Tum'ah of the object that distances the person who touches it from places of holiness.
In contrast, when the verse discusses the Tahor and Tamei types of animals that Noach brought into the ark at the time of the flood, the fact that the animals were Tamei is not relevant to any Halachah. The Torah there is not teaching a reason to keep away from the animals. Rather, it is merely categorizing the animals. When the Torah categorizes them, it prefers to use the more refined wording ("Lo Tahor") in order to avoid a word that has a negative implication.
As far as why this Mishnah in particular uses the word "Or" and not "Leil," the Ba'al ha'Me'or paraphrases the words of the RAMBAM (Perush ha'Mishnayos) who says that the Mishnah here says "Or" because it is the first word of the Maseches. The Tana wanted to start the Maseches with a word that has positive connotations, and not with a word that connotes a negative quality, such as "night." In other cases, when the Mishnah is not at the beginning of a Maseches, the Mishnah uses the simpler word, "Leil." Since the Beraisa of d'Vei Shmuel (which does say "Leil Arba'ah Asar") is not the beginning of his teachings, there was no need for him to use the word "Or."
(b) The RA'AVAD disagrees with the Ba'al ha'Me'or's explanation for why some Mishnayos use the word "Or" while others use the word "Leil." The Ra'avad points out that there are several other Mishnayos that use the word "Or," even though they are not at the beginning of a Maseches or a chapter.
Instead, he explains that "Or l'Arba'ah Asar," as opposed to "Leil Arba'ah Asar," denotes the very beginning of the evening. It refers to the moments that immediately follow sunset, when there is still some light left in the sky, before the sky becomes entirely dark. Since Bedikah must be done at the beginning of the night as the Gemara (4a) teaches, the Mishnah says "Or l'Arba'ah Asar" -- at the very beginning of the night of the fourteenth. (The Beraisa of d'Vei Shmuel uses the word "Leil" because its intention is to explain the word "Or" in the Mishnah.)
In every other Mishnah where the word "Or" is used (as cited by the Gemara on 3a), the Mishnah also refers to the beginning of the night. The intention of the Mishnah in each case is that the beginning of the night is not considered part of the previous day, but rather part of the coming day.
2) WHY IS THE NIGHT OF PESACH CALLED "LIGHT"
QUESTION: The Mishnah (2a) refers to the night of the fourteenth of Nisan (the night of Bedikas Chametz) as "Or l'Arba'ah Asar." The Gemara explains that although the Mishnah means to say the night of the fourteenth and not the day, it uses the word "Or" (which literally means "light") because that it is a more refined expression.
What is more refined about using the word "light" to refer to night, and why is that word not used except in the beginning of Pesachim (and in Kerisus 1:6)? (See also Insights to Bava Basra 4:1.)
ANSWER: RAV YITZCHAK HUTNER zt'l explains the choice of words in the Mishnah as follows.
The quality of the Yom Tov of Pesach is that it has the power to reveal the light that is hidden in the darkness of night. That is, even in a time of Galus, when Hash-m's presence is less apparent, by reliving the miracles of Yetzi'as Mitzrayim we attain the ability to see more clearly the guiding hand of Hash-m in this world and during the era of Galus. Both this world (Olam ha'Zeh) and Galus are compared to night. This is why Maseches Pesachim begins by calling the night, "Or."
The source for Rav Hutner's suggestion may be found in a comment of the VILNA GA'ON in his commentary to the Hagadah. In the Hagadah, we ask "Mah Nishtanah" -- "Why is this night (ha'Lailah ha'Zeh) different from all other nights?" In Hebrew, nouns are classified as either masculine or feminine. Masculine nouns are modified by masculine adjectives and pronouns, while feminine nouns are modified by feminine adjectives and pronouns. Although there is no fixed rule to determine the gender of a particular noun, there is one principle that is consistent: When a noun ends with the vowel "Kamatz" followed by the silent letter "Heh," that word is of feminine gender. Accordingly, the word "Lailah" (night) should be a feminine noun. Why, then, are masculine modifiers (such as "ha'Zeh") always used with the word "Lailah"?
The Vilna Ga'on explains that this phenomenon is actually the subject of the question of "Mah Nishtanah ha'Lailah ha'Zeh": Why is "Lailah" (night), a feminine noun, modified by the word "Zeh," a masculine pronoun? It should be referred to as "ha'Lailah ha'Zos," with the feminine pronoun.
The Vilna Ga'on adds than not only would it be grammatically consistent for "Lailah" to be feminine, it would also be logically consistent. Night is feminine in its essence. Many positive commandments must be performed exclusively during the daytime (such as the Mitzvah of Shofar on Rosh Hashanah, Arba'as ha'Minim on Sukos, Tzitzis and Tefilin, and many others). This is in accordance with the "feminine" nature of the night. Just as women are exempt from fulfilling these positive commandments (see Mishnah in Kidushin 29a), so, too, the night, with its feminine element, is "exempt" from these Mitzvos.
(The source for the Vilna Ga'on's comment that night is "feminine" may be found in the Zohar (Bereishis 20b). The Zohar states that daytime is when man actively provides for his family's livelihood, as the verse says, "The sun shines... and men go out to do their work until evening" (Tehilim 104:22-23). The woman, on the other hand, provides for her family at night, as the verse says, "She arises while it is still night, and she prepares sustenance for her household..." (Mishlei 31:15). In the words of the Zohar, the man "rules" during the daytime and the woman "rules" during the nighttime.)
Based on this approach, the Vilna Ga'on suggests an even deeper meaning to the Hagadah's question. Although time-related Mitzvos Aseh normally apply only during the day, there are a few exceptions. These exceptions are the Mitzvos performed on the Seder night: the eating of Matzah, Maror, and the Korban Pesach (in the times of the Beis ha'Mikdash), and the Mitzvah of relating the story of the Exodus. The Torah specifically commands that these Mitzvos be performed exclusively at night.
The question of "Mah Nishtanah" is why the night of Pesach is more "masculine" ("ha'Zeh") than other nights, in that it is laden with positive Mitzvos. (According to this interpretation, the four questions correspond to the four positive Mitzvos of Pesach night; see the Mishnah's version of the four questions in Pesachim 116a (M. KORNFELD). See also SHELAH in his commentary "Matzah Shemurah" on the Hagadah, who makes a similar point in his analysis of the words, "Kol Oso ha'Lailah," and see GAN RAVEH to Shemos 12:42.)
It seems evident that this night's masculine character must be related in some way to the broader question mentioned above: Why does the word "Lailah," in general, display a duality of meaning? Although it has the feminine "Kamatz-Heh" ending, it is consistently described with masculine modifiers.
If this is the intention of the Hagadah's question, then what is the answer to this question? The Vilna Ga'on does not elaborate on this, but the answer may be explained as follows (based on the words of the Shelah and Gan Raveh mentioned above):
The trials and tribulations of this world are compared to the night because, in the present world, we are often blind to Hash-m's presence in, and control of, the world. The radiant, joyful period of the world of the future in times of Mashi'ach is compared to the day, because then Hash-m will make His majesty clear for all to see. In retrospect, all events that occurred in this world will be seen to have been clearly for the best. This is the meaning of the Midrash (Shemos Rabah 18:11) that states that during our future redemption the night will be lit up like the day.
This means that at the dawn of the era of Mashi'ach, it will become abundantly evident that even when we do not "notice" Hash-m's presence during the "night" of Olam ha'Zeh, it is there no less. When one sees the world with the proper perspective, the guiding Hand of Hash-m is "as clear as day." Femininity denotes modesty, privacy, hidden-ness (since it is characteristic of women to be less conspicuous than men; see Yevamos 77a). Night might "look" feminine (as denoted by the "Kamatz-Heh" ending), but it is in fact masculine in nature. Hash-m's hand can be seen if one looks with the proper perspective, the perspective of one who has witnessed Yetzi'as Mitzrayim: "Anochi Hash-m... Asher Hotzeisicha me'Eretz Mitzrayim." This explains the duality of the word "Lailah."
The Zohar (2:38a) teaches that the night of the redemption from Mitzrayim was lit up as bright as day. During that time of miraculous redemption, night "became day." The reason why the night of Pesach is imbued with such a masculine character is because it commemorates the night of the Exodus, during which Hash-m's presence was "as clear to us as day." This is why the Torah, which usually assigns positive Mitzvos to the daytime hours, makes an exception for the Mitzvos of Pesach. For the time that commemorates Yetzi'as Mitzrayim, the Torah designates the night for the performance of the Mitzvos.
May we merit to witness soon the ultimate manifestation of Hash-m's glory in this world and the end to all suffering, speedily in our days.
3) THE NOCHRI WHO ATE FROM THE KORBAN PESACH
QUESTION: The Gemara relates that when Rebbi Yehudah ben Beseira's plan revealed to the people in Yerushalayim that one of the people partaking of the Korban Pesach was actually a Nochri, they killed that Nochri.
While it is true that they should not have given him any more meat of the Korban Pesach since he was a Nochri (as the Torah prohibits feeding a Nochri from the Korban Pesach; see Shemos 12:43), it is not clear why they killed him. A Nochri who wrongfully eats from the Korban Pesach is not liable to the death penalty. What did he do to deserve death?
(a) The MINCHAS CHINUCH (14:2) and the TZELACH (73a) cite the opinion of the RAMBAM (Sefer ha'Mitzvos, Lo Ta'aseh #126) and the SEMAG who maintain that the prohibition against a Nochri's partaking of the Korban Pesach applies to the Nochri himself. It is not merely an exhortation to the Jews not to feed the meat to a Nochri. A Nochri is commanded not to eat from the Korban Pesach. Since a Nochri is killed for any transgression of the Mitzvos which apply to Bnei Noach ("Azharasan Zo Hi Misasan," Sanhedrin 57a), a Nochri who transgresses the Mitzvah not to eat from the Korban Pesach is also punishable with death.
The TOSFOS HA'ROSH (Yevamos 71a) mentions this possibility but questions it, because this prohibition is never counted as one of the Noahide Laws. Rather, it is more logical to assume that only the Jew is commanded not to feed the meat of the Korban Pesach to a Nochri. This indeed is the ruling of the RAMBAM in Hilchos Korban Pesach (9:7). (This is also the ruling of the Rambam in RAV CHAIM HELLER's translation of the Sefer ha'Mitzvos from the original Arabic.)
(b) The Acharonim suggest another reason for why the Nochri in this case was killed. The MINCHAS CHINUCH (loc cit.) points out that according to RASHI in Kidushin (52b), when a non-Kohen eats the meat of a Korban to which he is entitled, he receives his portion from "Shulchan Gavo'ah" -- as a gift from the table of Hash-m, as it were. That is, the meat of a Korban is not his actual property; it is "Hekdesh" that is granted to him for the sole purpose of being eaten as a Korban. Therefore, if a Nochri eats the meat of a Korban which he is not allowed to eat, he steals from Shulchan Gavo'ah, and a Nochri is killed for stealing even less than a Perutah's worth of property (Eruvin 61a, Sanhedrin 59a).
(c) The KOVETZ SHI'URIM and DEVAR SHMUEL point out that even according to Tosfos, who argues and says that when a Jew who is not a Kohen eats the meat of a Korban he is not considered to be eating from "Shulchan Gavo'ah" but from his own private property, a Nochri who eats the meat of a Korban is still guilty of stealing -- not from Hekdesh but from the Jews who were entitled to it. Even though Rashi here (DH Rebbi Yehudah) says that the Nochri who ate the Korban Pesach paid the Jews for his portion of the Pesach, had the Jews known that he was a Nochri they would not have sold the meat to him. Therefore, the transaction was erroneous (a Mekach Ta'us), and intentionally misleading a seller is a form of theft.
(d) Another explanation is suggested by the author of CHADASHIM V'GAM YESHANIM. The RAMBAN in Bereishis (3:13) explains that the Nachash was punished because it caused Adam and Chavah to sin, even though the Nachash itself did not sin. From the Ramban's words it is evident that even before the Torah was given, it was prohibited to cause a person to sin. Accordingly, a Nochri is liable to punishment for causing Jews to sin (such as by deceiving them so that they feed him meat of the Korban Pesach), and perhaps he is even deserving of death.
(e) The MINCHAS CHINUCH further suggests that perhaps they killed the Nochri for the same reason that the sons of Yakov killed the men of the city of Shechem. The RAMBAN in Bereishis (33:13) explains that the sons of Yakov were permitted to kill the men of Shechem even though they did not commit any specific crime at that time for which they deserved death. Rather, they deserved death for many transgressions that they had committed in the past. In the case of the Gemara here, too, when the Jews found out that this person was a Nochri, they investigated and discovered that in the past he had committed other sins for which a Nochri is punished with death, and that is why they killed him.