1) NOT ESTABLISHING A LEAP YEAR DURING A FAMINE
QUESTION: The Gemara states that a leap year may not be established during a famine. RASHI explains that a leap year makes a famine more difficult by extending the prohibition against eating new grain, "Chadash," for one more month, resulting in a severe grain shortage for that month. Rebbi cites proof for this Halachah from an incident involving Elisha. A man from Ba'al Shalishah, a land known for the alacrity of its growth of grain, brought Elisha "twenty new breads made of barley" -- "Lechem Bikurim Esrim Lechem Se'orim" (Melachim II 4:42). Elisha commanded, "Give the bread to the people and they should eat." Rebbi says that it is clear that after Pesach of that year there was only barley, for even Ba'al Shalishah produced only barley bread. The incident obviously occurred only after Pesach, for otherwise they would not have been permitted to eat the new breads because of the prohibition of "Chadash." Rebbi asserts that Elisha did not extend the year and make it a leap year because of the famine.
What is Rebbi's proof from Elisha? How does he know that that year was supposed to be extended in the first place? Moreover, even if it was supposed to be a leap year, how does Rebbi see from that incident that Elisha indeed did not extend it?
ANSWER: TOSFOS answers that it is impossible that Elisha extended the year, because the only bread they had was barley bread. Had the year been extended, they certainly would have had other types of grains by the time Pesach had passed.
The RAN adds that this is why it states in the verse that the bread was "Bikurim," referring to the first and only crop of that year.
The YAD RAMAH explains that had there been other crops, the verse would have read, "v'Esrim," and not just "Esrim." By saying, "Esrim," the verse is describing what comprised the first fruits, the Bikurim, of that year.
The MAHARSHA uses the answer of Tosfos to resolve another question. The Gemara later rules that Beis Din may not establish two leap years in a row. Perhaps, in the incident of the bread of Ba'al Shalishah, the year before was a leap year, and that is the reason why Elisha was unable to make that year into a leap year (and not because of the famine)! Based on the explanation of Tosfos, it is clear that the previous year was not a leap year, because had it been a leap year there would have already been more crops by the following Pesach, since it would have been later in the season.
The Maharsha, however, has another difficulty which he does not answer. How does Rebbi know that the year in question was not any other type of year that cannot be made into a leap year, such as a Shemitah year, or the year after a Shemitah year?
Regarding the question that perhaps that year was the year after a Shemitah year, the ARUCH LA'NER explains that Rebbi following the view of the House of Raban Gamliel, who ruled that Beis Din may established a leap year after Shemitah.
Regarding the question that perhaps that year was the Shemitah year itself, the Aruch la'Ner answers that the Gemara in Kesuvos (105b) asks about this incident, "Did Elisha really eat Bikurim [which may be eaten only by a Kohen]?" The Gemara there answers that "it must be teaching that whoever brings a gift to a Talmid Chacham is considered to have brought Bikurim [to the Beis ha'Mikdash]." The Gemara equates Bikurim with a gift. This shows that the year could not have been a Shemitah year, because during a Shemitah year it is not possible to give one's produce as a gift, since all produce is ownerless. It could not have been that the gift was merely that the ownerless produce of Shemitah was given to Elisha, because one is not permitted to give a gift of produce during Shemitah which will cause the recipient to have Hakaras ha'Tov towards the giver. Therefore, the year could not have been a Shemitah year.
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM discusses a more straightforward way to answer the question that perhaps the year was a Shemitah year, and that is why Elisha did not make it a leap year. The ME'IRI in Yevamos (73a) states explicitly that the Mitzvah to bring Bikurim does not apply in a Shemitah year. Some maintain that this is also the opinion of Rashi. Accordingly, it would not be logical for the verse to refer to this gift as Bikurim during the type of year in which there is no Mitzvah of Bikurim. (The TASHBATZ (2:247) and others, however, explicitly rule that there is an obligation to bring Bikurim during Shemitah.) (Y. MONTROSE)
2) "TUM'AH" IN THE TIMES OF CHIZKIYAH
OPINIONS: The Gemara records a dispute between the Tana Kama and Rebbi Yehudah who argue about whether Beis Din may establish a leap year due to a concern of Tum'ah. The Gemara initially understands that Rebbi Yehudah maintains that Beis Din may establish a leap year in order to give more time for the people to become Tahor (to enable them to bring the Korban Pesach). Rebbi Yehudah cites proof for his opinion from Chizkiyah ha'Melech, who established a leap year due to Tum'ah and subsequently prayed that Hash-m have mercy on him and forgive him for doing so. The Gemara later (12b) concludes that Rebbi Yehudah maintains that not only may Beis Din not establish a leap year because of Tum'ah, but if Beis Din does establish a leap year for that reason, their ruling is invalid and the year is not a leap year.
What is the "Tum'ah" to which the Gemara refers, for which Beis Din would want to make the year a leap year? What was the Tum'ah in the time of Chizkiyah?
(a) RASHI explains that the Gemara refers to the Tum'ah caused by the death of a Nasi, which renders the entire nation Tamei. If the Nasi is ill during Adar and he is expected to die a few days before Pesach, thereby causing the entire nation to become Tamei and to be unable to bring the Korban Pesach in a state of Taharah, this should be valid grounds to make the year into a leap year. Alternatively, the Gemara refers to a situation in which most of the Jewish people are Tamei at the end of the month of Adar, and the ashes of the Parah Adumah have been depleted and no new Parah Adumah has been found.
The Tum'ah in the days of Chizkiyah was the Tum'ah that came about as a result of the sins of Chizkiyah's father, Achaz, a Rasha who promoted idol worship among the people and thus they were not concerned with the observance of the Torah ("Lo Chashashu la'Torah").
Why Rashi does Rashi add that "they were not concerned with the observance of the Torah"? Even if they followed the laws of the Torah, they were Tamei with the Tum'ah of Avodah Zarah! The IMREI TZVI explains that the Tum'ah caused by Avodah Zarah does not necessarily make one Tamei for seven days (see Rashi to Pesachim 92a, DH Machlokes, and RAMBAM, Hilchos Avos ha'Tum'ah 6:6). Rashi is saying that the reason why the people were Tamei is that they did not observe the laws of Tum'as Mes, and thus they were Tamei with Tum'as Mes. (This does not seem to be the simple meaning of the words of Rashi; see MAHARSHAM.)
(b) TOSFOS cites the Yerushalmi which says that the Tum'ah during the time of Chizkiyah was that the people found the skull of Aravnah ha'Yevusi (the original owner of the land on which the Beis ha'Mikdash was built) underneath the Mizbe'ach.
Tosfos questions both this explanation and Rashi's explanation that the Gemara is referring to a situation in which all of the people were Tamei at the end of Adar. Even if the Mizbe'ach was Tamei or most of the people were Tamei, they still had the means with which to become Tahor before Pesach. The Mishnah in Parah (3:5) states that the ashes of Moshe Rabeinu's Parah Adumah were extant during the entire period of the first Beis ha'Mikdash. Tosfos answers that perhaps there was not enough time to be Metaher everyone before Pesach.
The NODA B'YEHUDAH (OC 2:86) points out that the skull of Aravnah ha'Yevusi did not render the entire Jewish people Tamei, because the Tum'ah was found in a place where most Jews cannot go. However, it did render all of the Kohanim Tamei. This was Chizkiyah's mistake. The Gemara in Pesachim (79a) teaches that in such a case -- when all of the Kohanim are Tamei -- the Korbanos must be brought nevertheless, even b'Tum'ah. The Tum'ah of the Kohanim does not spread to the Korbanos because of the Halachah that the fluids that flow from the animals as they are slaughtered do not make the flesh fit to become Tamei. Therefore, the Jewish people still could have eaten their Korbenos Pesach in Taharah, even though they would have been offered by Kohanim who were Tamei.
The TZION YERUSHALAYIM asks a different question on the explanation of the Yerushalmi. The Gemara (12b) says that Rebbi Shimon accepts the Beraisa's explanation that Rebbi Yehudah maintains that a leap year may not be established because of Tum'ah. However, Rebbi Shimon also maintains that the corpse of a Nochri does not cause Tum'as Ohel. Since Aravnah was a Nochri, how can Rebbi Shimon agree that it was not proper to make a leap year because of the Tum'ah caused by the corpse of Aravnah, when Rebbi Shimon himself maintains that the corpse of a Nochri does not cause Tum'as Ohel? The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM answers that the laws of Tum'ah are more stringent in the Beis ha'Mikdash than outside the Beis ha'Mikdash, as the Gemara says in a number of places. Perhaps Rebbi Shimon agrees that in the Beis ha'Mikdash, the corpse of a Nochri indeed causes the Kohanim to become Tamei.
The Margoliyos ha'Yam answers further in the name of TESHUVOS V'SHAV HA'KOHEN (#75) that Aravnah was a Ger Toshav, and even Rebbi Shimon agrees that the corpse of a Ger Toshav causes Tum'as Ohel. (Y. MONTROSE)
3) THE SIN OF WRONGFULLY ESTABLISHING A LEAP YEAR
QUESTION: The Gemara states that when Chizkiyah thought that he had made a mistake in establishing a leap year he prayed, "Hash-m ha'Tov Yechaper b'Ad" (Divrei ha'Yamim II 30:18). The Gemara in Rosh Hashanah (25a) states that the authority of Beis Din in establishing the calendar is absolute, and the decision of Beis Din is binding even if Beis Din errs accidentally, advertently, or because of lack of knowledge. Why, then, was Chizkiyah distressed about his mistake? His establishment of a leap year was binding, and the date was established accordingly, and thus no one transgressed any prohibitions because of his error in calculation. Why was he bothered by what he had done?
(a) The TZELACH (Berachos 63a) writes that the Gemara in Rosh Hashanah refers only to making an extra day in the month in error, and not to establishing an extra month in the year in error. Hence, Chizkiyah sought forgiveness for establishing an extra month in error, since many people acted in accordance with his erroneous ruling.
(b) The MINCHAS CHINUCH (Mitzvah 4:6) disagrees with the Tzelach. He cites the Toras Kohanim that specifically states that the case of a leap year established in error is included in the Halachah that whatever Beis Din decrees with regard to the calendar is binding, even if done in error.
Perhaps the Minchas Chinuch understands that Chizkiyah was distressed about his error (even though his ruling was binding) because the Chachamim did not agree with his decision. This caused him to doubt whether his decision indeed was covered by the Halachah that Beis Din's decrees concerning the calendar are binding even when made in error; he thought that perhaps that Halachah applies only when everyone is in agreement about the ruling.
The MARGOLIYOS HA'YAM notes that Chizkiyah's prayer, "Hash-m ha'Tov Yechaper b'Ad," is the source for the practice to add the words, "ul'Chaparas Pasha" ("and for the atonement of iniquity"), in the Shemoneh Esreh of Musaf on Rosh Chodesh during a leap year. It is a prayer that nothing inauspicious should result from Beis Din's adjustment of the natural course of the calendar year. (Y. MONTROSE)