Bechorot 22 - 28
Enlightenment Now and Later
An unresolved problem of the Talmudic Sages was always relegated to resolution by the Prophet Eliyahu who will appear sometime in the future. The term "teiku", which appears at the end of a discussion of such a problem, is traditionally understood as being an acronym for the words "Tishbi (how Eliyahu was called based on where he came from) will answer all questions and resolve all problems".
In our gemara, however, we are introduced to another way of communicating the idea of Eliyahu enlightening us. A passage is quoted (Hoshea 10:12) in which there appear the words "until he comes and teaches you what is right". The particular problem dealt with is that of a pig seen nursing from a lamb. If it can be assumed that the lamb would only nurse its own offspring then this pig could be eaten on the basis of an earlier ruling (Bechorot 5b - see Weekly DAFootnotes "Strange Creatures") that an animal with non-kosher features born from a kosher animal may be consumed. There is, however, the possibility that this pig is not the offspring of the lamb that took pity on it and nursed it and is therefore considered forbidden until Eliyahu arrives to enlighten us as to whether an animal ever nurses an offspring not born from her and not even of the same species.
Although this phrase from the Prophet Hoshea is thus applied to the eventual enlightenment we will receive from Eliyahu, it conveys a different message according to the commentaries who explain it in the context of the entire passage. The words preceding this phrase are "set a time to seek G-d". One of the explanations offered by Rabbi David Kimchi (Radak) runs as follows:
"If you shall seek your G-d to know His Torah and mitzvot He shall come and teach you what is right."
This approach of present Divine help for the serious student of Torah rather than a reference to eventual enlightenment by Eliyahu is based on the Talmudic principle that "one who strives to purify himself is assisted by Heaven".
- Bechorot 24a
Corrupting the Covenant
"You have corrupted the covenant I made with the Tribe of Levi" (Malachi 2:8).
This is the accusation that the Prophet Malachi makes in the Name of G-d against the kohanim and levites of his day. This covenant, explains Metsudat David in his commentary, was made between G-d and Aaron, the head of the Tribe of Levi, and it called for the members of his tribe to serve G-d and honor him. Instead they are guilty of corrupting this covenant by shaming Him.
In our gemara we learn of how far-reaching is the concept of corruption. Kohanim and levites who assist the planters in the threshing of their crops should not be given the tithes that the Torah awarded to members of their tribe as compensation for their efforts. If this is done it is considered a corruption of the above-mentioned covenant made with Aaron. Our Sages even regard such an action deserving of death, based on the warning in the passage (Bamidbar 18:32) that "the sacred things of the Children of Israel shall not be profaned so that you shall not die".
Why is compensating a kohen or levite with tithes for his help considered such a serious form of corruption?
The Tribe of Levi was set aside by G-d to completely dedicate itself to this service in the Sanctuary. They were therefore not given a portion of Eretz Yisrael to cultivate for their support and were instead made the beneficiaries of all Jews who were commanded to give them a share of their produce. In this manner their support was assured and their benefactors gained the mitzvah of sustaining these servants of G-d. Turning this arrangement into a business of using the tithes as a form of wages for services rendered was therefore a violation of what the covenant was all about.
- Bechorot 26b