Daf Yomi

For the week ending 17 May 2003 / 15 Iyyar 5763

Avoda Zara 58-64

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

The Wrong Address

Betzer and Batzera are two places with a similar sounding name. There is, however, a crucial difference between the two.

Betzer is in Eretz Yisrael and is mentioned (Yehoshua 20:8) as one of the cities of refuge on the east side of the Jordan where one who killed another accidentally could find safety from the blood avenger of the victim. Batzera, on the other hand, is outside the boundaries of Eretz Yisrael.

Two figures are associated with the mistake of confusing Betzer with Batzera, one a human and the other an angel. Rabbi Shimon ben Lakish saw Jews in Batzera eating agricultural produce without tithing it. Assuming that this was the Betzer which is in Eretz Yisrael he prohibited them from eating this produce before tithing it as is required of things grown in the Holy Land. But when he reported his action to Rabbi Yochanan he was told to quickly return there, even before taking his coat off, and to repeal his ruling since Batzera is not Betzer and its produce does not require tithing.

Reish Lakish, as this sage is commonly referred to, took this lesson very much to heart. In Mesechta Makkot (12a) we find him applying this distinction in explaining the passage (Yeshayahu 63:1) which speaks of "the one coming from Edom with blood stained garments from Batzera". This is a prophecy about the slaying in the end of days of Samael, the patron angel of the Edomite Romans, who will futilely seek refuge from Divine justice for all the Jewish blood his nation shed. His death will take place in Batzera, says Reish Lakish, which he mistakenly assumed as being Betzer, the city of refuge. Not only will this effort be foolish because refuge is available only for accidental killers and human ones only, while the fugitive here is an angel whose nation was guilty of premeditated slaughter, but he will also be making the mistake of going to the wrong address.

Avoda Zara 58b

Burn and Bury

"Burn it and bury the ashes in a cemetery!"

These were the instructions given by Rabbi Chisda to a Jew who received wheat as payment for renting out his ship to transport non-Jewish wine. Since any benefit from such wine is forbidden it was necessary to eliminate the wheat in a fashion where no danger existed that any Jew would, even unknowingly, derive some sort of benefit from it.

Rabbi Chisda therefore ruled out simply scattering the wheat since someone might come across it and use it. Even scattering its ashes after burning left open the possibility of those ashes being utilized as fertilizer. The only failsafe method, he concluded, was burning followed by burial in a cemetery.

This ruling is challenged, however, both by the gemara and by the commentaries. The gemaras challenge is from Mesechta Sanhedrin (55b) where our Sages analyze the passage (Devarim 21:23) "You shall not leave his corpse overnight on the pole but bury it, shall you bury it on that very day." The double use of the word "bury" teaches us that not only is the executed sinner buried, but the pole, to which the corpse of certain sinners is momentarily strapped as part of his atonement, is buried along with him. The same is true of all of the paraphernalia used in the execution of capital sinners. These items, asks the gemara, are buried intact and not burned before burial, so why was burning required by Rabbi Chisda?

A distinction is then made between the burial of these items in the special cemetery set aside by the court for the executed sinner, which would clearly warn anyone against making use of these items, and the situation of the wheat, which someone might come across and assume it was concealed there by a thief. Tosefot, however, raises the question as to why the forbidden wheat had to be burned and its ashes buried in a cemetery, while other forbidden items such as the carcass of an ox executed for goring a human and the hair removed from a nazir may be buried intact and not necessarily in a cemetery. The resolution of this challenge is that since it is not customary to bury meat or hair, the finder of these items will assume that they are forbidden items while it is feasible that a thief would bury wheat to conceal it.

This still leaves one question unanswered. Why did Rabbi Chisda insist on the burial of ashes in a cemetery and not just anywhere? Maharam explains that this requirement was added in order to publicize the ban on benefiting from the forbidden wine.

Avoda Zara 62b


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