May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Sanhedrin 111. These are some highlights.
Sanhedrin 111: Should a Jewish soldier put on tefillin in a desert rainstorm?
It was late in the day. The Israeli soldier had been busy all day with his army responsibilities. He had not had the time to pray. He was stationed in the desert. He realized that there was still some light out and that he could put on tefillin. It was raining hard. He was in a bind. Rain can easily get into tefillin boxes and erase the holy written parchments. He asked Rav Zilberstein what he should do. Should he take the risk and put on the tefillin?
Rav Zilberstein points that Rav Moshe Feinstein (Igrot Moshe OC Chelek Alef Siman 4) argues that we are never to perform a mitzvah at the expense of destroying holy writings. It is a severe mandate of the Torah to treat Hashem’s objects with reverence and respect. We were commanded to smash the false idols and we were commanded not to do so to Hashem our Lord. His name is to be treated with respect and regard. In our daf we learn that if the majority of the residents of a city worship idols, all the city residents are put to death by sword and all the property is gathered to the city’s main street and destroyed. The holy scrolls are not burned. They are buried. Minchat Chinuch finds this law difficult. We usually have a rule that positive commands override prohibitions, asei docheh lo ta’aseh. Why is the law to bury the scrolls of the ir hanidachat? There is a positive mitzvah to destroy the property of the idolatrous town. Let this positive obligation override the prohibition against mistreating scrolls that have the name of Hashem. Rav Moshe argues that our Gemara teaches that since destroying Hashem’s name is such a terrible sin, a positive mitzvah cannot defeat it. No mitzvah should be performed at the cost of destroying a holy work. According to Rav Moshe then, presumably the soldier should not put on the tefillin.
Rav Zilberstein distinguishes between the case in which Rav Moshe issued his ruling and the soldier’s scenario. Rav Moshe discussed a man with a contagious disease. May he bring his tefillin with him to the hospital? The hospital will treat him, but after he dies they will destroy all his possessions. Should he bring his tefillin to put them on as long as he lives, while knowing that eventually they will be destroyed? Rav Moshe rules that he should not bring the tefillin. That case was one in which there was a certainty that the tefillin would be destroyed. Our case is different. The soldier is not sure that the rain will ruin the tefillin. There is only a fear that the tefillin might get ruined. There is a chance that he will cause a ruining of a holy object. This should be classified as grama, indirect cause. Masechet Shabbat teaches that through grama, erasing the name of Hashem is allowed. Here too, it would be permissible.
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.