1) AGADAH: THE YEAR THE JEWISH PEOPLE DID NOT FAST ON YOM KIPPUR
QUESTIONS: The Jewish people experienced great joy in the times of Shlomo ha'Melech when the building of the Beis ha'Mikdash was completed. They celebrated for seven days prior to Sukos as the verse relates (Melachim I 8:65). The Gemara says that the Jewish people did not observe the fast of Yom Kippur that year, but they ate on that day as part of the celebration of the Chanukas ha'Mikdash.
The Gemara says that they derived the allowance to eat on Yom Kippur from the Torah's description of the Chanukas ha'Mishkan in the Midbar. When the Mishkan was dedicated, the Nesi'im brought Korbanos as part of the celebration, even on Shabbos. The Jewish people derived from there that when the Mikdash is dedicated, the celebration overrides the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur. Hash-m was pleased with their decision, as He demonstrated at the end of the celebrations by sending forth a Bas Kol to proclaim that they were all destined to eternal life in Olam ha'Ba.
The Gemara mentions that before they heard the Bas Kol, the Jewish people were worried that they may have acted wrongly by eating on Yom Kippur and would be liable for the severe punishment of Kares.
Why were the people concerned that they would be liable for punishment? Even if their ruling was incorrect, at worst their act was an inadvertent transgression, an act of Shogeg, for which there is no punishment of Kares. Moreover, the people certainly followed the ruling of Beis Din in this matter, and thus there was no reason for them to be held accountable. Even if the ruling was wrong, the people would be liable only to bring a Par he'Elem Davar (the Korban offered when the entire nation acts upon an erroneous ruling of Beis Din which permits an act that is actually forbidden with a punishment of Kares). Why were they afraid that they would be punished with Kares?
In addition, the Gemara implies that their exposition of the verse was correct, and that Hash-m was pleased with the Simchah that they experienced and expressed on Yom Kippur of that year. Why, then, does the Gemara ask, "How do we know that Hash-m forgave them," and why does it refer to their eating on Yom Kippur as "the sin of Yom Kippur"? If their action was based on a valid Kal v'Chomer, why does the Gemara call it a "sin," and why did they need forgiveness? (CHIDUSHIM U'VI'URIM)
ANSWER: It must be that at the time of the Chanukas ha'Mikdash, the Beis Din did not actually issue a ruling to permit (or require) the people to eat on Yom Kippur. In fact, the Beis Din did not even convene at all to discuss the question. Rather, the people themselves, and the members of the Beis Din together with them, were so euphoric about the inauguration of the Beis ha'Mikdash, the dwelling place for the Shechinah in this world, that they spontaneously assumed that they were permitted to celebrate even on Yom Kippur, based on the Kal v'Chomer. They assumed that there was no need to convene Beis Din to issue a Heter in the matter. Their joy was so great and their longing to express it so intense that by common consent they decided to express their joy through eating despite the Torah's prohibition against eating on Yom Kippur. After they celebrated, they feared that they may have erred in the Derashah even though they based their ruling on a Kal v'Chomer and did not intentionally transgress the laws of Yom Kippur. They feared that their error would be counted against them as an intentional act of transgression, for "Shigegas Talmud Oleh Zadon" (Pirkei Avos 4:13) -- a mistake in learning is considered a willful transgression.
What mistake did they fear they had made in their Kal v'Chomer? The Gemara explains that their Kal v'Chomer was derived from the Korbanos of the Nesi'im, from which they learned that the laws of Shabbos and Yom Kippur may be suspended for the sake of celebrating the Chanukas ha'Mikdash. The Gemara asks that the verse proves only that the Korbanos of the dedication ceremony override the laws of Shabbos, but not that physical expressions of joy such as eating override the obligation to fast on Yom Kippur. Why, then, did the people permit eating and drinking on Yom Kippur based on that verse? The Gemara answers that "there is no Simchah without eating and drinking."
The TOSFOS HA'ROSH asks that the Gemara's answer is valid only if the people had a source in the Torah for a Mitzvah to express Simchah upon the completion of the Mikdash. However, the only requirement that can be derived from the Korbanos of the Nesi'im is that Korbanos must be offered when the Mikdash is consecrated. What source did the people have for an obligation to express joy through eating and drinking when the Mikdash is consecrated?
The Tosfos ha'Rosh answers that they considered the obligation to rejoice an obvious corollary of the obligation to offer Korbanos, because whenever Korbanos are offered there is Simchah as the verse says, "You shall offer sacrifices and eat them and rejoice before Hash-m" (Devarim 27:7).
This answer needs elucidation. The verse in Devarim teaches only that one must rejoice when a Korban is offered, but not when the Mikdash is built. There is no source that the joy of offering a Korban overrides Yom Kippur. The verses of the Nesi'im teach only that offering a Korban for the celebration of the building of the Mikdash overrides Shabbos. Why did the Jewish people think that their joy should override Yom Kippur?
Apparently their logic was as follows. They reasoned: why did Hash-m instruct the Nesi'im to offer their Korbanos even on Shabbos? It must be that the proper way to express joy (in the times of the Mikdash) is only with the consumption of meat of Korbanos (Pesachim 109a, based on the aforementioned verse in Devarim). Hash-m allowed the Korbanos to be offered on Shabbos so that the people would experience Simchah that day through the offering and eating of the Korbanos.
This explains the people's mistake. They attempted to read their own reasoning into the commandments of the Torah ("Doresh Ta'ama d'Kra") and derive Halachos with a method which was not one of the accepted thirteen principles of Halachic derivation. For that reason their act was called a sin and required atonement. Nevertheless, a Bas Kol issued forth and informed them that since they acted purely for the sake of honoring Hash-m, they would not be punished. They were even rewarded for their pure intentions. (M. Kornfeld) (See also Sanhedrin 21b: "Why were the reasons for the Mitzvos not revealed? Because in the two instances in which they were revealed, the greatest person in the world (Shlomo ha'Melech) erred... [and said,] 'I will marry and I will not be affected...'." It is interesting to note that it was Shlomo ha'Melech who erred in this regard, and that during his reign the people made the same type of mistake when they permitted eating on Yom Kippur.)
2) CHOOSING TO DO THE GREATER MITZVAH
OPINIONS: Rebbi Yonasan ben Asamai and Rebbi Yehudah ben Gerim resolved a contradiction between two verses. One verse implies that one is permitted to "measure" two Mitzvos and choose to do the greater one (Mishlei 4:26), while another verses says that one may not measure the Mitzvos in order to do the greater one (Mishlei 5:6).
They answered that one verse refers to when the Mitzvah can be done by someone else ("Mitzvah she'Efshar la'Asos Al Yedei Acherim"), and the other verse refers to when the Mitzvah cannot be done by someone else ("Mitzvah she'Iy Efshar la'Asos Al Yedei Acherim").
There are several ways to understand this answer and the logic behind it.
(a) RASHI writes that both verses refer to a situation in which a person is presented with the opportunity to perform two Mitzvos. The verse which implies that one should choose the greater Mitzvah (Mishlei 4:26) refers to when one of the two Mitzvos can be done by someone else ("Efshar la'Asos Al Yedei Acherim"). Since someone else can do one of the Mitzvos, one should choose to do the greater Mitzvah himself. In contrast, when no one else can do the other Mitzvah and the person will have to do both of them himself, he should do the Mitzvah which presents itself first, whether it is the lesser or greater Mitzvah.
(The CHACHAM TZVI (#106) writes that the Gemara here is the source for the ruling of the RADVAZ (Teshuvah 13), who was asked whether an imprisoned Jew who receives permission to leave for one day of the year should leave right away in order to do a small Mitzvah or wait until a later day on which he can do a great Mitzvah. The Radvaz ruled that he should leave at the earliest opportunity in order to do even a small Mitzvah because of the principle, "Mitzvah ha'Ba'ah l'Yadcha Al Tachmitzenah." However, this principle states only that when a Mitzvah presents itself one should not let it pass. How, though, does this principle teach that one should give up a greater Mitzvah later in order to do a smaller Mitzvah now? The Chacham Tzvi says that the source for the ruling of the Radvaz is the Gemara here which says that one should not take into account a greater Mitzvah that will present itself later when there is a smaller Mitzvah to do now.)
(b) The TOSFOS HA'ROSH explains the Gemara differently. He relates this Gemara to the following Gemara which asks that there is an apparent contradiction between two other verses. The Gemara resolves that contradiction by saying that the only time one may stop learning Torah to do a Mitzvah is when that Mitzvah cannot be done by someone else. If the Mitzvah can be done by someone else, one may not interrupt his learning to do that Mitzvah.
This is also the intent of the Gemara here. When the Gemara says that one verse refers to a Mitzvah which cannot be done by someone else, it means that the verse permits a person to interrupt his learning in order to do such a Mitzvah. The other verse, which implies that one may not measure the Mitzvos and choose one over the other, refers to a Mitzvah which can be done by someone else. Since it can be done by someone else, one may not interrupt his learning in order to do it. Learning Torah itself is a "Mitzvah she'Iy Efshar la'Asos Al Yedei Acherim," a Mitzvah which cannot be done by someone else, and therefore it overrides any Mitzvah which can be done by someone else. (See also SEFAS EMES.)
(c) The MAHARSHA says that the verse refer to a situation in which two Mitzvos present themselves to a person at one time and he can do only one of them. Which one should he do? The Gemara teaches that it depends on whether one of the Mitzvos can be done by someone else. If one of the Mitzvos can be done by someone else, then one may do the smaller Mitzvah (unlike Rashi's explanation), since both Mitzvos eventually will be fulfilled (by him and by someone else). If, however, neither Mitzvah can be done by someone else and he can do only one of them himself, he should choose the greater Mitzvah. (This is consistent with the Gemara's discussion in a number of places with regard to one who is faced with two Mitzvos and can perform only one, such as the Mitzvah to bury a Mes Mitzvah and the Mitzvah to offer the Korban Pesach.)
(The Maharsha's approach and Rashi's approach are not necessarily exclusive of each other. According to the Maharsha, the Gemara teaches when a person is obligated to choose the greater Mitzvah. A person is not obligated to choose the greater Mitzvah when another person can do it. According to Rashi, the Gemara teaches when a person is permitted to choose the greater Mitzvah. When another person will do one of the two Mitzvos which present themselves, one is permitted to perform the greater Mitzvah himself (and he is even encouraged to do so), and he may leave the other Mitzvah for his friend.)