1) LEAVING "PE'AH" FROM A HARVEST OF "YEREK"
QUESTION: The Mishnah (55b) says that one of the practices of the people of Yericho to which the Chachamim objected was that they would leave over Pe'ah from their vegetable (Yerek) harvests. RASHI (56a, DH u'Michu b'Yadan, and 57a, DH Ein Nosnim Pe'ah l'Yerek) explains that such a practice is unacceptable because the poor people who take the Pe'ah will assume that it is exempt from Ma'aser due to its status as Hefker. However, since there is no Mitzvah to leave Pe'ah from Yerek, the vegetables are not exempt from Ma'aser.
Why are the vegetables left as Pe'ah not exempt from Ma'aser? Even if the Mitzvah of Pe'ah does not apply to vegetables, when one leaves vegetables as Pe'ah he effectively makes them Hefker, and Hefker is exempt from Ma'aser.
(a) TOSFOS (DH Ela) disagrees with Rashi. He explains that the vegetables left as Pe'ah are not considered Hefker, because the owner made them Hefker only for poor people and not for everyone. The Mishnah in Pe'ah (6:1) teaches that an item is not considered Hefker unless it is made Hefker for everyone, poor and rich alike. The reason why ordinary produce of Pe'ah (such as wheat) is exempt from Ma'aser is not because it is Hefker, but because an independent Gezeiras ha'Kasuv states that Pe'ah is exempt from Ma'aser. If the produce is not actually Pe'ah (such as vegetables), the Gezeiras ha'Kasuv does not apply to it and it is not exempt from Ma'aser.
(b) Perhaps Rashi understands that when one leaves over Pe'ah from a harvest of vegetables, even though it is considered as though he makes it Hefker, it is considered Hefker b'Ta'us -- Hefker made in error. The owner did not know that vegetables are exempt from Pe'ah. Since his act was done in error, the vegetables are not Hefker and they are not exempt from Ma'aser.
It could be that Rashi agrees with Tosfos and maintains that when one willingly gives something only to poor people, it does not become exempt from Ma'aser. However, when he is obligated to give it to poor people, the Gezeiras ha'Kasuv applies and exempts the object from Ma'aser. When one mistakenly thinks that he is obligated to give it to poor people when in truth he is not obligated, it does not become exempt from Ma'aser.
2) YISHMAEL BEN FI'ABI
QUESTION: Aba Shaul ben Botnis, in the name of Aba Yosef ben Chanin, prayed that he not come in contact with certain people who had certain undesirable characteristics. He said about the children of Yishmael ben Fi'abi, "Woe unto me from the family of Yishmael ben Fi'abi, woe unto me from their fists, for they are Kohanim Gedolim, their sons are treasurers [of the Beis ha'Mikdash], their sons-in-law are the ones who give all the orders, and their servants smite the people with their clubs!"
The Gemara later relates that the Azarah itself cried out, "Open your heads, o' gates, and allow Yishmael ben Fi'abi to enter, the student of Pinchas, and let him serve as the Kohen Gadol!"
Who was Yishmael ben Fi'abi, and what was unique about him? Why was he called the student of Pinchas and praised by the Azarah, while Aba Yosef ben Chanin wanted nothing to do with his descendants?
(a) Josephus (Antiquities of the Jews 20:8) records that Yishmael ben Fi'abi was appointed Kohen Gadol by the Roman ruler of Eretz Yisrael, Agrippa. Some time after he appointed Yishmael ben Fi'abi as Kohen Gadol, Agrippa built a balcony on the roof of his palace in order to view the Avodah as it was performed in the Beis ha'Mikdash. Yishmael ben Fi'abi and the other Kohanim fiercely opposed this act of effrontery to the Beis ha'Mikdash and built a high wall to block the Roman ruler's view of the Avodah. When the Roman ruler ordered that the wall be torn down, Yishmael and his entourage traveled to the Emperor Nero in Rome in order to issue a formal complaint against Agrippa's action and to justify their building of the wall. This episode demonstrated the zeal with which Yishmael ben Fi'abi safeguarded the sanctity of the Beis ha'Mikdash.
Perhaps when the Gemara says that he was a student of Pinchas, it refers to Pinchas the son of Aharon, who was known for his zealousness, as the Torah relates (Bamidbar 25:7-8).
Aba Yosef ben Chanin's description also demonstrates the strength of character of the family of Yishmael ben Fi'abi. However, his descendants misused those traits and did not channel their strength towards the honor of Hash-m.
(b) An analysis of Yishmael ben Fi'abi's family name may shed new light on an incident recorded by the Gemara elsewhere. The Yerushalmi (Yoma 6:3) relates, "All the days of Shimon ha'Tzadik, the Lechem ha'Panim and Shtei ha'Lechem were blessed and each Kohen received a k'Zayis. Some ate and were satisfied, others even left some over. When Shimon ha'Tzadik passed away this blessing ceased, and each Kohen received only the size of a bean. The modest Kohanim refrained from taking at all, while the gluttonous ones would grab. It happened once that a Kohen grabbed his portion and his friend's portion. From then on he was called 'Ben ha'Afun' ('son of the bean')." The Gemara in Yoma (39b) relates a similar incident and concludes that the Kohen was called thereafter "Ben Chamtzan." Chimtza can also mean "bean" (see Yevamos 63a, but see Gemara in Yoma, ibid.), and thus it is possible that the Gemara in both places refers to the same incident and to the same nickname.
The Latin term for bean is "faba." Perhaps the Kohen who grabbed was a descendant of Yishmael ben Fi'abi (or, as Josephus writes the name, "Fabi"). As mentioned above, Yishmael's descendants ruled with arrogance and took what was not theirs. In a play on words, the Kohanim called the person who grabbed his bean-size portion and his friend's bean-size portion "Ben Faba" ("Ben ha'Afun") instead of "Ben Fi'abi."
The Tosefta (Kelim Kama 1:6) relates that "the Ba'al ha'Pul would club to death any Kohen who walked between the Mizbe'ach and the Ulam without performing Kidush Yadayim v'Raglayim (washing of the hands and feet)." Who was this unidentified "Ba'al ha'Pul"? Perhaps he was a descendant of Yishmael ben Fi'abi who was known as "Ben ha'Afun," since "Ba'al ha'Pul" literally means "master of the bean." Despite the fact that he sometimes expressed his zealousness in terms of greed, nevertheless -- like his grandfather -- he zealously guarded the sanctity of the Beis ha'Mikdash. (RAV RE'UVEN MARGULIOS, Cheker l'Shemos v'Kinuyim b'Talmud; see also Insights to Yoma 39:2 and Kerisus 28:2.)