1) THE STATUS OF A BABY FOUND IN A CITY POPULATED MOSTLY BY GENTILES
QUESTION: The Gemara (end of 84b) cites a Mishnah which states that if a baby is found in a city in which most of the residents are gentiles, the principle of Rov dictates that the child is not Jewish. Shmuel, however, says that one should even desecrate Shabbos in order to save the baby's life. The Gemara asks, in what way is he treated like a non-Jew? Rav Papa answers that he is treated like a non-Jew in that he may be fed Neveilah.
RASHI (DH l'Ha'achilo) writes that one may feed Neveilah to such a child until he becomes an adult (Bar Mitzvah) and accepts upon himself to become a Jew. Rashi later (DH Naisi Ra'ayah) repeats the idea that when the child comes of age he will convert.
Why does Rashi assume that the child will convert when he comes of age? Perhaps he will choose to remain a non-Jew.
(a) The NETZIV (in MEROMEI SADEH) answers that the principle of Rov is derived from the verse, "Acharei Rabim l'Hatos" (Shemos 23:2; see Chulin 11a), a part of Torah which a non-Jew is not entitled to follow. Therefore, the doubt about his status remains unresolved even when there is a Rov.
Accordingly, the question of whether or not a Jew may feed Neveilah to the child is relevant to the Jew himself, who might transgress by feeding Neveilah to the child if the child is Jewish. Since the Rov is relevant to the Jew's conduct, the Jew may follow the Rov and assume that the child is not Jewish (and he may feed Neveilah to the child). In contrast, the question of whether or not the child may feed Neveilah to himself (or transgress any other Mitzvah) when he becomes an adult is relevant only to the child himself. Therefore, he may not follow the Rov to decide that he is a non-Jew, because if he indeed is a non-Jew then he is not entitled to rely on the principle of Rov! He may eat Neveilah only as a child, because even if he is a Jew he is not obligated mid'Oraisa to refrain fro Neveilah until he reaches the age of Bar Mitzvah. When he reaches that age, he has no choice but to accept upon himself all of the Mitzvos.
(Semantically, this explanation expresses itself in a paradoxical way. There is a doubt whether this person is a Jew or a non-Jew. If he is a Jew, then the principle of Rov applies to him and determines that he is a non-Jew. If he is a non-Jew, then the principle of Rov does not apply to him; he may not rely on Rov and thus he must conduct himself as a Jew!)
(b) Perhaps Rashi was bothered by a question. Shmuel says that one must save the child's life even if he must desecrate Shabbos to do so. However, if the Rov states that the child is not Jewish, one should not be permitted to desecrate Shabbos to save his life. The Gemara in Sanhedrin (69a) teaches that Beis Din may even put a person to death based on a Rov. Certainly, then, one should be permitted to let the child die and not desecrate Shabbos when Rov dictates that he is not Jewish.
This question may have prompted Rashi to understand that Shmuel's ruling that one does not follow Rov when a question of life and death is involved is due to an enactment of the Rabanan not to follow Rov in such a case. Even though the Torah does not require one to save the life of a child who was found in a city populated mostly by non-Jews, the Rabanan require him to desecrate Shabbos in order to save the child's life. (Since there is a possibility that the child is a Jew, the principle that prohibits the Rabanan from making an enactment that one actively uproot a Torah law ("Kum Aseh"; Yevamos 90b) does not apply in this case.)
Accordingly, it would be illogical for the Rabanan to instruct the child to live his life as a non-Jew and eat Neveilah. It must be that the Rabanan instituted not only that he may be saved on Shabbos (due to the possibility that he is a Jew), but that he is to be encouraged to undergo a proper conversion and become a Jew when he reaches adulthood. Even though one may feed Neveilah to the child now because there is a Rov that he is not Jewish, nevertheless he is encouraged to become a Jew, and if his life is in danger on Shabbos one should desecrate Shabbos to save him.
TOSFOS (DH u'Lefake'ach) appears to have been bothered by this question as well. Tosfos explains that the requirement to save the child's life even when the majority of the city is not Jewish is indeed mid'Oraisa. The Torah says, "v'Chai ba'Hem" -- "You shall live in them (the Mitzvos)" (Vayikra 18:5), which teaches that even when there is a Rov that the child is not Jewish, one must save his life due to the chance that it is a Jewish life. In contrast, with regard to feeding Neveilah to the child, the rule of Rov applies as in every other area of Halachah. (When Beis Din executes a person based on a Rov, "v'Chai ba'Hem" does not apply, apparently because the Rov states that there is reason to execute the person. In contrast, in the case of a baby found in a non-Jewish city, there certainly is no reason to take his life or allow him to die; the only doubt is whether one must desecrate Shabbos to save him or not.) (M. Kornfeld)
2) TESHUVAH, YOM KIPPUR, AND THE KORBAN "CHATAS" AND "ASHAM VADAI"
QUESTION: The Mishnah discusses the effectiveness of Teshuvah, Yom Kippur, and death in attaining atonement for various types of sins. The Mishnah begins with a statement that the "Chatas and Asham Vadai attain atonement."
These Korbanos atone for a person's sins any time he offers them (and, of course, repents). Why does the Mishnah mention them specifically in the context of the laws of Yom Kippur?
(a) The TOSFOS YOM HA'KIPURIM answers that the Mishnah does not intend to teach anything about these Korbanos themselves. Rather, the Mishnah intends to teach that only the Asham Vadai provides complete atonement for a sin, but not an Asham Taluy. If a person finds out, after he has offered an Asham Taluy, that he definitely sinned, he still must bring a Korban Chatas. Moreover, if Yom Kippur arrives before one offers his Asham Taluy, it exempts him from the obligation to bring the Korban (in contrast to the Chatas and Asham Vadai). (The Tosfos Yom ha'Kipurim discusses at length why, according to this reasoning, the Mishnah mentions the Korban Chatas, if the Mishnah's intention is to teach something about the Asham Taluy, which is inferred only from the mention of Asham Vadai.)
(b) The Mishnah mentions the Chatas and Asham Vadai to teach a lesson about the atonement achieved by Teshuvah and Yom Kippur.
The Mishnah lists the sins for which Teshuvah alone atones, and the sins which need additional atonement. One who transgresses an Aseh or a Lo Ta'aseh does not need to bring a Korban; Teshuvah alone is effective for those types of sins. The Chatas and Asham are necessary for sins that carry the punishment of Kares and Misas Beis Din. These types of sins require Teshuvah and the extra atonement of Korbanos. Similarly, Teshuvah does not atone for them until Yom Kippur comes and provides extra atonement.
In addition, the Chatas and Asham atone only for sins "Bein Adam la'Makom" (between man and G-d), but not for sins "Bein Adam la'Chaveiro" (between man and his fellow man). Similarly, Teshuvah and Yom Kippur do not atone for sins "Bein Adam la'Chaveiro" until one appeases his friend and asks for forgiveness.
3) "DERECH ERETZ" COMES BEFORE "TALMUD TORAH"
QUESTION: The Mishnah states that "death and Yom Kippur atone with repentance." The Gemara concludes that "Teshuvah requires Yom Kippur [to atone for one's sins], but Yom Kippur does not require Teshuvah [to atone for one's sins]." This implies that Yom Kippur is the primary form of atonement, while Teshuvah is secondary.
The TOSFOS YESHANIM (DH Teshuvah) quotes Rabeinu Tam's assertion that "Talmud Torah is secondary to Derech Eretz." Rabeinu Tam infers from the wording of the Mishnah in Avos (2:2), "Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz" -- "It is good to have Talmud Torah with Derech Eretz," that Derech Eretz is primary and Talmud Torah is secondary and should accompany Derech Eretz. In any phrase in which the preposition "with" associates two objects, the primary object is placed after the word "with" and the secondary object is placed before the word "with" to show that it accompanies the primary object. The Tosfos Yeshanim discusses at length the grammatical basis for this inference in light of the wording of the Mishnah here, which places Teshuvah after the word "with" and yet the Gemara says that Yom Kippur is the primary form of atonement.
RABEINU ELCHANAN challenges Rabeinu Tam's statement that Derech Eretz, involvement in worldly pursuits in order to earn a livelihood, is more important than learning Torah. The Mishnah and Gemara clearly state in a number of places that the opposite is true. For example, the Mishnah in Avos (6:5) says, "Torah is acquired only through minimizing Derech Eretz." Similarly, the Gemara in Berachos (35b) states that one should make his Torah learning primary and his pursuit of a livelihood secondary. What does Rabeinu Tam mean when he says that Torah learning is secondary to Derech Eretz?
(a) RAV ELCHANAN WASSERMAN Hy'd (in CHIDUSHEI AGADOS) explains that Rabeinu Tam reads the words "Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz" the same way as the Midrash (Bamidbar Rabah 13:15). The Midrash says, "Torah must be mixed with good deeds, as the Mishnah says, 'Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz.'" The phrase "Derech Eretz" in the Mishnah does not refer to work (as in the Mishnah in Avos 6:5), but it refers to good deeds.
The translation of the phrase "Derech Eretz" in the Mishnah in Avos appears to be the subject of dispute in the Midrash. Another Midrash (Koheles Rabah 7:1) quotes the Mishnah in its explanation of the verse in Koheles (7:11), "Wisdom is good when accompanied by material possessions." The Midrash there seems to translate "Derech Eretz" as "work." Rabeinu Elchanan, as cited by the Tosfos Yeshanim, does not accept Rabeinu Tam's explanation of the Mishnah because he understands the Mishnah as the Midrash in Koheles interprets it.
(b) RAV SIMCHA SHUSTEL of Lakewood suggests that Rabeinu Tam's statement may refer only to a specific type of Torah learning. RAV CHAIM of Volozhen, in his commentary to the Mishnah in Avos (2:2), asserts that "Yafeh Talmud Torah Im Derech Eretz" means that even while one is involved in worldly activity such as the pursuit of a livelihood, it is good to think about Torah. (See also Nefesh ha'Chayim 1:8.) This mode of conduct is mentioned in much earlier commentaries, such as MISHNAS AVOS (to Avos 4:10) of RAV YOSEF BEN YEHUDAH IBN EKNIN, a disciple of the Rambam.
The SEFER HAFLA'AH (Introduction, #35; see also his introduction to Sefer ha'Mikneh, #32) elaborates: How can a person succeed in business if his mind is always preoccupied with Torah? The answer is, "Know Hash-m while you go about your ways, and He will make your paths straight" (Mishlei 3:6). When one thinks thoughts of Torah while he works, Hash-m will see to it that his business prospers. Similarly, "Happy is the person... who desires Hash-m's Torah and ponders His Torah day and night... he will succeed in all that he does" (Tehilim 1:1-3). A person need not be concerned that his concentration on Torah thoughts will cause him to fail in worldly endeavors. (Heard from Rav Simcha Shustel shlit'a.)
One of the leading Torah sages of today, HA'GA'ON RAV SHLOMO FISHER shlit'a of Yerushalayim, pointed out that the spiritual height to which the Hafla'ah and Rav Chaim Volozhen refer is discussed by the RAMBAN. When the Torah commands us to "love Hash-m, walk in His ways and cleave to Him" (Devarim 11:22), the Ramban explains that one who is on a great spiritual level should dwell on the love of Hash-m even as he goes about his daily business. While he converses with his fellow man, his heart should be thinking about Hash-m and His ways. Similarly, the RA'AVAD (end of Hilchos Teshuvah) refers to righteous individuals who perform all of their mundane activities in a distracted manner because their mind is absorbed by their love for Hash-m. (Heard from Rav Shlomo Fisher shlit'a.)
Rabeinu Tam's intention may simply be to prove that the proper interpretation of the Mishnah in Avos is as Rav Chaim of Volozhen explains it. The Mishnah means that even when one's primary involvement is with Derech Eretz, it is good for him to think about Torah in his mind, because Torah is the most important pursuit in one's life.
(As the Ramban mentions, to cleave constantly to Hash-m is a great accomplishment which is achieved by only a few individuals in each generation. The ordinary person is certainly not expected to reach such a level. Nevertheless, he is bidden to strive for such a level by using his free moments every day for Torah study and not to waste them on insignificant matters.)