Tag Archives: Chametz

Nazirites, Levites, and Agriculture (N#194-230)

Read the full text here.

The most famous Nazirite was undoubtedly Samson, depicted here wrestling a lion.

Summary: Mitzvah #194 is not to consume yayin nesech, wine that was used or created for idolatrous purposes. The following mitzvah is not to be a glutton. The next four are not to eat on Yom Kippur, and not to eat chametz or something that has chametz in it on Pesach or the afternoon before Pesach. This is followed by the prohibitions of having any chametz be seen or found in one’s possession on Pesach. The next four are for a Nazirite not to consume any grapes or grape-related products, then two for a Nazirite not to become impure through proximity to a corpse, and for a Nazirite not to shave or get a haircut. Mitzvah #210 is not to harvest one’s entire field (but rather to leave a corner, pe’ah, to be freely consumed by the poor and disadvantaged). Similarly, #211 is not to gather fallen produce (leket), but leave them for the needy, and #213 is specifically not to gather fallen grapes. Mitzvah #212 is not to harvest undeveloped grape clusters, and #214 is not to gather in forgotten sheaves (but leave them for the needy as well). The next three prohibitions all deal with kilayim, crossbreeding different species. Mitzvah #218 is not to work two different animals together under one yoke, and #219 is not to muzzle an animal while it is working, but allow it to eat of the fields it is working on. The next four mitzvot all prohibit working the land in various ways in the Sabbatical shemitah year, followed by two similar ones for the Jubilee year. Mitzvah #227 is not to sell lands in Israel permanently, since plots of land must be returned to their original owners every Jubilee. Unlike the other tribes, the Levites were not given specific borders within Israel. They were only given specific cities, and mitzvah #228 is not to change the status of these cities or take them away from the Levites. This is followed by a prohibition of forsaking or abandoning Levites. The Jewish people are required to take care of the priestly class. Finally, there are three mitzvot dealing with lending money to a fellow Jew, including not seeking repayment after a shemitah.

Insight: Although true idolatry is uncommon and rare today, the default status of any wine produced by gentiles is still yayin nesech. In the full version of Sefer HaMitzvot, the Rambam notes that the Torah forbid specifically wine that was used in idolatry, but when it comes to all gentile wines – whether used in idolatry or not – these were prohibited by rabbinic decree. In fact, they were among the 18 laws instituted by Beit Shammai back in the first century CE, in that infamous incident of when Beit Shammai forcibly took the majority in the Sanhedrin and pushed their stringencies through! (See Shabbat 17b, for instance.) To avoid the prohibition of yayin nesech, wine can be “boiled”, mevushal. By flash-boiling it, the yayin mevushal becomes permissible. Most kosher wines on the market today are mevushal. However, more and more wines made in Israel and in Jewish-owned wineries around the world are non-mevushal. Some believe that the flash-boiling process affects the flavour and quality of the wine, and prefer consuming only non-mevushal wine.

Further Reading: ‘The Science of Chametz’

Mitzvot of Holidays and Kosher Food (P#134-170)

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Summary: The 134th and 135th positive mitzvot are to observe Shemitah, and let the land lie fallow every seventh year. The next six are similarly to observe the Yovel, the 50th “Jubilee” year; to rest, blow the shofar, and return ancestral lands, as well as to count the years, and cancel debts. While a Jew is obligated to cancel debts owed to him by another Jew, he is not obligated to cancel debts of a gentile, which is command #142. The next three mitzvot deal with gifts given to the kohanim. The kohanim were dependent on these gifts, since they did not own land in Israel and were busy with Temple services. Mitzvah #146 and 147 is to properly shecht animals before eating them, and to cover their drained blood with earth. Next is shiluach haken, “sending away the mother bird” (read more about this perplexing mitzvah here). Mitzvot #149 to 152 are to check animals for kosher signs to make sure they are permitted for consumption (land mammals, birds, insects, and fish – in that order). Mitzvah #153 is to calculate the months and years in devising the Jewish calendar, and the following two are to rest and commemorate Shabbat. The next five are related to Pesach: destroying chametz, relating the Haggadah, eating matzah, and resting on the first and seventh days of the festival. Mitzvah #161 and 162 is to count Sefirat HaOmer, and then rest on Shavuot. We conclude the holiday list with resting on Rosh Hashanah (163), fasting on Yom Kippur (164), resting on Yom Kippur (165), resting on the first and last days of Sukkot (166-167), dwelling in the sukkah (168), netilat lulav (169), and hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashanah (170).

Insight: In ancient times, the holidays of Pesach, Shavuot, and Sukkot were the three regalim, “pilgrimage festivals”. This is when Jews journeyed to the Temple in Jerusalem to celebrate together in the holy city. Regalim literally means “legs”. As stated previously, each of the mitzvot corresponds to a particular body part. There are 248 positive mitzvot and 248 major evarim, bones and organs. The 365 negative mitzvot correspond to the body’s 365 gidim, major nerves and sinews. As such, all the mitzvot dealing with the three festivals, or “legs”, correspond to various parts of the legs in human anatomy. In a famous story, a group of nurses once came to Rabbi Chaim Kanievsky and complained of severe leg pain from overwork. He instructed them to avoid working on the regalim, and their leg pains would go away. This is precisely what happened!