Six Hamas terrorists were killed and seven were foiled because of a Teshuvas HaRashba (Volume 7 #20).
It happened almost four years ago, in Kibbutz Sufa, at 4 a.m. on Thursday morning, July 17, 2014. Kibbutz Sufa was founded in 1982 by evacuated settlers. It is on the border of Central Gaza, very close to the Egyptian border.
The story actually begins over 3,300 years ago. The Jews are taken out of Egypt. To commemorate the miraculous occurrence, and to imbue the Jewish nation with an ever-constant source of nourishment of faith itself, the Jewish people are given the mitzvah of consuming matzah.
In The Talmud
Fast-forward 1,600 years. We are now in Babylonia, as the Talmud is being written. Torah scholars are discussing a difficult topic. There is a fascinating exposition that the Talmud presents (Pesachim 33a) in regard to the obligation to give a kohen the gift of terumah.
The verse in the Torah states, “V’nasata lo,” and you shall give it to him. The Talmud expounds: “Lo v’lo l’uro,” to him, but not to his flame.
In other words, the terumah that is given to the kohen must, at the outset, be completely edible; it cannot be something that is prohibited in consumption to the degree that the Kohen would be obligated to burn it as soon as it reaches his hands.
The Talmud is searching for an illustration of such a thing, an example where this exposition might apply. Finally, an answer: wheat that is still attached to the ground that became chametz.
This is the first section of our tale, which took place in Babylonia in the late 300s. The observant reader may now be thinking: Wait just one second. Wheat still attached to the ground that became chametz? Wheat that got wet? Every plant gets wet! That’s how plants receive nutrition. What is the Talmud talking about? A question that requires an answer. Now we move on to the next part of our tale.
We are now in Barcelona, Spain, in the late 1200s. We are at the home of the well-regarded Rashba, Rabbi Shlomo ben Aderet. Indeed, the Rashba is so well-regarded that even the queen of Spain has sent him to rule upon some of her country’s most perplexing cases.
The Rashba receives a letter concerning our section of Talmud. It is the very same question that the observant reader had above. It is now posed for the first time to the Rashba. He responds (Volume 7 #20) with the following explanation. “That section of the Talmud refers to wheat that became completely ripened while still attached to the ground, and it does not need any further nutrients at all. Everything that has dried out completely while still attached to the ground is considered as if it is resting in the pitcher and is thus susceptible to becoming chametz if rain falls upon it.”
It is now 1563. We are in Tzfas, in Eretz Yisrael. The author of the Shulchan Aruch has just codified the Rashba’s explanation of our Talmudic passage in Chapter 467:5. Wheat that has completely ripened can become chametz if it is rained upon. If it still requires sustenance from the ground to reach full development, then there is no problem.
We move to Radin, Poland. It is now the 1890s. The Chofetz Chaim, in his Mishnah Berurah, explains what apparently has been the custom for Jews in Europe for some time. He states that the Shulchan Aruch is only referring to an abundance of rain. However, if it rains a little bit then the fully developed wheat is fine and can be used for the highest standard of matzah.
However, he does mention a tradition cited by Rabbi Avrohom Danzig in the Chayei Adam that the custom of the very pious is to cut the wheat earlier, while it is still somewhat green, in order to ensure that there are no problems. The concern is the issue first mentioned in the Rashba. In his Mishnah Berurah, the Chofetz Chaim twice mentions this custom of cutting the wheat early — once regarding this topic and once earlier in a discussion (S.A. 453:4) about whether the wheat has to be guarded when it is cut or when it undergoes the grinding process. In his Biur Halachah, the Chofetz Chaim cites the practice of the Vilna Gaon who was careful only to eat matzah that was watched from when it was cut. This, too, the Chofetz Chaim points out, is because of the Rashba’s position.
Gaza, Hamas Headquarters
It is now 2013 or early 2014. Hamas leaders plan a devastating attack on Israeli citizens. They will send terrorists through a tunnel across the border and emerge in a completely camouflaged, carefully chosen wheat field. The 13 terrorists will have several types of weapons, including assault rifles and rocket-propelled grenade launchers. The plan is perfect. The wheat is high enough to serve as camouflage but not yet ripe enough to be harvested. Who would harvest green wheat in July? The plan to kill Israelis is more than perfect. It is brilliant.
Bnei Brak, Israel
It is now 2014. A group of matzah bakers in Bnei Brak are in serious need of some green wheat still on the ground in order to fulfill the requirements of the responsum of the Rashba. They search almost all of Eretz Yisrael. Finally, they come across a wheat field located in the Hevel Shalom area of the northwestern Negev desert. It was an area administered by the Eshkol Regional Council.
Time is of the essence. They cut a deal with the farmer and arrange for the wheat to be reaped immediately. They compensate the farmers nicely for the wheat. It is mid-July.
As planned, 13 terrorists emerge from the tunnel. But wait. Lo and behold, the wheat field is bare — completely bare! The terrorists think, “Who moved our wheat stalks? Oh no! An IDF watch station spotted us! Arghh! Bombs! They are bombing us! Let’s crawl back into our hole in the ground! Arghh! Six of us are hit! Let’s abandon them! Let’s go back to Gaza!” (Watch the foiled attack at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Q3MrO4avx30.)
Were it not for the Teshuvas HaRashba, the wheat field would never have been reaped. The Teshuvas HaRashba saves the day.
The author can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.