By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
There is a question that is frequently heard in yeshivos: “Why are we learning this topic in Gemara? Why is it relevant?” All topics of Torah are connected. The deeper understanding one has of one topic of Talmud, the better he will be able to understand an unrelated topic. However, for a Gemara learned this week there is a different answer.
This week, the daf learned a dispute between Rebbe Meir and the chachamim (Shevuos 42b—43a). The dispute relates to practical halachah, but not one that many people will readily come across. There was someone entrusted with watching a field that had ten vines filled with grapes–or so the owner claims. The watchman counters that there were only five vines filled with grapes. The subject of the dispute between Rebbe Meir and the chachamim is whether or not beis din can force the watchman to swear that he was only given five vines filled with fruit. Regarding the vines themselves, all agree that the watchman cannot be forced to swear because oaths are not administered on real estate. The vines growing on the ground have the same status as the land itself. The question is regarding the ready-to-harvest fruit. Are they considered like real estate or are they considered independent fruit?
The chachamim are of the opinion that as long as the fruit is attached to the vine, halachah treats it just like the vine. Rebbe Meir says that since the fruit is ready to be harvested, it is considered as if it were already harvested. Therefore, according to Rebbe Meir, the grapes are treated like any other moveable object, and the watchman can be forced to swear to back up his side of the story.
To be sure, this situation has certainly occurred in one form or another. Yet, most students of the daf will never come across this question. One might suggest that this discussion is relevant to the laws of Shabbos. Perhaps Rebbe Meir is of the opinion that ready-to-eat fruit can be picked on Shabbos, because we view the fruit as already being virtually picked. Tosfos categorically rejects this suggestion. The forbidden labors on Shabbos are patterned after the labor performed for the construction of the Mishkan. Certainly, the produce used to produce dyes for the Mishkan was picked when fully ripe. So all agree one may not pick even fully ripe fruit on Shabbos.
Yet, amazingly, there is an application of Rebbe Meir’s opinion that might be relevant on an average week, though hopefully not in your house. The question relates to burnt challah. The Shulchan Aruch writes that we use two loaves of bread to start our Shabbos meals. The two loaves remind us of the double portion of manna that fell before Shabbos and yom tov. The Rema adds the adjective “whole” to describe the loaves of bread. The Rema is teaching us that there is a mitzvah to use two whole loaves of bread as lechem mishneh. The question that arises is what happens if a poor homemaker forgot to take her challos out of the oven? The bottoms of the challos were burnt to a crisp and are inedible. Perhaps these challos are no longer considered whole. Though they are whole at the time of ha’motzi, the burnt part will certainly be cut off and won’t be served. Perhaps then these challos are no longer whole since we view the entire bottom as already having been cut off.
The Makom Shmuel leans this way. However, he notes that generally there are people who like the burnt part. The burnt part is not really inedible; it’s just part of the challah that is not preferred by some people. The Mishnah Berurah’s opinion is not conclusive on this issue. He writes: “A loaf that was burnt and the burnt part wasn’t cut away–some say you can fulfill the mitzvah of lechem mishneh with it” (see the Shaarei Teshuva 294:2).
There is another interesting application of the concept of viewing something that is destined to be cut as if it was already cut. However, this time the application helps an item be considered whole regarding lechem mishneh. The question revolves around machine matzos that were put in the oven while attached but are perforated and meant to be detached from one another immediately after their removal from the oven. Are the detached matzos considered whole, or perhaps since they were separated after baking they are considered incomplete? The Yerushah Pleitah writes that we can say that even when the matzos were attached, it is considered as if they were separated since they were destined to be detached. Furthermore, the perforation already partially detaches them. Rav Simcha Bunim Cohen takes this one step further. He writes that even different parts of a sectional challah can each be considered a whole challah after they were separated (The Radiance of Shabbos, pg. 141 in the 2013 expanded edition).
To conclude with an interesting comment, Rav Nissim Karelitz writes that if one does not have a whole challah, he may rely on the opinion that as long as less than 1/48 of the challah is missing it is still considered whole.
Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.