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This week we started the Masechet Erchin (or more precisely Arachin). If one wishes to donate funds to the Beit Mikdash comparable to the value of person (himself or another) they can do so in one of two ways. Firstly, one can offer the value (demei) of that person. In such a case the value is determined based on the market value of the individual. Alternatively, one can stipulate that they wish to offer the erech of an individual. The Torah provides fixed figures of how the value of such a vow would be calculated and varies with age and gender. It is this second category that is the focus of the masechet. (See “Introduction to Erchin”, Volume 5 Issue 25, for a more thorough explanation.)
The Mishnah (2:1) teaches that with respect to erchin the value is no less than one sela and no more than fifty sela. Fifty sela corresponds to the maximum erech mentioned in the Torah. One sela however is less than the smallest erech. The single sela refers however to a poor person that does not have enough money to satisfy the erech-vow. One sela is the minimum amount he can pay in such a case to discharge his obligation.
The Mishnah however records a debate where the poor person does not have enough for the commitment, but has more than one sela. R’ Meir explains that he can discharge his obligation by simply paying one sela. The Chachamim however argue that if he must pay all that he has.
Prior to the debate, the Mishnah teaches the implication of this minimum amount. If a poor person gave a sela and then he become wealthy, he has already discharged his obligation. However if he gave less than a sela prior to his financial situation changing, how would have to pay the full amount of the erech-vow he committed himself to give.
The Tosfot however comments that the figure of less than one sela used in the example is not to be taken literally. Rather, the Tosfot adds that in a case where the poor person was able to give 5 but he only gave 4, and after his situation changed, he would also be required to pay the full amount.
The Tosfot Yom Tov addresses a question that the opinion of the Tosfot raises. Why did the Mishnah specifically mention the case where the person gave less than one sela if the law is broader than that? He answers that the opening was in accordance with the opinion of R’ Meir who holds that a poor person need only pay one sela even if he has more money. This explains why the Mishnah later repeats the opening line. The Gemara understands that the range was repeated to stress the opinion of the Chachamim that the amount a poor person would give depends on his means. The repetition without explicit authorship (stam) is therefore required to assert that the halacha is like the Chachamim and not R’ Meir, despite the stam opening being according to his opinion.
The Tosfot Chadashim however understands that the beginning of the Mishnah is the opinion of the Rabbanan but is referring to a case where the person only had a sela; which is what the Mishnah means when it teaches, “he gave a sela”. Tosfot’s comments where not explaining the specific text of the Mishnah; instead they were teaching the broader halachic conclusion. Furthermore the claim that the repetition was necessary to assert the halacha was like the Chachamim because the opening was stam according to R’ Meir is also difficult. The rule is that the halacha does not follow a stam if it is followed by a debate.
The Mahariach also explains that the beginning of the Mishnah is according to all opinions yet does not present a difficulty for the Tosfot. The novelty that the Mishnah was teaching was that if a poor person had less than a sela and gave it all, he would still be required to fulfil his obligation if he became wealthy. If the Mishnah taught the case of the person that paid four of the five required according to the Rabbanan this law would not be accounted for and the Mishnah would have been longer yet.