Maaser Behema

Bechorot (9:2) | Yisrael Bankier | a year ago

The final masechet of Bechorot discusses maaser behema. The mitzvah involves separating a tenth of the kosher animals (behemot) born every year and offer them as a korban.

The Rambam (Bechorot 6:1) beings as follows:

It is a mitzvah to separate a tenth of each kosher animal born each year. And this mitzvah applies to all cattle and flock, as it states "every tenth from cattle and flock..."

Note however that this "maaser" is different from the more familiar maaser the relates to grain. Rashi (Bechorot 57b) comments that until the "goren" one is till allowed to sell or consume those animals that were born that year. We will learn that the goren was the three times a year after which the Chachamim forbade selling or consuming the newly born animals until maaser was separated.

The Chazon Ish contrasts the comments of Rashi and Rambam. According to the Rambam it appears that the mitzvah is obligatory -- one must separate maaser. According to Rashi it appears that, on a biblical level, while one can separate maaser, one is not obligated to do so. If that were the case, if one can always simply sell or consume the animals then what becomes of this positive mitzvah? How do we understand the mitzvah of maaser behema?

The Chazon Ish suggests that Rashi and the Rambam do not contradict one another. To understand this mitzvah we must combined the two. To explain, while one is allowed to sell or consume the newly born animals, once the regel (Pesach, Shavuot or Sukkot) arrives, one will have violated the prohibition of "you shall not delay" if they have not separated maaser behema. In other words, the general prohibition of delaying in offering the korbanot also applies to maaser behama. If however one did not have ten animals left by the time of the regel, then they have not violated the positive mitzvah since they do not have the minimum number of animals at the regel. This is despite having deliberately engineered the exemption. Nevertheless, if at the time of the regel he had the ten, then he was bound to separate maaser behema. If he then sold or consumed those animals, he will have violated the positive mitzvah of separating maaser behema.

The Chazon Ish explains that the concept of the granot was not entirely rabbinic. It is true that after the granot and before the regel the Chachamim prohibited the consumption or sale. Nevertheless, the obligation to ensure maaser behema is taken prior to the regel is biblical. [ ]{dir="rtl"}

The Chazon Ish continues that the very decree testifies to the nature of this mitzvah -- i.e. there is an obligation to separate maaser behema, yet one is not prohibited from consuming or selling the animals prior to the regel. If there was no obligation, then what is the point of the takana? If however there was an obligation, but people had the ability to avoid it be selling and consuming the new animals prior to the regel, then we can understand why the Chachamim prohibited this behaviour nearing the regel.

The Chazon Ish draws a further proof from another Mishnah learnt this week (9:2). The Mishnah discusses the maximum distance between two flocks such that they are too far apart to be considered one for the purposes of maaser behema. The Chazon Ish reasons that if the mitzvah was not obligatory, what difference would it make whether they combine or not? Irrespective of the distance, if one wants to perform the mitzvah he simply brings them to the same location. If however we understand that there is an obligation to separate maaser behema, then if the two flocks combine together to ensure a minimum of ten, then one is obligated bring them together and separate maaser behema. If they do not, and there remains ten after the regel, the owner will have violated the prohibition of "do not delay". If he then sells or consumes those animals, he would have further violated the positive mitzvah of separating maaser behema.

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