A Vessel, a Mikveh and the purpose of Shabbat

Beitzah (2:2) | Asher Shafrir | 15 years ago

The Mishnah (Beitzah 2:2) brings an argument between Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai regarding the tevilah of a person on Yom Tov. They do agree however that one is not allowed to tovel a utensil that has become tameh on Yom Tov.

Why is toveling a utensil problematic? The Gemara (Beitzah 18a) brings four different opinions regarding this action and its halachic problems. Rav Yosef and Raba both argue that in essence there is no problem with this action. The issue that brought Chachamim to institute a prohibition is the fact that when taking the utensil to the mikvah one might come to transgress a few halachic prohibitions. Rav Yosef argued that it could be the squeezing of the utensil (obviously this is with vessels that are different to what we have today). On the other hand Raba argued that a person might come to take the vessel and walk with it for a distance of four amot in a public area (reshut ha’rabim) thus transgressing a halachic prohibition.

Rav Bibi also argues that the problem is not with the action itself but rather with what such an action can lead to. Rav Bibi understands that if Chachamim were to allow one to tovel a utensil on a Yom Tov, people would not tovel their utensil when they got it but rather wait until the next Yom Tov, where they will have time to go to the mikvah and take all their vessels with them at that time. The problem that can arise with such a situation is that people will come to use their utensil even before they took it to the mikvah thus transgressing an issur.

Rava is the only Rabbi who argues that there is an inherent problem with toveling a utensil on a Yom Tov. Rava argues that this case is like one who has a vessel that is almost ready to be used, but there is only one last thing that needs to be fixed before the vessel can be properly used. Doing this action, that will make the vessel usable, qualifies a biblical prohibition. This action, known as ma’ke be’patish, is similar to this case, where one takes a vessel that may not be used because of problems that have to do with tum’ah and taharah and solves these problems.

It is very interesting to see the way that the Rambam deals with this quadruple argument. In the Halachot of Shabbat (23:8) Rambam says that one may not tovel a utensil as it is a sort of ma’ke be’patish. It is interesting to see that many of the other Rishonim perceived this issue as a problem that it looks like making a utensil useable. Therefore a few of the Rishonim quoted the Yerushalmi (Terumot 2:1) that argues that there is no halachic issue with toveling small utensils and the problem is only with large ones. One of the commentators on this Yerushalmi explains that this is exactly the point - if it doesn't look like you are doing something only in order to make it useable then there is no problem in doing it. Rambam does not agree with this approach. According to Rambam the problem is not that it seems like an issur - it is assur.

How surprising is it to find out that when it comes to the halachot of Yom Tov, Rambam takes a different approach. This time (Hilchot Yom Tov ) Rambam understands that there is no inherent Halachic problem with dipping the utensil but rather it is only a rabbinic decree to restrain a person from transgressing another issur. Rambam quotes Rav Bibi’s explanation that the problem is that a person will not tovel the vessel until Yom Tov and he will come to use it without having taken it to the mikvah. What is the reason for this distinction?

Rav Levi Ben Chaviv (the Maharlba”ch) says that the reason is very simple and has to do with the basic halachot of Yom Tov. It is known that on Yom Tov one may do any action in order to prepare food for the day. Therefore it will make perfect sense that one may tovel a vessel that he needs for a Yom Tov meal. This is true, as the original prohibition of dipping a vessel is only a rabbinic one and not from the Torah (as it seems from most of the Rishonim). This explains why the Rambam had to give a different reason as to why this halachic decree still exists on Yom Tov.

Both of these reasons convey one very simple yet deep spiritual message. In order to gain the most out of a Shabbat and Yom Tov one must prepare all his needs before the day. This is the only way to make Shabbat and Yom Tov a day that is not just the time to do the things that we do not get to do during the week.

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