The eleventh perek of Chulin discusses the mitzvah of reishit ha'gez. Broadly speaking, this mitzvah obligates one to give the first of the shearing from a flock of sheep to a kohen. Consequently, we find that reishit ha'gez is one of the many gifts given to the kohanim. We shall probe its classification by determining exactly what type of gift it is.
Two different understanding of reishit ha'gez come to the fore in the first Mishnah. The Mishnah teaches that reshit ha'gez applies both inside and outside Israel. The Bartenura notes that R' Ilay disagrees, arguing that it only applies in Israel. The Gemara (135a) explains that R' Ilay has a tradition of a gezeira shava that connects reishet ha'gez with teruma; the Torah uses the language of netina when describing both mitzvot. Consequently, since the teruma only applies in Israel, the same is true for reishit ha'gez. Whether reishet ha'gez is simply another gift or is compared to terumah touches on the essence of this mitzvah. What lies at the core of this debate has further implications as we shall soon see.
The Tosefta (10:1) records an additional debate between R' Ilay and the Chachamim regarding one that separated reishit ha'gez, then instead of giving it to the kohen, sold it. The Chachamim understand that the owner is still required to separate additional wool, whereas R' Ilay disagrees.
The Chazon Yechezkel understand that this debate is related to the previous one. He explains that the Chachamim understand that the obligation of reishet ha'gez is to give some of the wool to the kohen. The mitzvah is one of netina – giving. Consequently in the case where one sold the wool he separated for reishit ha'gez, since it has not reached the hand of the kohen, the separation is meaningless and he must still fulfil the requirement of netina – he must separate other wool and give that wool to the kohen.
R' Ilay however understands reishit ha'gez differently. Much like terumah, the mitzvah is one of hafrasha – separation. Once some has been separated, that wool has the status of reishit ha'gez even prior to reaching the hand of the kohen. In this case owner has done wrong by selling something that now does not belong to him. Nevertheless, since the obligation of separation has been fulfilled, the owner need not separated any more wool.
The Chazon Yechezkel notes another debate between the Chachamim and R' Ilay is based on these two fundamentally different understandings of reishit ha'gez. The Chachamim maintain that one can give all the sheared wool as reishet ha'gez. R' Ilay however argues that some must remain for the mitzvah to be fulfilled. The Chachamim are consistent with their position, since the mitzvah is one of netina – with no limit on the quantity. According to R' Ilay however, one cannot render all the wool as reishit ha'gez because in order to fill the requirement of hafrasha, reishit ha'gez must be separated from something, with some wool remaining.
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