Introduction to Meilah

Meilah | Shmoiki Berkowitz | 13 years ago

The prohibition of meilah corresponds to the prohibition against using property sanctified for the Beit Ha’Mikdash for personal benefit.

The scriptural source for this prohibition appears in parashat Vayikra (5:15). On this pasuk Rav Shimshon Rephael Hirsch notes that the word “ma’al” (the act of meilah) and the word coat, “me’il”, share the same root (shoresh). He identifies a similar connection between the words treachery, “bagad”, and clothing, “beged” which also have a common root.

In understanding these associations, Rav Hirsch explains that clothing can serve as a representation of a person’s character. By the same token, clothing can also conceal a sinister ulterior motive by displaying a façade. The prohibition of meilah underscores an abandonment of the values of sanctity and holiness in the pursuit of physical desire, blanketed by a cover of innocence. The act of meilah is a major divergence of the standard of behaviour expected from a person sanctifying his property.

The concept represented by the prohibition of meilah is not exclusive to this behaviour in the context of sanctified articles. Later in parashat Vayikra (5:21), the term “ma’al” appears in the matter of commercial deceit. Rav Hirsch extends on the idea of meilah that even in a commercial context, improper dealings constitutes meilah, as “Hashem is present to oversee the fairness of the dealing”. Accordingly, any attempt at dishonesty constitutes a departing from the representation he is making.

Rav Hirsch reinforces his expanded view on meilah, that it is not restricted to our private dealings with Hashem, when the term “ma’al” reappears in the contexts of fraud (Bamidbar 5:6) and rebellious wife (5:12). On these p’sukim, Rav Hirsch reiterates that the notion of acting truthfully before Hashem, manifests itself in both our social and commercial interactions.

The term “ma’al” also appears in Hashem’s rebuke of Moshe for hitting the rock (Devarim 32:51). Rav Hirsch there explains that Moshe had committed a meilah by not meeting the level of emunah (belief) expected of him – adding a further element to the understanding of the term meilah.

The explanation of Rav Hirsch appears to parallel Onkelus’ understanding of the term “ma’al” who consistently translates it as “lying” in all the p’sukim mentioned above. The façade presented to evade responsibility is simply an escape from truth.

While sanctioning for meilah is restricted to misuse of sanctified articles, the idea it represents as expressed by Rav Hirsch and within the translation of Onkelus, covers all elements of daily life.

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