Watching the Mei Chatat

Parah (7:11) | Yisrael Bankier | 9 years ago

The Mishnah (7:11) taught:

If two people were filling [spring water] for mei chatat and they [assisted] one another in raising the water or they removed a thorn [embedded in the other’s hand], if [they were collecting water] for one kidush mei chatat then the water if valid. If it was for two [i.e. they were working independently] then the water is invalid. R’ Yossi said, even if it was for two, if they stipulated with one another then it is valid. 

Why is the water invalid and what is the nature of the stipulation under which R’ Yossi maintains that the water is valid?

The Bartenura explains that if they are working independently, if when one of them helps the other, what he is doing qualifies as a melacha. Such an intervening activity unrelated to his own end, invalidates his own water for use.

In order to understand R’ Yossi’s suggested solution we need understand why melacha is a problem.

The Raavad (Rambam Para 7:3) understands that melacha itself is only a problem since it constitutes a hesech daat – a distraction or loss of focus. The exception to where melacha is a problem irrespective of whether there was hesech daat, is if melacha is performed with the water or the ashes themselves. The reason is that just as melacha invalidates the use of the para aduma, the same applies for these two critical components.

The Kesef Mishnah, when explaining the position of the Rambam, however argues that were it true that the reason why intervening melachot were problematic was because of hesech daat then the Mishnah should have raised this critical point. The fact that the Mishnah did not –  the fact that it did not mention that if there was no hesech daat then intervening activity would not pose a problem – must mean that melacha itself is a problem. He therefore argues that melacha is a problem irrespective of hesech daat whether it is performed on the water itself or whether it is simply an intervening activity.

It is possible that these two understandings of the problem of melacha underpin the two different explanations of R’ Yossi’s solution. 

The Eliyahu Raba explains that according to R’ Yossi they can stipulate that they would help one another and they would only do so if the assistance was reciprocated. The advantage of this solution is that due to this condition, when one is helping the other, it can be defined as serving his own end (since he might need help soon as well). It is therefore not be considered an intervening and unrelated activity. One could suggest that according to this understanding, the concern here is redefining that activity so that it does not constitute a melacha.1

Compare this understanding with the following. According to the Bartenura, R’ Yossi explains that they can help each other if they stipulated that while one helps they other, the other will watch over both waters, then that is ok. According to this understanding, it appears no attempt is being made to redefine the melacha. This may be because the previous attempt will not help.  Another possibility, is that this is because the concern is not the melacha per se, but the potential hesech daat. Consequently the solution is stipulating that one will care for both waters while the other’s focus is elsewhere.2

1 The Tifferet Yisrael, who also presents this explanation, notes that we have learnt that if two people agree to draw water for each other, then only the second water is valid. Here it appears, that despite agreeing to help one another, it does not help. He answers that there is a difference between filling the water, which is a critical activity, and simply raising the bucket or pulling out a thorn. The latter can be considered superfluous; they are secondary to the main activities. Applying our reasoning, we can say that it is only the minor activities that can be redefined as not constituting a melecha.

2 The Tifferet Yisrael finds this position difficult since we have learnt in previous Mishnayot that one can act as a shomer for another’s mei chatat while he engages in other activities. If that is so, how can there be a debate in our Mishnah? The Mishnah Achrona explains that the debate between R’ Yossi and Chachamim is that same as in the end of Kinim. He suggests that perhaps the Chachamim disagree there only due to a gezeira that people will behave in this manner and forget to proceed it with this tenai. While the Bartenura rules that the halacha is like R’ Yosi in Kinim but not here, this may be simply because we treat the laws of Para Aduma far stricter than other places.



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