‘Let Him Fill His Mouth With Water’
The Mishnah (8a) teaches that the representative appointed to perform terumas halishkah – the appropriation of shekalim from the Temple treasury for sacrificial needs – should not enter the treasury wearing any type of garment in which coins can be concealed lest he be suspected of stealing some of the shekalim. The Mishnah derives this law from Bamidbar 32:22, “V’heyisem neki’im me’Hashem u’mi’Yisrael – You shall be guilt free before Hashem and before [the people of] Israel.” In other words a Jew’s behavior must be pristine.
The Gemara on our daf notes that in order to preclude any grounds for suspicion, beis din would have someone converse with the appointed representative from the time he entered the treasury until he exited. That would ensure that he wouldn’t slip any money in his mouth.
The Gemara questions: Why not employ an easier method to prevent the representative from hiding coins in his mouth? Why not have the representative fill his mouth with water before entering the treasury?
The Gemara answers that doing so is not feasible since he would have to recite a berachah. The Yefei Mareh (to Shekalim 9a) explains that the Gemara is concerned that he might inadvertently swallow some of the water without having recited a berachah.
Quenching One’s Thirst
The Chacham Tzvi (siman 121) raises two questions. First, if we are concerned that the representative might swallow some of the water, why not have him make a berachah on a glass of water beforehand? Such a berachah would then include any water he may later swallow accidentally.
Second, the Gemara (Berachos 45a) states that water only requires a berachah when one drinks it to quench one’s thirst. Why, then, are we concerned about water the representative may swallow accidentally? Clearly, a person is not attempting to quench his thirst when he accidentally swallows something.
For Want Of A Berachah
The Chacham Tzvi, therefore, disagrees with the Yefei Mareh. He explains that the berachah the Gemara refers to is not the berachah over water but the berachah the representative needs to say when separating the shekalim (“…asher kideshanu lehafrish treruma.”). We can’t ask the representative to fill his mouth with water and also expect him to say this berachah. That’s why beis din would appoint someone to engage him in conversation instead.