Latest update: April 16th, 2012
An Eventual Resolution ‘May The Likes Of You Increase Manifold In Israel’ (Bechoros 45b)
The gemara on our daf continues discussing unique deformities that disqualify a kohen from performing any ritual service. One of them is additional fingers and/or toes. In the Mishnah (on 45a) there is a dispute between R. Yehuda and the sages regarding a kohen with such a deformity. R. Yitzchak on our daf explains that both derive their position from the same pasuk (II Samuel 21:20), which describes a man who had six fingers on each hand and six toes on each foot. R. Yehuda interprets this passuk as praising the prowess of such an individual. The sages, on the other hand, interpret this verse as disparaging him.
The Gemara relates that R. Yehuda said that a man like this once came before R. Tarfon, who said to him, “May the likes of you increase manifold in Israel.” Presumably he meant this statement as a blessing. R. Yose, however, disagrees. He suggests that what R. Tarfon really meant was that mamzerim and Nesinim should possess these deformities so that they will be easily identified as unfit with the result that their numbers will thereby decrease. (The verse in Samuel concerns Nesinim – the people whom King David excluded from marrying into the Jewish people.)
The question is why did R. Tarfon include mamzerim when the pasuk only refers to Nesinim?
Cursing One’s Father
A Mishnah (in Yevamos 22b) states that a son who wounds or curses his father is subject to capital punishment (Shemos 21:15,17). The Mishnah notes that a mamzer who wounds or curses his father also receives this punishment.
The Gemara derives from this verse that the prohibition applies only if the father is “oseh ma’aseh amcha,” lit. one who is observant of the laws of the Torah. (Rambam – Hilchos Mamrim 6:12 – rules that the son is obligated to honor his father in any event whereas the Tur, Yoreh De’ah 240, disagrees.) Consequently, the Gemara explains that a mamzer is not punished for cursing his father unless the father repented for his immoral acts and is no longer considered a sinner.
Even So, Repent, My Friend
The Gemara wonders how it is possible to achieve atonement for this sin, for Shimon b. Menassiah says (Chagiga 9a) that fathering a mamzer is deemed “me’uvas lo yuchal liskon – that which is crooked cannot be made straight” (Ecclesiastes 1:15); namely, it is a misdeed that cannot be remedied.
The Gemara answers that even though fathering a mamzer is called a misdeed that cannot be remedied, if the father repents he falls into the category of one who is observant of Torah laws, and cursing him is forbidden.
There are several approaches to understanding the Gemara’s conclusion.
Rabbenu Chayyim (Tosafos, Bava Bathra 89b) maintains that an immoral father who does teshuvah is considered to be observant of Torah laws because repentance fully eradicates all sins (even if a mamzer was produced). When Shimon b. Menassiah says that this type of sin is a misdeed without remedy, he simply means that the sinner will suffer endless humiliation since the effect of his act (the mamzer) is a constant reminder of his immoral deed (Tosafos, Chagiga 9a. s.v. “zeh”).
Rashi (infra Yevamos 21a s.v. “arayos” and Chagiga 9a s.v. “ve’holid”) indicates that even according to the Gemara’s conclusion, the sin of immorality cannot be entirely eradicated if a mamzer was produced since the effect of the sin is present in the world. The Gemara explains, however, that although teshuvah for such a sin is not entirely effective, it is sufficient to remove the stigma of classifying the father as a sinner, thus making the son liable to a penalty for cursing him.
Kovetz He’aros (end of siman 21) explains that the novelty of teshuvah is that Hashem does not merely cleanse a person of his sins. He usually eradicates all traces of the sin retroactively so that it is considered as though the sin was never committed. Shimon b. Menassiah teaches that if the sin produced a mamzer, the sin cannot be eradicated retroactively since a visible trace of the sin still exists. The Gemara explains, however, that if the father repents, the son may not curse him because the father is not considered a sinner from that point onward.
Shouting From The Rooftops
Now let us consider R. Tarfon’s statement according to R. Yose. He is suggesting that any means whereby the mamzer’s status becomes public knowledge – and thus protects unknowing individuals from entering into a forbidden marriage – is commendable. The mamzer will not marry into the Jewish people, thus assuring that the lasting object of the father’s transgression will at some point cease to exist, leaving no trace. This will assure the sinner’s eventual exoneration and restore his standing before Hashem as a ba’al teshuvah (even if only after his own death).
About the Author: RABBI YAAKOV KLASS, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org. RABBI GERSHON TANNENBAUM, rav of Congregation Bnai Israel of Linden Heights, Boro Park, Brooklyn, is the Director of Igud HaRabbanim – The Rabbinical Alliance of America.
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