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Question: May a person eat leftover Shabbos meat in the Nine Days so as not to violate the prohibition of bal tashchit (wastefulness)?

Rabbi Yaakov Spivak
Rosh Kollel, Kollel Ayshel Avraham
Monsey, NY

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Answer: Rav Spivak and I are both members of the presidium of the Igud Horabbonim/Rabbinical Alliance of America. He suggested that I answer his question in depth considering its timely nature. I will attempt to do so:

The accepted custom among most Ashkenazic Jews is to refrain from eating meat from Rosh Chodesh Av until the morning of the 10th of Av. This custom is based on the ruling of the Rema (Orach Chayim 551:9), who writes that we should “hide the slaughter knife” from Rosh Chodesh and on. (This custom is now standard among Sephardim in Eretz Yisrael, too, even though they usually follow the rulings of the Beit Yosef, according to whom Nine Days restrictions only apply during the week in which Tisha B’Av falls.)

The reason we don’t eat meat, cut hair, wear new garments, wash clothes, or bathe in hot water during the Nine Days is because Jerusalem and the Beit Hamikdash were destroyed during this time. The Rambam (Hilchot Ta’aniyot 5:1) writes that the Sages legislated these practices of mourning “to awaken in the hearts a path to repentance” – to remind us of “ours and our forefathers’ evil ways…resulting in the misfortunes that befell them and us.”

By “reminding ourselves of these matters, we will return, repent, and do good, as [Leviticus 26:40] states, ‘Ve’hitvadu et avonam ve’et avon avotam bema’alam asher ma’alu vi, ve’af asher halchu immi be’keri – Then they shall confess their sins, and those of their forefathers, for the treachery with which they betrayed Me, and also for having behaved toward Me in a casual manner.’”

We may be tempted to think of ourselves as guiltless and argue that our forefathers sinned while we didn’t. Our Sages, though, have stated clearly (Yerushalmi, Yoma 1:1), “Any generation in which it [the Temple] is not rebuilt is considered to have destroyed it.”

Two Temples have been destroyed. The third and permanent Temple awaits us in heaven, as we see from various verses in Tehillim, such as 122:3: “Yerushalayim ha’benuya ke’ir shechubrah lah yachdav – Jerusalem that is built as a city that is joined together.” The Gemara (Ta’anit 5a) quotes R. Yochanan, who expounded this verse as follows: “The Holy One, Blessed be He said, ‘I will not enter [lit. come to rest My presence in] the heavenly Jerusalem until I can enter the earthly Jerusalem.’” The Gemara asks, “And where do we find a heavenly Jerusalem?” It answers, “Jerusalem that is built as a city that is joined together [Tehillim 122:3].”

Tehillim 147:2 states, “Boneh Yerushalayim Hashem, nidchei Yisrael yechaness – The builder of Jerusalem is G-d, He will gather the outcast of Israel.” Metzudat David (ad loc.) explains that this verse indicates that Hashem will, in the future, build Jerusalem and gather in all the exiles from the corners of the earth.

For Hashem to redeem us and gather us to Jerusalem, however, we must be deserving of it. Rabbah said in the name of R. Yochanan (Bava Batra 75b), “The Jerusalem of the world to come will not be like the Jerusalem of the present world. To the Jerusalem of this world, he who wishes to go up may do so. However, to the Jerusalem of the time to come, only those who are invited [i.e., who merit it] will go up.”

We thus see how great Jerusalem is and how great the Holy Temple is. Our Sages instituted a mourning period for the destruction of both, and we shouldn’t diminish our mourning even one iota without a very good reason.

Bal tashchit (lit., “not to waste”) is a prohibition – number 57 on the Rambam’s list of mitzvot lo ta’aseh in Sefer Hamitzvot. This prohibition is based on Deuteronomy 20:19: “Ki tatzur el ir yamim rabbim lehilachem aleha letofsah, lo tash’chit et etzah lindo’ach alav garzen, ki mimenu tochel ve’oto lo tichrot, ki ha’adam etz hasadeh lavo mipanecha bamatzor – When you besiege a city for many days in making war against it to capture it, you shall not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them; for you may eat from it, and you shall not cut it down; for is the tree of the field a man that you should besiege it?”

Only fruit-bearing trees may not be cut down during a siege. Regarding an ilan serak (a tree that bears no fruit), the Torah says: “etz asher teda ki lo etz ma’achal hu, oto tash’chit – you may cut and destroy a tree that you know not to be a tree for food.”

Even in the case of a siege, though, we are only permitted to destroy non-fruit-bearing trees when there is a clear need to do so. The Gemara notes that in the case of potential monetary loss (e.g., the value of lumber is greater than that of fruit – see Rashi s.v. “ve’im haya me’uleh bedamim”), a fruit-bearing tree may be cut down as well.

In his Teshuvot VeHanhagot (vol. I, Choshen Mishpat 831), the Gaon Rabbi Moshe Sternbuch discusses a case involving a person who wished to remove a fruit-bearing tree from his garden because he needed the space.

Rav Sternbuch discusses several reasons for wanting to cut down a tree in a garden. A person may wish to sit in his garden without fruit falling upon him. Perhaps the fruit attracts unwanted creatures or insects. If so, we might be lenient since falling fruit and insect-attracting fruit disturbs the property’s fundamental purpose.

Rabbi Sternbuch writes that wishing to clear a path so that one may stroll along it does not justify cutting down a fruit-bearing tree. He reminds us of R. Chanina’s statement in the Gemara (Bava Kamma 91b), “My son Shib’hat only died because he cut down a fig tree before its time [while it was still bearing fruit].”

We have a rule, “Chamira sakanta me’isura – We are stricter regarding a danger than a forbidden matter” (Chullin 10a). Considering the spiritual danger involved in cutting down a tree, we should be hesitant to do so. R. Sternbuch concludes that the decision about cutting down a fruit tree in a garden should be taken in consultation with several rabbis.

The Rambam writes that all kinds of deliberate loss are included in the command not to cut down a fruit-bearing tree during a siege. Thus, burning a garment or destroying a vessel for no reason is also prohibited due to bal tachshit and punishable by lashes (malkot).

Wasting is a sin, and we must be very careful never to waste. But does that mean we should be allowed to eat meat during the Nine Days that was cooked for Shabbos but not eaten that day?

The Rema (Orach Chayim 551:10) actually writes that one should be careful to only prepare the amount of meat on Shabbos during the Nine Days that one needs. But what if a person is unable to do so for whatever reason or he miscalculated? Does the gravity of bal tachshit override the importance of mourning the destruction of Jerusalem and the two Temples?

(To be continued)

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