‘Let Him Fill His Mouth With Water’
The Mishnah (8a) states that the representative who performs terumas halishkah – i.e., who takes shekalim from the Temple treasury for sacrificial needs – shouldn’t enter the treasury wearing a garment in which coins can be concealed lest he be suspected of stealing some of the shekalim.
The Torah states “v’heyisem nekiim me’Hashem u’mi’Yisrael – you shall be guilt-free before Hashem and before Israel” (Bamidbar 32:22). In other words, a Jew’s behavior must be pristine and above suspicion.
The Gemara on our daf notes that beis din would actually ask someone to converse with the appointed representative from the time he entered the treasury until he exited it to ensure that he didn’t slip any money into his mouth during that time.
The Gemara asks: Why not employ an easier method – have the representative fill his mouth with water prior to entering the treasury and then let him empty it after he leaves?
The Gemara answers that this idea is not feasible as the representative would have to recite a beracha. The Yefei Mareh (to Shekalim 9a) explains the Gemara’s concern is that he might inadvertently swallow some of the water without having recited a beracha.
Quenching One’s Thirst
The Chacham Tzvi (siman 121) asks two questions: First, before the representative fills his mouth with water, why not have him recite a beracha over another drink so that this beracha will cover any water that he might later swallow?
Second, the Gemara (Berachos 45a) states that a person need only make a beracha over water if he drinks it to quench his thirst. He doesn’t need to make a beracha, however, if he drinks it to clear his throat. So why are we worried that the representative might swallow some water? Even if he does, it isn’t a problem since we’re talking about an accidental swallowing of water, not a swallowing of water to quench one’s thirst.
For Want Of A Beracha
The Chacham Tzvi, therefore, opts for a different explanation. He says the act of separating the shekalim requires a beracha (“asher kideshanu lehafrish teruma…”).
Therefore, we cannot have the representative fill his mouth with water. For if his mouth has water in it, how will he recite the beracha on separating shekalim?