Pesachim 26

Accidental benefits.

A discussion about whether one is allowed to derive benefit from leaven on Passover has morphed into a conversation about deriving benefit from any prohibited items. As yesterday’s daf ended, we learned that:

With regard to deriving benefit from a prohibited item that comes to a person against their will (i.e., they made no attempt to benefit from it) Abaye said: Deriving benefit in this manner is permitted, and Rava said: It is prohibited.

Abaye’s legal position in rooted in a story about Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai:

Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai would sit in the street adjacent to the Temple Mount in the shade of the Temple and expound to a large number of people all day long. 

To explain: biblical law prohibits the use of anything that belongs to the Temple (animal, implement, money, etc.) for non-Temple purposes (Leviticus 5:14-16). This includes even the walls of the Temple itself. By sitting in their shade on a hot day, therefore, Rabban Yohanan is intentionally deriving benefit from a prohibited item. 

However, the Gemara explains, Rabban Yochanan did not choose to sit where he sat because it was shady; rather, he chose it because it could accommodate the crowds that came to hear him teach. The shade was an added, and appreciated, bonus. Abaye concludes that it is permissible to benefit, even intentionally, from prohibited items when some other circumstance brings about the benefit.

Abaye’s interlocutor Rava, naturally, disagrees: even if the benefit is unintentional, it is still forbidden. Rava’s opinion also draws on a case:

There were openings in the loft of the Holy of Holies through which they would lower artisans in containers into the Holy of Holies, so that their eyes would not gaze upon the Holy of Holies itself when they were renovating it.

Like any building, the Temple required maintenance. Circumstances required that from time to time workers enter the Holy of Holies to make necessary repairs. If it were permissible to benefit from seeing the inside of the chamber while one was making repairs, there would be no need to lower artisans into the chamber in a special pod that blocks their view. Rava concludes from this case that even in situations where the circumstances are out of one’s control, one may not benefit from prohibited items.

What does Rava have to say about Abaye’s case? He holds that the Temple is different, as it was constructed for the interior, so sitting in the Temple’s shadow is not a prohibited benefit and that Rabbi Yohanan’s actions have no bearing on this dispute.

And what does Abaye have to say about Rava’s case? The Gemara quotes Rabbi Shimon ben Pali who says: Sound, sight and smell are not subject to the prohibition of misuse of consecrated property. Meaning, appreciating the music of the Temple service, witnessing its beauty, or smelling incense that was burned are exceptions and do not constitute a misappropriation of Temple property. So why did the maintenance crew need to use a chamber that blocked their view? Because a higher standard was adopted for the Holy of Holies, one that does not apply in other situations.

The Gemara continues its discussion by examining which of the two opinions is supported by case law. Ultimately, later authorities sided with Rava’s mores stringent opinion. But not necessarily because they agreed with his position — in most debates between Rava and Abaye, the law follows Rava.

Read all of Pesachim 26 on Sefaria.

This piece originally appeared in a My Jewish Learning Daf Yomi email newsletter sent on December 17th, 2020. If you are interested in receiving the newsletter, sign up here.

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