ט׳ בתשרי ה׳תש״פ (October 8, 2019)

Me’ila 21a-b: An Agent for Me’ila

According to the Torah (see 5:6) the laws of me’ila forbid all Jewish people from deriving benefit from consecrated objects, and anyone who does so will be held liable to repay and to bring appropriate sacrifices. The sixth and final perek of Massekhet Me’ila, which began on yesterday’s daf discusses the case of a shali’aḥ– an agent – sent by someone to commit me’ila. Although the general principle in Jewish law is that ein shali’aḥ li-dvar aveira – that every person is responsible for his actions and cannot blame his sin on the person who sent him – the case of me’ila is different.

The Gemara derives this difference from Biblical passages, but there is a straightforward explanation offered by the commentaries. The underlying principle for ein shali’aḥ li-dvar aveira is the idea that every Jewish person is obligated to follow the laws of the Torah and not the commands of another person. The language of in establishing this rule is, divrei ha-Rav ve-divrei ha-talmid, divrei mi shom’im? – “who should he have listened to, the words of the Teacher (i.e., God) or the words of the student?”  In the case of me’ila, however, the requirement to make restitution and bring a sacrifice for atonement is only in place if the trespass took place accidentally where this rule does not apply.

In this vein the Mishna teaches –

If the homeowner said to the agent, ‘Bring me this item or this money from the window in the wall or from the chest’ and the agent obeyed and brought it to him even though the homeowner said, ‘In my heart my desire was only that he should bring me the item from that other place, and as he brought it from this place he did not fulfill my instructions,’ nevertheless the homeowner is liable for misuse if the item or money is consecrated, as the agent did fulfill his instructions. But if he said to him, ‘Bring me this item or this money from the window in the wall,’ and he brought it from the chest, or ‘from the chest’ and he brought it to him from the window, the agent is liable for misuse.

The chest mentioned in the Mishna is referred to as a geluskema or deluskema, a word of Greek origin meaning a box or chest.