The discussion on yesterday’s daf about what to do when more money is set aside for the mahatzit ha-shekel (half-shekel) than is required leads the Mishna to present other situations where more money was given for a mitzva than was necessary. For example, if money is collected to bury a person, what should be done with extra money that was donated?
The leftover money collected for burying the dead must be allocated to burying the dead. The leftover money collected to bury or provide burial shrouds for a particular deceased person is given to his heirs. Rabbi Meir says: It is uncertain what should be done, and therefore the leftover money for the deceased should be placed in a safe place until Elijah comes and teaches what should be done. Rabbi Natan says: With the leftover money collected for a deceased person they build a monument [nefesh] on his grave for him.
Each of these rulings deserves some explanation.
Many commentaries ask by what right the Tanna Kamma (first) can suggest that money set aside for burial purposes be given to his children. The Ramah offers an alternative interpretation to this position. He suggests that the money will go to the children who inherit the official who is responsible for burials, because the money that is given to him becomes his property. The Hazon Ish argues that the people who donate on behalf of someone’s burial certainly intend to give the money as tzedaka to honor him, and recognize that he will be honored also by having his children receive the money. In his Tzafnat Pane’ah, Rav Yosef Rosen (the Rogachover) suggests that we know that there is no intent to give money to the dead man himself, rather the money is being given to his children so that they will be able to bury him properly. As such, leftover money belongs to them.
Rabbi Meir’s comment about the coming of the prophet Eliyahu is a common expression in the Talmud, which means that there are certain issues that we cannot determine with our own analytical powers, and we await the arrival of a prophet who can tell us what to do. This does not apply to issues of halakhic indecision, but only to technical issues where we cannot ascertain what really happened, and need prophetic insight to clarify matters.
The nefesh that Rabbi Natan suggests should be built was a marker of some sort – sometimes a simple stone, and occasionally an ornate structure that was erected to honor the dead person.