May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Zevachim 35. These are some highlights.
Zevachim 35: If he borrowed a Torah book to learn from it and returned it with sweat stains, does he need to pay?
Reuven borrowed from a Shimon a new Torah book. Reuven immersed himself in its study. He toiled so hard in understanding the book that beads of sweat formed on his forehead while he studied and they fell onto the book and stained it. After studying the book well, he returned the Torah book to Shimon. Shimon noticed all the stains and asked Reuven to compensate him for the damage. Does Reuven need to pay?
Gemara Sukkah teaches that an etrog that has marks of discoloration on it is pasul. Chatam Sofer points out that such an esrog is considered menumar, spotted, and it is not hadar. An etrog that is not hadar is disqualified on all the days of Sukkot, not only on the first day. The Chatsam Sofer then wonders about our etrogim. When we buy them, they are often clean and yellow. After holding them and shaking them during Hallel on the days of Sukkot they get brown marks. Do these brown marks render the etrog menumar and disqualified? Chatam Sofer argues that spots caused by mitzvah use cannot render an etrog ugly and disqualified. These spots came about from a mitzvah act. They add to the beauty of the fruit. A proof to this concept is our Gemara. Our Gemara teaches that on Erev Pesach they would close all the drainage pipes and canals in the Mikdash. It was a mark of praise for the priests that despite blood being all around they would carry on with their service. The blood was not a source of making them disqualified. The large amounts of blood from the korbanot Pesach was a badge of honor for the kohanim. It was a source of glory that they were dirty with holy blood. The large amounts of blood showed that the kohanim love mitzvot and are not dismayed by remnants of the mitzvah. Can we utilize such an argument for our case? Perhaps Reuven can tell Shimon, “I improved your holy book. I gave you back a book filled with marks of piety. The book has traces of passionate learning. It is like an etrog with marks from usage and a Temple with holy blood. It has been made more beautiful.”
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein suggests that perhaps there is room to make a distinction between the two cases. Maybe in regard to an etrog usage marks are a blessing and a sign of holiness and beauty. However, a book for Torah learning might be different. A book of Torah learning it to be used for the study and mastery of Torah. Learning from a clean book is easier than learning from a worn and spotted work. Rambam (Hilchot Sefer Torah 7:4) writes that we are to write a Torah scroll with the most beautiful possible writing. In the introduction to Shu”t Rabbi Akiva Eiger we find that Rabbi Akiva Eiger asked his son to make sure that the book be printed on good paper, with clear ink and with nice letters. Rabbi Akiva Eiger explained why he wanted it to look beautiful. A person is most moved, and focuses best on his learning, when he learns out of a beautiful and well-organized work of Torah. A clean and beautiful presentation helps with the understanding and recall of the content. Perhaps a stained book is a damaged book. If it is stained, the study from it will be less effective. The purpose of a Torah book is for study. Maybe returning the new book stained is unfair and unacceptable.
Rav Zilberstein raises a second distinction. The Torah commands a person to touch the etrog by taking it. The Torah demands that the sacrifice get slaughtered. Slaughter will cause blood to spill to the floor. It is therefore praiseworthy to walk on this blood. This blood displays fulfillment of a Torah mandate. But in regard to Torah study, while it is important to toil, Hashem never mandated that a person actually sweat beads of sweat onto the Torah book. Maybe he should have worked hard at his learning, and not sweated onto the book. Maybe the sweat marks are considered a blemish on the Torah work. In addition, even if the sweat marks are a sign of beauty, maybe Reuven needs to pay money. A borrower who damages an object needs to pay. Maybe the definition of damage on a borrowed object is defined by the common commercial practice. If in common practice it is not acceptable to borrow a book and return it stained, a person who borrowed a Torah work and returned it stained should have to pay, even if in the eyes of Heaven the book is now more beautiful. (Chashukei Chemed)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.