ט״ז בטבת ה׳תשע״ו (December 28, 2015)

Gittin 15a-b: The Instructions of a Person on His Deathbead

It is a generally accepted principle that we listen to the instructions of a shehiv me-ra – a person on his deathbed – and disburse properties and possessions that he owns simply based on his words, without demanding the usual kinyan – the formal act of transfer. This ruling is given because we want to free the shehiv me-ra from all of his worldly concerns and ensure that he is at peace to avoid hastening his death. In point of fact, Rabbi Elazar demands a full kinyan even in the case of someone who was mesukan – ill and in a dangerous state.

To disprove Rabbi Elazar, the Gemara tells a story about the family of Benei Rokhel whose mother was on her deathbed and requested that her valuable keveina – a brooch – be given to her daughter, and her request was fulfilled by after her death. Rabbi Elazar responded in strong language, arguing that this family were known to be . The Rashbam explains that because they were resha’im, the Sages were not interested in having the sons receive a valuable inheritance, so through a power similar to hefker beit din hefker, they transferred ownership to another sibling.

Rashi brings the parallel Gemara in Massekhet Bava Batra (156b) where Rabbi Elazar explains that the Benei Rokhel family were considered evildoers because they allowed weeds to grow in their vineyards, something that according to Rabbi Elazar’s ruling was forbidden because of the halakhot of kilayim – the prohibition against planting different crops in close proximity. Rabbi Uziel Moshe Rothstein explains in his Nahalat Moshe that even though most of the Sages disagree with Rabbi Elazar’s ruling on that matter, since that was the common practice in his community it was enough to consider them evildoers, and the Sages may have applied rules differently to them than to others.

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