כ״ג באלול ה׳תשע״א (September 22, 2011)

Hullin 88a-b – How Avraham’s statement “I am but dust and ashes” impacted on Jewish law

We have been discussing the commandment of kisuy ha-dam – the halakhah that requires the blood of wild animals and birds to be covered after ritual slaughter (see Vayikra 17:13). With what are they covered?

 

Although the Torah clearly states that the blood must be covered with afar – with dirt – the Mishnah on today’s daf(=page) offers a number of substances that will suffice for this mitzvah, including lime, fine sand, fine dung, or ground-up brick or earthenware. Rabban Shimon ben Gamliel concludes by teaching that as long as plants can grow in it, it can be used for covering the blood. The Gemara teaches that ashes can be used, as well.

 

There are other mitzvot that also involve the use of dirt or ashes. Rava teaches –

As a reward for our father Abraham having said: “I am but dust and ashes” (see Bereishit 18:27) his descendants were worthy to receive two commandments: the ashes of the Red Heifer, and the dust used in the ceremony of a – a woman suspected of adultery.

 

The Gemara asks why Rava counts these two commandments and does not include also the dirt used for kisuy ha-dam.

 

In response, the Gemara distinguishes between the commandment of kisuy ha-dam where the dirt serves no purpose beyond covering the blood, as opposed to the parah adumah and sotah where the dirt and the ashes play a central role in purifying the defiled and establishing the innocence of the woman.

 

One point raised by the commentaries is why these commandments are considered a unique reward in response to Avraham’s statement; surely such commandments would have been given in any case in order to deal with these particular situations! The Maharsha suggests that in the case of the parah adumah, Avraham’s merit was that these situations could be dealt with relatively simply, rather than through some cumbersome mechanism. In his Etz Yosef, a commentary on the Ein Ya’akov, Rabbi Hanokh Zundel explains that with regard to the sotah, it is possible that a woman suspected of adultery would have automatically been forbidden to her husband; Avraham’s merit led to the creation of amitzvah whose purpose was to establish marital peace and harmony.