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Bava Batra 156a-b: The Evils of Growing Weeds

As we have learned, it is a generally accepted principle that we listen to the instructions of a shekhiv 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. This ruling is given because we want to free the shekhiv 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 Bnei Rokhel whose mother was on her death bed and requested that her valuable keveinati – 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 was known to be . The Rashbam explains that because they were resha’im, the Sages were not interested in having the sons receiving a valuable inheritance, so through a power similar to hefker beit din hefker, they transferred ownership to another sibling.

According to the Gemara, Rabbi Eliezer explains that the Bnei Rokhel family was considered to be evildoers because they allowed weeds to grow in their vineyards, something that according to Rabbi Eliezer’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 Naḥalat Moshe that even though most of the Sages disagree with Rabbi Eliezer’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.

This essay is based upon the insights and chidushim of Rabbi Steinsaltz, as published in the English version of the Koren Talmud Bavli with Commentary by Rabbi Adin Steinsaltz, and edited and adapted by Rabbi Shalom Berger.

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