May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h, and Meira Chaya Nechama Beracha, a”h, bat Reb David Mordechai Fishel, sheyichyeh.
This week we learned Bechorot 19. These are some highlights.
If a rancher’s cow is about to have a firstborn and there is no gentile available to purchase the fetus, what is the man to do?
Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein points out that a lesson in our Gemara might help a rancher who has a cow about to give birth to a firstborn and he does not have any connection to any gentile to whom he can sell the fetus. Masechet Bechorot discusses the laws of firstborn animals. A firstborn donkey is to be redeemed with a sheep and the sheep given to the kohen. If the donkey is not redeemed, there is an obligation to arrange for its head to be chopped off. A firstborn sheep, goat or calf is given to the kohen who is to offer it as a korban. If it develops a blemish before the kohen can offer it, it loses much of its sanctity and it can be redeemed. Even if the firstborn developed a blemish, there is a prohibition against shearing its wool or working the animal. In our days, our sages try hard to ensure that no kosher animals are born with the holiness of bechor. The rabbis suspect that the rancher might not treat the animal with the correct respect. Someone might shear its wool or work it (Shulchan Aruch 320:6). Even though selling the fetus to the gentile will remove the sanctity that is developing on the fetus and we usually do not want to remove sanctity from a holy item, we would rather remove sanctity than risk the sanctity’s desecration with people benefiting from the firstborn. Selling to a gentile is complicated. One cannot sell the fetus, for it is an item that has yet to fully enter the world. One must sell to the gentile a share in the mother. To accomplish this acquisition, the seller is to receive money from the gentile for the animal share and for the space in the field on which the animal stands. With the acquisitions of kessef and chatzer, the gentile will acquire a share in the mother and thereby ensure that the child does not have the sanctity of bechor. Imagine a rancher in an isolated area who does not have a gentile to whom he can sell a share in the mother to. What is he to do?
Rav Zilberstein points out that our daf contains a solution to the rancher’s problem. Our daf teaches that an animal born through a Caesarean section does not have the holiness of bechor. Hashem specified that the bechor is the animal that opened the womb of its mother. If an animal was born because it was taken out of the stomach wall of the mother, and it never traveled through the womb, it would not have the holiness of bechor. The rancher should hire a veterinarian to cut open the stomach wall and extract the fetus.
This proposal is only true in our days, when we seek to prevent kosher animals from having the status of bechor. When we will have the Mikdash again, one would not be allowed to do this. When we have the possibility of bringing the sacrifice as a korban to Hashem, we are not allowed to remove holiness from the sacred item. (Chashukei Chemed)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.