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Can a Positive Commandment Override a Negative One? – Gefet 29

Does a Positive Commandment Override a Negative Commandment for Which the Punishment is Karet? Why is One Allowed to Marry His Dead Brother鈥檚 Wife Through Yibbum?

Masechet Yevamot opens with an attempt at clarifying the basic principles which stand at the foundation of the entire world of mitzvot, and upon which the unique mitzvah of Yibbum in particular, is based. Yibbum is a positive commandment which overrides the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife – a prohibition whose punishment is karet. However, as we saw in the mishna, the mitzvah of Yibbum only overrides the prohibition of a man marrying his brother鈥檚 wife, but does not have the power to override other forbidden relationships. The Torah here defined a limited override of forbidden relationships, formulating a double chiddush in this mitzvah: 1. overriding the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife 2. limiting this only to the forbidden relationship聽 between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife. In light of this confusing structure, the gemara on daf 3a sets out to clarify the foundation of the world of mitzvot, which of course includes the mitzvah of Yibbum:

讟注诪讗 讚讻转讘 专讞诪谞讗 注诇讬讛, 讛讗 诇讗讜 讛讻讬, 讛”讗 讗讞讜转 讗砖讛 诪讬讬讘诪转, 诪讗讬 讟注诪讗? 讚讗诪专讬谞谉: 讗转讬 注砖讛 讜讚讞讬 诇讗 转注砖讛. 讗讬诪专 讚讗诪专讬谞谉 讗转讬 注砖讛 讜讚讞讬 诇讗 转注砖讛 – 诇讗 转注砖讛 讙专讬讚讗, 诇讗 转注砖讛 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转 诪讬 讚讞讬? 讜转讜, 诇讗 转注砖讛 讙专讬讚讗 诪谞诇谉 讚讚讞讬?

The gemara makes a diyyuk from the wording of the passuk聽 “讬讘诪讛 讬讘讜讗 注诇讬讛” – why does the Torah need the extra word聽 “注诇讬讛”? This is needed in order to negate our possible presumption that other forbidden relationships are also overridden because of the positive commandment of Yibbum, as basic Torah logic dictates that a positive commandment overrides a negative commandment, even a stringent one whose punishment is karet! From here, the gemara continues to prove that indeed a positive commandment has the power to override a negative commandment, even a stringent one whose punishment is karet, unless the Torah specifically spells out that the negative commandment is stronger. Already at this point we will notice a fascinating point in the flow of the gemara, a point which we have seen before, but is very strong in this opening sugiya: in order to discover what the regular strength of positive and negative commandments is, we use pessukim as a mirror image. Hashem doesn鈥檛 say obvious things – the need for a commandment reveals the default. Because Hashem explicitly said that other forbidden relationships are not overridden, we understand the need for the pasuk – 讙讝专转 讻转讜讘, to say this. 讙讝专转 讻转讜讘 is a tool which teaches us, above anything else, what the basic logic in the world of the mitzvot is – what the default聽 is. The simple discussion is about revealing the default, but this raises some very important questions:

  1. The gemara introduces a fascinating topic which begs the question: why does basic Torah logic dictate that positive commandments are stronger than negative commandments? What lies at the base of the thought that the power of positive commandments is so strong that it can even override prohibitions whose punishment is karet?聽
  2. In what way do positive commandments override negative commandments? Does it cancel the prohibition lechatchila or does the prohibition still exist, but the positive commandment overcomes it?聽
  3. Is the power of positive commandments so strong that it can even overcome prohibitions whose punishment is karet?聽
  4. Does the mitzvah of Yibbum overcome the forbidden relationship because it has the power of a regular positive commandment or perhaps even if regular positive commandments can鈥檛 overcome prohibitions whose punishment is karet, there is still something unique in the mitzvah of Yibbum which allows for it to overcome?聽

We will try and answer these questions according to the approaches of some of the rishonim, and will see the big argument among the rishonim regarding whether or not positive commandments override prohibitions whose punishment is karet, which is connected to the long sugiya which spans dapim 3-8.聽

  1. Why do positive commandments have the power to override negative commandments?

A fascinating answer to this question can be found in the Ramban on the Torah, which deals with the mitzvah of Shabbat which is made up of positive and negative commandments.聽

专诪讘”谉 砖诪讜转 驻专拽 讻 驻住讜拽 讞)

讻讬 讛注讜砖讛 诪爪讜转 讗讚讜谞讬讜 讗讛讜讘 诇讜 讜讗讚讜谞讬讜 诪专讞诐 注诇讬讜, 讜诪讚转 砖诪讜专 讘诪爪讜转 诇讗 转注砖讛, 讜讛讜讗 诇诪讚转 讛讚讬谉 讜讬讜爪讗 诪诪讚转 讛讬专讗讛, 讻讬 讛谞砖诪专 诪注砖讜转 讚讘专 讛专注 讘注讬谞讬 讗讚讜谞讬讜 讬专讗 讗讜转讜, 讜诇讻谉 诪爪讜转 注砖讛 讙讚讜诇讛 诪诪爪讜转 诇讗 转注砖讛, 讻诪讜 砖讛讗讛讘讛 讙讚讜诇讛 诪讛讬专讗讛, 讻讬 讛诪拽讬讬诐 讜注讜砖讛 讘讙讜驻讜 讜讘诪诪讜谞讜 专爪讜谉 讗讚讜谞讬讜 讛讜讗 讙讚讜诇 诪讛谞砖诪专 诪注砖讜转 讛专注 讘注讬谞讬讜, 讜诇讻讱 讗诪专讜 讚讗转讬 注砖讛 讜讚讞讬 诇讗 转注砖讛.

 

As opposed to what we might assume, that prohibitions in the Torah are stricter than positive commandments, the Ramban emphasizes that the base of the positive commandments lies in the quality of love, while the prohibitions are based on fear. Therefore positive commandments are more important than negative commandments. This importance is expressed in the halacha which we are learning about, that positive commandments override negative commandments. It is true that the punishments for transgressing negative commandments are harsher, as they function in the world of fear, however in terms of importance, the power of positive commandments is greater, just as love conquers fear.聽

  1. Do positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet?聽

After the opening on daf 3, the gemara continues to discuss two questions which it raised. The gemara succeeds in proving that positive commandments override negative commandments, however the gemara then turns to checking from where we learn that positive commandments are so strong that they can even override negative commandments whose punishment is karet? Through the progression of the gemara, we learn important principles in the world of mitzvot. The gemara suggests a number of possible sources from which we can learn that positive commandments override even negative commandments whose punishment is karet. The first attempt, which is then rejected, is found on 5b:

The gemara brings four suggestions, each of which involve mitzvot which override Shabbat, whose prohibition of work, if transgressed, is punished by karet. The first three suggestions are actually mitzvot where nothing is said explicitly about this, yet we know that they override Shabbat:聽

  1. brit milah which overrides Shabbat聽 B. the Korban Pesach, whose slaughter overrides Shabbat聽 C. the Korban Tamid which overrides Shabbat

The gemara rejects these three possibilities and says that these examples are of positive commandments which have a special power, and therefore what we learn from them can鈥檛 be applied to all other positive mitzvot. What is the special strength of these mitzvot? Brit milah is special for two reasons: this mitzvah in the Torah has the word 鈥渂rit鈥 thirteen times, and because it is a unique mitzvah in that one who does not perform it is punished with karet! Pesach too is a positive commandment whose failure to perform is punished with karet (these two mitzvot are a special pair, but we will not go into this right now). The Korban Tamid is stringent for a different reason – because of its constancy. Even the combination of all of these mitzvot can鈥檛 teach about a general rule, as these are all positive commandments which preceded the giving of the Torah, and therefore their strength is greater than regular positive commandments. After the gemara rejects these three mitzvot as a source for learning the rule that positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet, it suggests a new mitzvah as the source – the mitzvah of honoring one鈥檚 parents:

讗诇讗 讗讬爪讟专讬讱, 住讚”讗 转讬转讬 诪讻讘讜讚 讗讘 讜讗诐; 讚转谞讬讗: 讬讻讜诇 讬讛讗h 讻讘讜讚 讗讘 讜讗诐 讚讜讞讛 砖讘转? 转”诇: 讗讬砖 讗诪讜 讜讗讘讬讜 转讬专讗讜 讜讗转 砖讘转讜转讬 转砖诪讜专讜, 讻讜诇讻诐 讞讬讬讘讬谉 讘讻讘讜讚讬; 诪讗讬 诇讗讜 讚讗诪专 诇讬讛 砖讞讜讟 诇讬 讘砖诇 诇讬, 讜讟注诪讗 讚讻转讘 专讞诪谞讗 讗转 砖讘转讜转讬 转砖诪讜专讜, 讛讗 诇讗讜 讛讻讬 – 讚讞讬! 诇讗, 诇讗讜 讚诪讞诪专.

This time, the gemara again suggests the method of learning which appeared at the beginning of the sugiya – revealing the default through an explicit 讙讝专转 讻转讜讘. Since Hashem had to explicitly say that honoring one鈥檚 parents doesn鈥檛 override Shabbat, we can learn that without an explicit passuk, we would arrive at the opposite conclusion, as positive commandments override even negative commandments whose punishment is karet鈥he gemara rejects this line of thought through a claim which will accompany us on the next page as well –聽 “诇讗讜 讚诪讞诪专”. The gemara reveals to us that within the halachot of Shabbat, there are certain activities which were prohibited merely as a 诇讗讜. Rashi comes to our rescue and adds important information – among the prohibitions explicitly mentioned in the Torah, there is the prohibition of mechamer, which is learned from the passuk聽 “诇讗 转注砖讛 讻诇 诪诇讗讻讛 讗转讛 讜讘讛诪转讱”. At this stage, the gemara claims that the words “讗谞讬 讛'” come to teach that even if one鈥檚 mother told him to do mechamer on Shabbat, he should not obey, however it is clear that it would not even enter one鈥檚 mind that if one鈥檚 parents told him to transgress a Shabbat prohibition whose punishment is karet, he should do so.聽

When we move to daf 6, we arrive at the big dispute among the rishonim regarding how to read the gemara, and through this to the question of whether we learn from the mitzvah of honoring one鈥檚 parents that positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet.

  1. Rashi鈥檚 Approach – positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet:

The gemara on daf 6 challenges the claim that “讗谞讬 讛'” was written corresponding to the prohibition of mechamer, and not corresponding to Shabbat prohibitions whose punishment is karet. It rejects this claim (we will not go into this now for lack of time), and at the end of the rejection, the gemara goes back to its first assumption that positive commandments override even negative commandments whose punishment is karet. In the end, we do learn this from the mitzvah of honoring one鈥檚 parents, however, this assumption is not correct regarding the mitzvah of Yibbum. We will examine the gemara and Rashi鈥檚 commentary on it:

“讗诇讗, 诪砖讜诐 讚讗讬讻讗 诇诪讬驻专讱: 诪讛 诇讛谞讱 砖讻谉 讛讻砖专 诪爪讜讛!”

Rashi explains:聽

讗诇讗 – 诇注讜诇诐 讚讗诪专 诇讬讛 砖讞讜讟 诇讬 讘砖诇 诇讬 讜讗驻”讛 诇讗 讗讬爪讟专讬讱 注诇讬讛 讚讗讬讻讗 诇诪讬驻专讱 诪讛 诇讛谞讱 砖讞讜讟 诇讬 讘砖诇 诇讬 砖讻谉 讛讻砖专 诪爪讜讛 讘讞讬诇讜诇 砖讘转 讘注拽讬专转 诇讗 转注砖讛 讛讜讗 诪拽讬讬诐 注砖讛 讚讻讬讘讜讚 讜讝讛讜 讛讻砖专 拽讬讜诪讜 讜讗讬 讗驻砖专 诇拽讬讬诪讜 讘诇讗 注拽讬专转 诇讗讜 讛诇讻讱 讗讬 诇讗 讻转讘 讗转 砖讘转讜转讬 转砖诪讜专讜 讛”讗 诇讬讚讞讬 讗讘诇 讬讬讘讜诐 诇讗 讝讛 讘诇讘讚 讛讻砖专 拽讬讜诐 讛注砖讛 砖讛专讬 讬讻讜诇 诇讞诇讜抓 讜诇讗 讬注拽讜专 诇讗讜 砖诇 注专讜讛 讜诇讗 讗讬爪讟专讬讱 注诇讬讛.聽

Rashi understands from the gemara that positive commandments override prohibitions whose punishment is karet only in situations where there is no other way to perform the positive commandment. However, when it is possible to perform it in a way which does not uproot the prohibition, it does not override it when the punishment is karet.聽

When parents tell a child to cook for them on Shabbat, the child has no way of getting around transgressing the Shabbat, and really, were the words “讗谞讬 讛'” not written in the Torah, we would have concluded that the positive commandment of honoring one鈥檚 parents overrides the negative commandment of Shabbat, whose punishment is karet. However, Rashi understands from the gemara that even if a positive commandment overrides a negative commandment whose punishment is karet, this is still not enough to explain why the mitzvah of Yibbum overrides the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife. In the case of Yibbum, there are two options – Yibbum or Chalitza, and therefore, it seems that one should always need to turn to the solution of Chalitza rather than overriding the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife, in contrast to the clash between transgressing Shabbat and honoring one鈥檚 parents.聽

We will summarize Rashi鈥檚 approach:

  1. Positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet, however only regarding mitzvot which cannot be performed in any other way.聽
  2. We learned a rule from the mitzvah of honoring one鈥檚 parents. Hashem needed to strengthen the Shabbat鈥檚 power through the statement “讗谞讬 讛'” in order to negate the presumption that honoring one鈥檚 parents should override Shabbat.
  3. From this we can understand that Yibbum is not explained using this rule, as it can also be performed through Chalitza, thereby not transgressing the prohibition of being with one鈥檚 brother鈥檚 wife. Therefore this needed to be said explicitly.聽

Another rishon who went in the way of Rashi is the author of 住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转 who paskined l鈥檋alacha the rule that positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet. We will examine his words:

住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转 诇砖讜谉 诇诪讜讚讬诐 砖注专 讙 (专讘讬 砖诪砖讜谉 讘”专 讬爪讞拽 诪讛注讬专 拽讬谞讜谉 砖讘爪专驻转 讘住讜祝 讛诪讗讛 讛13)聽

拽住讙. 讻诇诇讗 讚诪讬诇转讗 讻诇 注砖讛 讚讜讞讛 诇讗 转注砖讛 讗祝 诇”转 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转 讻讚讗讬转讗 专讬砖 讬讘诪讜转 诇”转 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转 诪谞诇谉 讚讚讞讬 讜诪住讬拽 诇讗讜 诇讗 转注砖讛 讞诪讜专 诪讬谞讬讛 诪讛 诇讬 讞讜诪专讗 专讘讛 诪讛 诇讬 讞讜诪专讗 讝讜讟专讗.

The words of 住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转 connect to the idea of Ri, on another line in this long sugiya – on daf 7a:

讛讚专 讗诪专: 讗讟讜 注砖讛 讚讜讞讛 讗转 诇”转, 诇讗讜 诇讗 转注砖讛 讞诪讜专 诪讬谞讬讛? 讜拽讗转讬 注砖讛 讜讚讞讬 诇讬讛, 诪讛 诇讬 讞讜诪专讗 讝讜讟讗, 讜诪讛 诇讬 讞讜诪专讗 专讘讛?聽聽

In this line, a sevara is brought, which connects to the words of the Ramban which we saw at the beginning of our learning today. If positive commandments have the power to override negative commandments, why does the stringency of the negative commandments matter? The power of the positive commandments is absolute, and should not distinguish between stringent and lenient prohibitions. Or, to paraphrase the Ramban – love is greater than even the greatest fear.聽

  1. The approach of Tosfot and majority of rishonim – a positive commandment does not override a negative commandment whose punishment is karet.

Tosfot throughout our dapim oppose the approach of Rashi in reading the sugiya, and also聽 the approach of 住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转 who paskins this rule as halacha. How do Tosfot see it? We will examine Tosfot鈥檚 words on daf 3:

诇讗 转注砖讛 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转 诪讬 讚讞讬 – 讜讗”转 讜讗诪讗讬 诇讗 讬诇驻讬谞谉 讚诇讬讚讞讬 诪注砖讛 讚讬讬讘讜诐 讚讚讞讬 诇讗 转注砖讛 讚讻专转 讚讗砖转 讗讞 鈥.讜 讜讗讜诪专 专”讬 讚诪讗砖转 讗讞 诇讗 诪爪讬 诇诪讬诇祝 讘注诇诪讗 讚诇讬讚讞讬 注砖讛 诇讗 转注砖讛 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转 讚砖讗谞讬 讗砖转 讗讞 讚诪爪讜转讜 讘讻讱 讜讗讬 讗驻砖专 讘注谞讬谉 讗讞专 诇拽讬讬诐 诪爪讜转 讬讘讜诐 讚讗诇”讻 讘讟诇讛 诪爪讜转 讬讘讜诐鈥

The Tosfot ask a strong question on the sugiya – why, throughout these three dapim did they not try to prove that positive commandments override negative commandments from the mitzvah of Yibbum itself? This is a perfect example of a positive commandment overriding a negative commandment whose punishment is karet. Yibbum overrides the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife. Ri gives an answer that is 180 degrees opposite of Rashi – in order to perform the mitzvah of Yibbum, we must uproot the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife, and there is no other way to perform this mitzvah.聽

What do Tosfot paskin as halacha? In order to understand the psak of Tosfot which appears a number of times throughout these pages, we will examine the end of the sugiya on daf 8, where there is a statement of Rava which rejects the attempt to prove that positive commandments override negative commandments whose punishment is karet: “专讘讗 讗诪专: 注专讜讛 诇讗 爪专讬讻讗 拽专讗, 讚讗讬谉 注砖讛 讚讜讞讛 诇讗 转注砖讛 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转, 讻讬 讗讬爪讟专讬讱 拽专讗 – 诇诪讬住专 爪专讛.”

 

At the end of this long sugiya, Rava opposes the entire complicated progression and claims that the word “注诇讬讛” is not needed to limit the law of Yibbum. Rather, it comes to expand it and prohibit the tzarot as well. From here it is clear that positive commandments do not override negative commandments whose punishment is karet. Tosfot in a number of places throughout the masechet, and also here on daf 8 adopt Rava鈥檚 words as halacha.聽

讜讗讬诇讜 驻讟讜专讜转 讜驻讜讟专讜转 诇讗 拽转谞讬 – 鈥.讚驻砖讬讟讗 讚讗讬谉 注砖讛 讚讜讞讛 诇”转 砖讬砖 讘讜 讻专转.

We will summarize the approach of Ri in the Tosfot and the point of argument between him and Rashi and 住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转:

Rashi and聽 住驻专 讛讻专讬转讜转 Ri in the Tosfot
Does a positive commandment override a negative commandment whose punishment is karet? Yes and this is learned from the clash between honoring one鈥檚 parents and the Shabbat prohibitions whose punishment is karet. This limmud is rejected and we need to understand the gemara differently from how Rashi understood it.聽
Is Yibbum a mitzvah where the positive commandment overrides the negative commandment whose punishment is karet? No, since the rule only works when there is no other way to perform the mitzvah, and it is possible to perform the mitzvah of Yibbum through Chalitza. Therefore, we need a special 讙讝专转 讻转讜讘 of聽 “注诇讬讛”, where here too, the forbidden relationship is overridden.聽 No, since it is only possible to perform Yibbum by uprooting the forbidden relationship, and therefore there is no overriding of the prohibition, rather it is completely removed in a situation of Yibbum. It is not the 讙讝专转 讻转讜讘 of聽 “注诇讬讛” which allows this, but rather the commandment to do Yibbum itself, which cannot be performed without one having a relationship with his brother鈥檚 wife.聽
What is the mechanism through which the mitzvah of Yibbum works? Overriding the forbidden relationship between a man and his brother鈥檚 wife through the 讙讝专转 讛讻转讜讘 The removal of the prohibition against having a relationship with one鈥檚 brother鈥檚 wife through the commandment to do Yibbum
Is Chalitza a way to perform the mitzvah of Yibbum? Yes No
What is the reasoning behind the rule that positive commandments override negative commandments?聽 Positive commandments are an expression of love and therefore they always overcome fear, even strong fear.聽 When the fear is strong, love does not have the strength to overcome it, but Hashem can remove prohibitions, and this is what happens with the mitzvah of Yibbum

 

Rabbanit Yael Shimoni

Rabbanit Shimoni has learned at Migdal Oz, Matan, and the Susi Bradfield Women鈥檚 Institute for Halakhic Leadership at Midreshet Lindenbaum. She holds a BFA from Bezalel Academy of Arts and Design and a BEd in Torah Shebe鈥檃l Peh and Jewish Thought from Herzog College. She is currently studying towards an MA in Jewish Thought Education at Herzog College. Rabbanit Shimoni taught gemara and halakha at Pelech High School and served as a ramit for shana bet at Migdal Oz. She directs Meshivat Nefesh, the online responsa program of the rabbaniyot of Beit Hillel. She is also a plastic artist and member of 鈥淎 Studio of Her Own.
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