On Daf 13a the Gemara concludes a discussion of what to do with hametz that is still in your possession after the permitted time for eating has passed. The sugiyah continues by relating an incident in which Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi is asked what should be done with hametz left as a deposit if the owner doesn’t return to claim it on Erev Pesach. Rebbi strangely answers that the hametz should be sold in the marketplace even if the likelihood is that a Jew will buy the hametz. Why not then allow the loaner to eat the hametz himself?
The answer is given using a principle based on a Pasuk from Sefer Bemidbar:
וִהְיִיתֶ֧ם נְקִיִּ֛ים מֵיְהוָ֖ה וּמִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֑ל – you shall be blameless before the LORD and before Israel…
Interpreting the pasuk, Chazal understood that the leftover hametz needed to be sold on the free market rather than eaten by the person who was responsible for it. The Pasuk teaches that one who is responsible for someone else’s property must be above all suspicion and is not allowed to make use of the loaned property even under these unusual circumstances. We are required to act in a completely ethical way towards others.
The source for this Pasuk is the story of the territory of the tribes of Reuven and Gad. Reuven and Gad own a great deal of livestock and believe the land east of the Jordan is very rich grazing land so they ask to settle on the east side of the Jordan. They are accused of acting in their own self-interest rather than being concerned for the needs of the whole nation. Moshe angrily tells them that their decision to settle their land before the other tribes will spread fear among the
people. Gad and Reuven must promise to join the rest of the nation in the conquest of the land. Moshe further explains that only when all the land has been conquered can they return, as only then–they will be blameless before G-d and before the people of Israel. This is the prototype that is brought on our daf, to teach that actions must be clear of all ulterior motives.
Why choose this story about the tribes of Gad and Reuven to highlight the preparations required on Erev Pesach?
Imagine Erev Chag at the time of the Bet Mikdash. Everyone was busy, worried about all the planning and details required. Did I remember to do bedika before I left home? Did I check how much food I need for the next few days? What time do I have to be in line at the Mikdash? Where is my sheep? The incident of the left-over Hametz, and the back-story of Gad and Reuven reminds us that while we are busy with our list of tasks we must also keep other important values in mind.
Pesach is a holiday of national unity. Anyone who intentionally doesn’t bring the Korban is cut off from the rest of the nation. In addition, the Korban had to be brought in groups, not by individuals. Similarly, despite their personal needs, Reuven and Gad had to join with the rest of the Jewish people in its conquest of the land. This Pasuk reminds us that the holiday of Pesach and the Korban Pesach celebrate our nationhood and responsibility for each other.
In Midrash Rabbah (Parshat Matot perek 22) we read that the tribes of Reuven and Gad were exiled before the rest of the Jewish people because they separated themselves from their brothers for selfish reasons and their concerns for material wealth. The Midrash continues to remind us that all the property in the world belongs to G-d, who will provide for those who follow the mitzvot. Both the topics of hametz in the Gemara and of settling Eretz Yisrael in the Pasuk address the same idea, the importance of handling all property in ways that reflect the values of the Torah rather than thinking of one’s self interests.
The story of Gad and Reuven ‘s responsibilities conclude after the conquest of Eretz Yisrael, with Yehoshua permitting them to return to the land they had chosen. When they return they build a huge altar that can be seen from a great distance. The other tribes of Israel accuse them of avodah zarah, of leaving the worship of G-d. The leaders of Reuven and Gad defend themselves saying:
When your future generations say to our future generation you are not part of the nation of Israel, we will say to our children ‘look at this altar to G-d, it is not for bringing sacrifices but to serve as a witness between you and us.’ (Yehoshua 22:28)
The leaders of Gad and Reuven explain that in the future this altar will cement their membership in Bnei Israel. The words כִּֽי־יֹאמְר֥וּ אֵלֵ֛ינוּ וְאֶל־דֹּרֹתֵ֖ינוּ מָחָ֑ר echo the key elements of the Haggadah. On Pesach we are commanded, using very similar words, to explain to our children why we bring the Korban Pesach and what happened to our nation in Mitzrayim. In Sefer Yehoshua, Gad and Reuven want to ensure that their children and future generations are taught about their connection to the people of Israel and the Torah.
By using the Pasuk “וִהְיִיתֶ֧ם נְקִיִּ֛ים מֵיְהוָ֖ה וּמִיִּשְׂרָאֵ֑ל – you shall be blameless before the LORD and before Israel”, the Gemara illustrates for us not only laws related to hametz but it invites us to connect ideas from the story of Reuven and Gad to the halachot of preparing for Pesach. In this way, the Rabbis remind us of values that are an integral part of the holiday and our people. We must share in the responsibility for the nation, act always in an ethical way and teach our children to celebrate their close connection to the Torah and to G-d.