Monday, August 20, 2012

לועג לרש, Tzitzit and our Sensitivity for the Deceased -Berachot 18a

Today's daf introduces us to the concept of לועג לרש, ridiculing the helpless, that our sensitivity extends to the deceased. The Gemara enjoins Rav Yonatan against walking in the cemetery with his Techeilet, his blue thread from his tzizit, dragging along the floor because this will cause displeasure to the deceased who are no longer can fulfill the mitzva of tzitzit. This is codified in Halakha that even one who normally wears his tzitzit out should cover up his tzitzit in a cemetery (see Mourning in Halacha 10:13 and 42:30).

Ironically, Tosfot points out that the Gemara in מנחות דף מא עמוד א rules that a deceased person should be buried in shrouds that have tzitzit, also for the same reason of לועג לרש. The reason brought is that if the deceased was used to always wearing tzitzit in his lifetime, it would cause him great displeasure to not be wearing tzitzit in his final resting place, as a constant reminder of the fact that he no longer needs tzitzit. Tosfot in Niddah 61b questions why we have a custom nowadays to remove tzitzit from the deceased or at least render them pasul by cutting off one of the fringes. For an excellent discussion of this Tosfot, see Rabbi Gedaliah Hochberg's lengthy treatment here.

It is interesting to note that the Rashba gives a dramatically different reason for the deceased being buried with tzitzit. He says this is based on the dispute in Shabbat 141b whether mitzvot will still be obligated in the future time of תחית המתים, resurrection of the dead. Those who hold that mitzvot will still be in effect at this time obligate one to bury the deceased in his tzitzit so that he should be able to come back to life already performing this mitzva on his garment.

The fascinating lesson of this complex discussion is the great sensitivity we all must have for the deceased. We are sensitive to their feelings so as not to unknowingly taunt them whether by what we are wearing or what we are depriving them of wearing. Likewise, we want to put them into the best position possible to prepare them for the תחית המתים, a time that we all await as a basic tenet of our faith.

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