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Thought for the Day: Resolution Requires Conflict

There was one useless subject that I couldn't avoid, but that I always hated: History.  That is to say, there were other subjects I hated (or was sure I would hate), such as wood and metal shop, but I found ways to completely avoid them.  History, though, is a required subject, so I was forced to suffer through 100s of μcenturies of history classes.  (One μcentury is a skosh over 52 minutes, but I believe the term μcentury expresses my disgust much better.)  Once I read the book Connections (based on the PBS TV series for you pseudo-intellectuals who believe it's not ביטול זמן if it's PBS; as opposed to the pseudo-intellectuals like me who believe it's not ביטול זמן if it's printed), though, I gained a new appreciation for the subject of history.

That's not entirely accurate.  I still don't really like history.  What I do like is finding and exploring underlying principles that connect disparate areas of concerns.  How about this? Nullification of foods and acquisition of property... how disparate can you get than that?

As discussed before, when two foods of similar taste are mixed, then the requirement for nullification by one part in 60 is only a Rabbinic requirement.  Why?  Because when the Torah made foods forbidden, it was (largely) being able to experience the taste that is forbidden.  The nullification of one part lart in 60 parts Crisco is because the taste of lard is undetectable even to an expert chef/gourmet/epicure/gastronome/gourmand/foodie.  What about foods that have the same taste, but one is forbidden?  A mixture of kosher with non-kosher ground beef, for example.  Those foods cannot be distinguished by taste, so by Rabbinic decree we need nullification by one part in 60.  What is the Torah ruling on this matter, though?

The majority opinion (which we follow, of course) is that we follow the generic ruling in such matters: it goes by majority; whichever ingredient is the majority wins.  R' Yehuda, however, says that once they forbidden and permitted substances have the same taste, nullification is out of the question.  If one has knowledge that even trace amounts of the forbidden substance are mixed into the permitted substance, then the whole mess is forbidden.  The majority opinion seems, if not completely obvious, at least completely reasonable.  How does one understand R' Yehuda's opinion, though?  Hold that thought.

The Torah provides that שכחה/forgotten sheaves belong to the poor, not to the owner of the field.  The "forgetting" has to happen after the sheaves have been collected and before leaving the field.  Now, suppose the owner has workers to harvest his field who have passed and forgotten a few sheaves.  The gemara says that it depends on when the owner forgets about those sheaves.  If the owner was by the side of the field when the workers forgot, then the sheaves are not שכחה, but if the owner had already left his field, then the sheaves are שכחה.  Why?  Because the owner's field itself acts as an agent (so to speak) to acquire the sheaves for the owner, but only if he is standing by the side.  The obvious question, though, is: that being the case, how can you ever have שכחה?  After all, there is perforce some time when the sheaves and the owner (or his agents) were together.  If that confluence can save the sheaves from שכחה, it can certainly prevent it from becoming שכחה in the first place!

The ר''ן addresses both question, and -- it seems to me -- with a single underlying principle: it is practical/palpable differences that allow halachic mechanisms to kick in.  The case of מין במינו/two foods that have identical taste, ביטול/nullification can't even begin to operate.  Before you can nullify something, it has to be something that un-nullified is palpable.  The case of שכחה is similar; as long at the sheaves are just sitting in the field, שכחה is not at all relevant to them, so there is no way to prevent שכחה in the future.  Once someone has forgotten them so that they are in an unknown state of ownership, only then can something come into force the ownership into one state or another.  In this case that would be either definitely owned by the field owner or definitely שכחה (and therefore ownerless).

There is a trite saying in business these days, "we don't call them problems, we call them opportunities".  Trite doesn't necessarily mean false.


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