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Mitzvah L'Kayem Divrei Hameis

The entire סוגיא of מצוה לקיים דברי המת is a complicated one, and certainly cannot be covered, or even summarized, in one post. Here, I'm going to try and deal with a fairly limited aspect; specifically, the רמב"ם in הלכות מכירה in פרק כ"ב, הלכה ט"ו / ט"ז.

In הלכה ט"ו, the רמב"ם writes:

ודין ההקדש ודין העניים ודין הנדרים, אינו כדין ההדיוט בקנייתו שאילו אמר אדם כל מה שתלד בהמתי יהיה הקדש לבדק הבית או יהיה אסור עליי או אתננו לצדקה אף על פי שאינו מתקדש לפי שאינו בעולם הרי זה חייב לקיים דברו שנאמר ככל היוצא מפיו יעשה

In הלכה ט"ז, he continues:

והואיל והדבר כן אם ציווה אדם כשהוא שכיב מרע ואמר כל מה שיוציא אילן זה יינתן לעניים או כל שכר בית זה יהיה לעניים זכו בהן העניים

The first הלכה is similar to the case we saw earlier of מתנה לעני. Even though the נותן can't give the fruits which are due in the future to the עני now, he can create an obligation on himself (an implicit נדר) that will obligate him to give them in the future when they become available.

The second הלכה uses this as a reason to say that if a moribund person (for whom we know the rule of מתנת שכיב מרע ככתובין ומסורין דמו) says "The fruits of this tree are to go to the poor [presumably, a specific poor person]," then the עני is זוכה in it.

There are a few things that immediately jump out as problematic:

  • What's the connection between ט"ו and ט"ז? How does ט"ז follow logically from ט"ו?
  • Why are the עניים in ט"ז considered to have been זוכה in the item? If the person were alive, the only thing that would have happened is that he is personally obligated, but the עניים's status vis-a-vis the item haven't changed.
  • Why is ט"ז discussing a case of a שכיב מרע?

The first way to understand the רמב"ם is that of the מגיד משנה, and is explained clearly by the קצוה"ח in 212:(3). The מ"מ explains that there is a הלכה here of מצוה לקיים דברי המת, and therefore, the יורשים must fulfill their father's wishes, and give the fruits to the עני when they become available. The קצוה"ח points out that even though normally, for מצוה לקיים דברי המת we require the item to have been given over during the father's lifetime (הושלש לשם כך) as per the ר"ת, here we don't need it, since we have the נדר which is no worse than הושלש (I hope, ב"נ, to summarize these הלכות in a subsequent post).

This interpretation seems address the first question nicely, but leaves the second unanswered. Furthermore, the third question is strengthened by this answer, since we never saw any limitation in the גמרא that מצוה לקיים דברי המת only applies to a שכיב מרע.

Another alternative is the interpretation of the אבן האזל. He assumes that the רמב"ם wrote שכיב מרע deliberately, and understands this הלכה in light of this. We have a known rule by שכיב מרע that "דברי שכיב מרע ככתובין ומסורין דמו". Although this can't be applied directly in our case, since the entire פרק of the רמב"ם is dedicated to showing that there's no קניין (and therefore כמסורין דמו wouldn't help), this is not the real rule. Instead, the rule is that anything that can be done by a בריא can also be done by a שכיב מרע, albeit with modifications to make it easier and less worrisome for someone on his deathbed. Therefore, he explains, just like a בריא could create a התחייבות to the עני, so too, the שכיב מרע can also create this same obligation.

This explains the connection between the two הלכות very nicely, as well as explaining why our case is only by a שכיב מרע. It does not, however, help us to understand why the עני is considered to be זוכה. It's also quite a big חידוש in our understanding of the status of a שכיב מרע.

I still have to review the אגרות משה again... but I'll get back to that, בלי נדר.

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