By Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
Recently, a news organization decided it would be interesting to see if Major League Baseball players knew the rules of their game. They composed 10 questions about various scenarios. On average, the players answered 5.5 of these true-or-false questions correctly.
Lack of knowledge of the finer points of baseball rules can sometimes affect the game. In 2003, a player on the Athletics did not understand baseball’s obstruction rule and made a crucial out in what could have been a decisive rally in a division series. Miguel Tejada was rounding third when he collided with third baseman Bill Mueller. The umpire ruled that Mueller obstructed Tejada, the runner. Tejada assumed the play was dead and leisurely jogged home, only to be tagged out. The umpires ruled that he was indeed out.
Obstruction only results in a dead play if the obstruction happens near the ball. Since the baseball was nowhere near third base, the play continues even after the obstruction call. The umpires then use their discretion to see if the obstruction affected the play. If Tejada had run home and been out by a step, the umps would have ruled him safe, based on the obstruction call.
There is no test for baseball players to see if they know the rules before they join the major leagues. They all know the basic rules and some may only learn the finer points the hard way. I’m sure Tejada knows the obstruction rule now. Some have suggested that all major-league players take a course in baseball rules before they play.
Lehavdil, when it comes to learning halachah, we take this approach. The Gemara says in Pesachim (6a) that one should learn the laws of Pesach 30 days before Pesach. The Mishnah Berurah quotes many Rishonim that this applies to other yomim tovim as well. Hence, 30 days before Sukkos, one should start studying the laws of lulav and esrog and sukkah.
The Beis Yosef says that if someone asks a question to a rav on hilchos Pesach 30 days before Pesach, he is given preferential treatment over someone who asks a question on a different topic, since Pesach is considered inyanei d’yoma. The Chasam Sofer says this is borne out by the source for the 30-day rule. Moshe Rabbeinu taught the halachos of Pesach Sheini, which was 30 days away, while the rest of Klal Yisrael was offering their korban Pesach.
Pesach Sheini is on the 14th of Iyar. If one wanted to study its laws 30 days before, he would start on the 14th of Nissan and conclude on the 13th of Iyar. The 30 days have to conclude before the start of the relevant day. On the 14th of Nissan, there were surely many urgent questions that people had regarding their korban Pesach that they were bringing that very day. Seemingly, Moshe Rabbeinu should have waited until the next day to start dealing with Pesach Sheini issues. Yet Moshe Rabbeinu still dealt with the laws of Pesach Sheini on the 14th of Nissan since it was considered inyanei d’yoma.
Nowadays, when we sadly have no korban Pesach, actual Pesach rituals start at the night of the Seder, the 15th of Nissan. What might not be readily apparent is that if you start studying the laws of Pesach 30 days before the start of yom tov, you will be learning hilchos Pesach at your Purim seudah! Since Adar has only 29 days, to ensure you study 30 days, you have to include both the 14th of Nissan and the 14th of Adar.
The Pri Chadash is incredulous at this suggestion. While someone is downing hamantaschen and wine, can it really be that Pesach is inyanei d’yoma? Shushan Purim we’ll start getting rid of chametz in a hurry, but on Purim our houses are supposed to be one mean chametz machine. The Pri Chadash concludes that actually one should start learning the laws of Pesach on Shushan Purim. What better ways to inaugurate the start of hilchos Pesach study than by throwing out or donating all your mishloach manos chametz? In this particular instance, one actually only studies the laws of Pesach for 29 days.
However, if one wanted to study the laws of bedikas chametz 29 days before the search, he would still end up starting on Purim. Moreover, many Acharonim understand the Gemara literally that one should always start studying the laws of yom tov 30 days before their observance. The Mishnah Berurah rules that one should start learning the laws of Pesach on Purim itself, assuming he is sober.
Let’s suppose someone did not start studying hilchos Pesach 30 days before. Rosh Chodesh Nissan came and passed, and he still didn’t find the time to start studying the halachos. On the 13th of Nissan, he davens Minchah. He stays in shul for Ma’ariv and then goes home. He feels remorse that he never found the time to study any hilchos Pesach. He should be starting the bedikah now, but he says to himself, “Let me learn at least some halachos now.” May he?
The simple answer is that he may not. When the time for bedikas chametz arrives, one should start right away. One should not start any activity, begin a meal, or even learn before he does the bedikah. The Agudas Eizov says there is one activity he may start before the bedikah, and that is to learn the laws of the bedikah! If he is learning the laws of the bedikah, he certainly will remember that he actually has to do the bedikah.
Yet the Nitei Gavriel says he may not even learn that! The Rambam, in explaining why one should not start learning even before the time for bedikas chametz arrives, states, “He might extend his learning and miss performing bedikas chametz at its initial time.” Clearly, the Rambam is of the opinion that Chazal wanted everyone to start bedikas chametz right away. We may not be afraid that he will forget to do the bedikah, but the person learning hilchos bedikas chametz will certainly miss the start time by studying instead.
When someone suggests an early start at studying yom tov laws, don’t balk at the idea. It’s really a winning suggestion. v
Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.