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(5736) Rashi (Num. 31:23): "to make them fit for use after contamination from forbidden food"


Ramban explains why the laws of purging vessels were given at this time, and not earlier, after the wars against Sichon and Og. Har Tzvi asks why Ramban did not explain a similar question: Why was the requirement to immerse vessels acquired from a non-Jew in the Mikvah introduced only here? He answers that the question why a Mitzvah was introduced at a certain point is not a valid one, since the Torah has the right to introduce a precept whenever it sees fit to do so. Har Tzvi also explains that Ramban had a special reason for asking his question in connection with the purging of vessels (since purging is connected with the laws of kashrut in general, which were already in force).

However, being that Ramban himself does not make even a brief reference to the distinction that Har Tzvi suggests, it would be preferable to find a solution which is indicated in the words of Ramban himself—or in Rashi's words (on which Ramban’s comments here are based).


Rashi writes that the reason why vessels need to be immersed in a Mikvah before use is "to make (vessels) fit for use from (their association with) forbidden food." At first glance, this is difficult to understand, since even if the vessels of a gentile were never used with forbidden food, they still require immersion when a Jew acquires them (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh De'ah 120:1). In fact, Rashi himself emphasizes this point, writing that those vessels from the plunder of Midian that, "had not absorbed (the flavor) of forbidden food” nevertheless required immersion. Why then does he write that the purpose of immersion is -"to make (vessels) fit for use from (their association with) forbidden food"?

The answer to this can be by gleaned by comparing this comment of Rashi with his explanation of the Mitzvah of purging vessels: "You still may not use vessels until they have been purified from the (flavor of) non-kosher meat that they absorbed". Note that Rashi describes purging as a process of "purification" whereas he defines immersion in a Mikvah as a process aimed at making the vessels "fit for use." Now, "purification" can only occur when some impurity is present (in this case, the favor of non-kosher food) which is then removed. Rendering something "fit for use" however, does not necessarily mean that an item has become contaminated; rather, we could just be speaking here of an additional phase of preparation required before use.

Thus, when Rashi describes immersion in a Mikvah not as a type of purification (to remove impurity), but as a process of rendering vessels "fit for use," he makes clear that this preparatory phase is required both for vessels that have been contaminated with non-kosher food and for those that were never contaminated.

Rashi clarifies that the reason for this immersion is "to make (vessels) fit for use from (their association with) forbidden food." The fact that the vessels were in the possession of a gentile means that they were associated with forbidden food, i.e. they were a position where contamination with non-kosher food was a possibility. Therefore, the Torah requires immersion to rid the vessels of this association, regardless of whether they were actually contaminated or not.

(In fact, this resembles another command issued in the current passage, to "kill every woman capable of knowing a man, (I mean every one) who could sleep with a male" (v. 17) regardless of whether this had occurred or not, since it had been a possibility).

We now have a simple answer to Har Tzvi's problem (that Ramban explained why the Mitzvah of purging was not given directly after the war against Sichon and Og, but failed to address the same question about Mitzvah of immersing vessels in a Mikvah). For being that Ramban’s words are based on Rashi's comment here, and Rashi clarifies that the purpose of immersion is  "to make (vessels) fit for use after (their association with) forbidden food", it is obvious from Ramban's comments why immersion of vessels was not required after the war against Sichon and Og - because that was part of the conquest of the Land of Israel during which it was permitted to eat nor “kosher food. Therefore, it is self-evident that at that time there was no need to "disassociate" the vessels from forbidden food through the precept of immersion.

(From Gutnik Chumash)





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