Sunday, August 30, 2009

Baba Basra 9a - Tza'arah D'gufa vs. Kavod HaBriyos

The gemara says that the logic to provide food to a poor person without looking into his need, whereas before providing clothing you're entitled to look into him, is that starvation entails physical pain and is more necessary than being without clothing. R' Elchonon (kovetz shiurim 49) observes that this opinion seems to hold that the suffering one incurs from starvation is more severe than the embarrassment of not having clothing. Being that we have a general principal that kavod habriyos can push off issurim in the torah (as the gemara says in brachos 20a) so long as they are violated passively, physical pain and suffering should also push off mitzvos. Yet, the only mitzvah where we find an exemption for one who is in pain is the mitzvah of succah where we pasken that a mitzta'er is exempt from succah - Why don't we exempt a mitzta'er from all mitzvos based on the logic that it is worse than kavod habriyos?
R' Elchonon answers that the aspect of kavod habriyos that pushes off issurim, is not the kavod habriyos of the individual. The proof to this is that burying a meis mitzvah is also considered kavod habriyos, even though he feels no embarrassment. Clearly, the kavod habriyos is a general kavod habriyos of those who are alive. Leaving the dead withou burial is a lack of kavod habriyos for the living. Therefore, when it comes to tzedaka distribution we aren't focused on others, we are only focused on the individual himself who needs food or clothing. For the individual ani himself, the gemara holds that according to one opinion it is worse to be without food than without clothing because the pain of starvation is greater.
A strong support for R' Elchonon's approach that kavod habriyos is really not for the deceased, but rather a more general type kavod is from parshas ki teitzei where it says that one may not leave a person hanging over night כי קללת אלקים תלוי. Although we may not be concerned with the kavod of those who were killed by beis din, we are concerned with Hashem's kavod. Since human beings were created b'tzelem elokim, it is degrading to Hashem to leave one who has His appearance hanging over night. Furthermore, since this concept of not leaving them hanging over night applies to all human beings, not only Jews (as the ramban implies), we can argue that the general concern for kavod habriyos would apply to goyim as well.

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