Question: Must a person do t’shuvah if he accidentally eats a vegetable that has bugs?
Short Answer: Yes, a person who unknowingly eats bugs on a vegetable should do t’shuvah.
I. The Underlying Problem
Many vegetables have bugs, which, if eaten, cause the eater to violate numerous Biblical prohibitions. Violating such prohibitions necessitates a t’shuvah process for the eater.
However, Rav Moshe Sternbuch (4:190) wonders whether t’shuvah is really necessary. At worst, the person only eats the bugs as a “misaseik,” i.e., he intends only to eat the vegetable but also eats the bugs only by virtue of their presence in the vegetables. Because he did not “accidentally” eat the bugs (e.g., by forgetting the halachah) but only ate them as a “misaseik,” no korban would be brought in the Beis HaMikdash, and thus no t’shuvah should be required.
While Rav Sternbuch acknowledges that even while a person who is being misaseik needs to bring a korban because he “benefits” from the prohibition, this does not apply to the bugs here, as the person eating the bug-ridden vegetables does not benefit from the taste (if any) of the bugs. Thus, Rav Sternbuch wonders whether the person who eats bugs via misaseik needs to do t’shuvah.
II. A Longstanding Debate
Rav Sternbuch relates that this question was posed by Rabbi Yisrael Salanter to Rabbi Akiva Eiger in the early 1800s, but Rabbi Akiva Eiger did not send back a response. Nevertheless, when Rabbi Yisrael Salanter later met Rabbi Shlomo Eiger, the son of Rabbi Akiva Eiger, Rabbi Shlomo explained that his father did not want to answer the question, as he felt it was disrespectful for him to answer ahead of the great tzadik, Rav Hirsch of Salant. However, Rabbi Shlomo added that his father held that t’shuvah is necessary, as misaseik is a d’Oraisa and is thus considered a “maasei aveirah” (a prohibited act).
Nevertheless, Rav Sternbuch notes that the Kesef Mishnah (Hilchos Maachalos Asuros 1:12) disagrees with Rabbi Akiva Eiger and holds that there is no aveirah committed by all misaseik cases (except for arayos – improper relations).
III. Not Misaseik
Rav Sternbuch, however, suggests that, despite the Kesef Mishnah’s leniency by misaseik, perhaps our case of the bugs on the vegetables is more stringent. Indeed, the bug case is not truly a case of misaseik, as the person should have checked the vegetables for bugs before eating them. By ignoring the bugs and simply eating the vegetables without checking, the person is a shogeig (violating the prohibition accidentally) and does not get any exemption from performing t’shuvah as in all cases that are “accidents.”
That the Gemara in Shabbos holds that a person who accidentally carries in his pockets on Shabbos is “misaseik” even though he could have (and should have) checked his pockets before carrying outside without an eruv, is not a contradiction. Since it is normal for a person to walk outside without checking pockets, this person’s omission to check is simply misaseik. This is in contrast to bugs, which are common and known to exist on vegetables, where misaseik is inapplicable.
IV. Other Reasons To Do T’shuvah
Another reason to do t’shuvah by the bug case, writes Rav Sternbuch, is because eating the bugs affects the body’s “well-being” and is “m’tamteim” (soils) the soul of the eater.
Additionally, regardless of whether eating the bugs themselves warrant t’shuvah, Rav Sternbuch rules that this person should do t’shuvah for the very fact that he caused himself (even unwittingly) to be m’tamteim his soul. Hashem allowed this to happen because of other sins of the person, and thus t’shuvah is appropriate.
V. Quality Kosher Supervision
Rav Sternbuch concludes that it is best for someone who eats these bugs to do t’shuvah. However, if the vegetables had a valid and reliable hechsher, and the person ate the vegetables after relying on the hechsher, no t’shuvah is necessary if it later turns out that there were still bugs on the vegetables. Because bugs are unlikely in such a scenario, the person’s “mistake” is really an “oneis” (purely unintentional) and thus no t’shuvah is required.
Next Week’s Topic: May one drink milk nowadays?