Wednesday, Jul 24, 2024

We Shall Return To You Beloved Bava Kama


At the end of this week, those of us who are learning Daf Yomi will iy”H complete Bava Kamma and begin Bava Metzia. This is a momentous achievement for many reasons. One of them is that this is a return to our “first love,” the girsa deyankusa

of our childhood. Many of us, although not all, as we shall see, began our introduction to Gemara with these masechtos. We have now returned, hopefully a bit older, wiser and understanding more of the sacred words we are reviewing once again.

My rebbi, Rav Yitzchok Hutner (e.g., Pachad Yitzchok, Chanukah 4:9), often quoted the words of Shlomo Hamelech, “Chadoshim gam yeshonim dodi tzofanti loch – Both the new and the old [wisdom], for You my Beloved, my heart has stored them” (Shir Hashirim 7:14). He explained that when the old, meaning what has already been studied, merges with chiddushim, the totally new, the ancient but never antiquated becomes renewed and fresh once again.

Let us therefore revisit our old friend, Bava Kamma, with new eyes (perhaps thicker glasses) and rediscover her treasures. First of all, Bava Kamma is the first masechta in Seder Nezikin, literally translated as damages or, in the legal terminology, torts. There are two traditions that we have concerning the place and purpose of Seder Nezikin in the compendium of the Mishnah and Torah Shebaal Peh. The Gemara in Shabbos (31a) cites the posuk, “The emunah (faith) of your itecha (times) will be the strength of your yeshuos (salvations)…” (Yeshayahu 33:6). Many of the words in this posuk represent one of the six orders of the Mishnah. The Gemara reveals that the word yeshuos refers to Seder Nezikin, the third of the orders. The other mesorah (Yalkut Shimoni, Tehillim 674) is that the pesukim in Tehillim (19:8-10), “Toras Hashem Temimah…,” also refer to Shisha Sidrei Mishnah. However, here the words “Mishpetei Hashem tzodku yachdov – The judgments of Hashem are true, altogether righteous” refer to Seder Nezikim and here it is the last of the orders.

The Tosafos Yom Tov takes the position that these two Medrashim don’t disagree. Dovid Hamelech and the novi Yeshayahu were each speaking of their own generation. Dovid was speaking about the time that we were settled in Eretz Yisroel, when our primary concern was the Bais Hamikdosh, korbanos and remaining pure. Therefore, Seder Kodshim and Taharos took precedence. However, Yeshayahu was speaking after the churban when, alas, we no longer had the option of offerings and a functioning Bais Hamikdosh and our concern was therefore primarily with monetary matters.

There is, nevertheless, another approach to the importance of Seder Nezikin. When I first became a menahel in a yeshiva, I explored the mesoros of which masechtos to learn in the early Gemara years, such as grades five through eight. My initial thought was that Maseches Brachos would appeal to boys and would be extremely relevant, since few of the talmidim would see an ox or a pit very often or deal with damages or real estate. But I then heard a story with Rav Moshe Feinstein, who had called in the menahelim and rabbeim of his yeshiva, Tiferes Yerushalayim. He had heard that they were considering a similar curriculum plan, where the early shiurim would learn Brachos. In his wisdom, however, he explained, “If you teach young boys that it is forbidden to speak during davening and they then go to shul witnessing rampant talking during chazoras hashatz, etc., they will feel that the Torah is irrelevant and not really practiced. If, however, we teach them not to steal or damage and they see that these halachos are scrupulously kept, they will realize that what they are learning is applicable and pragmatic to them as well.”

Another incentive to learn Seder Nezikin may be found in Bava Kamma (30a): “Whoever wishes to become a chossid (pious) should study Seder Nezikin.” In fact, the Gemara elsewhere (Bava Basra 175b) teaches that “one who wishes to become wise should study the halachos of monetary matters.” Some seforim (see Ein Eliyahu, Shabbos 31a) add that if one does study the laws of damages, he will merit not causing anyone any damage. This, in turn, will be his yeshuah, saving him from many dangers. The Chasam Sofer (Drashos, Parshas Zachor, page 654) deepens this promise by stating that “one who learns these matters in depth, even if G-d forbid he was destined to be hurt or damaged, will be spared by engaging in the learning of Seder Nezikin.” For this reason exactly, it is called the seder of Yeshuos.

Since we are now, as sadly so often in our history, at a time of danger to Klal Yisroel, we should note an extraordinary teaching. The Pupa Rebbe (Vayechi Yosef 2:169) teaches that “when the holy Tannaim learned Seder Nezikin, they had in mind that no harm should come upon Klal Yisroel even if, chas veshalom, it had already been so decreed.” It may well be that the farsighted zechus of Rav Meir Shapiro was such that he helped us to learn these special dapim and amudim when we might need them the most. Interestingly, one of the seforim (Zichron Yaakov Yosef, Maareches Mem, page 79b) offers a segulah for the husband of a woman in the middle of a difficult labor to learn the first Mishnah of Bava Kamma over and over until the baby is safely born.

There is an ancient tradition that when making a siyum, we should connect the end of the masechta to the beginning. Many of the mussar and Chassidic seforim point out that the four categories of nezikin in the first Mishnah also refer to damaging traits in human beings themselves, besides the animals and other damaging entities. The shor (ox) also references sight, which is a reminder to guard our eyes from things that could be spiritually damaging. The tooth is a reference to intemperate eating and other failings of excesses in our material lives. The pit refers to emptiness, which is associated with time wasted and bittul Torah. Interestingly, Rav Bentzion Abba-Shaul suggests that the bor (pit) also alludes to unnecessary or excessive depression about unimportant things. Fire refers to anger and other explosions where we are lacking in self-control (see Maggid of Mezeritch in Ohr Torah and Shelah Hakadosh, Parshas Mishpotim).

From here we will take a fresh look at the end of Bava Kamma, which we will, G-d willing, be learning this Thursday. The last chapter, like the one before it, discusses the laws of theft. One of the issues is whether someone may take something that the owner does not care about losing. This is called makpid. The Gemara therefore states that “hops and green grain are not subject to the prohibition of theft. [However,] in a place where owners are makpid on these things, they may not be taken without permission. Ravina added that in the city of Mechasya, the owners are indeed makpid.” Rashi adds that “in Mechasya, people required pastures that are good.” The Maharsha (quoted by ArtScroll) famously comments that Rashi added the word tov, which means good, so that Maseches Bava Kamma would end on a “good note,” which many masechtos of Shas make a point of doing. The Gemara itself did not have to, because the three volumes – Bava Kamma, Bava Metzia and Bava Basra – are all considered one large volume of the Gemara which is actually Nezikin.

The Ben Ish Chai (in his Ben Yehoyada) adds a significant commentary to this ending. He explains that “there are three types of speech, which is the most important aspect of mankind” (see Targum Onkelos to Bereishis 2:7). The worst is forbidden speech, such as lashon hara. The best is tefillah (davening) and divrei Torah, which are mitzvos. The third, which is speech about one’s work, livelihood, health, etc., depends. When one utters forbidden words, he is in effect stealing from Hashem’s treasury, which He has granted to man. On the other hand, when a person davens or learns Torah, he is adding positively to Hashem’s world, which is fulfilling our purpose. Regarding mundane words, which are neither forbidden nor a mitzvah, it depends upon a person’s level of holiness and the place where one is. There is nothing wrong with speaking about one’s work, profession or health needs. But in a bais medrash, there should only be Torah and tefillah. For that reason, the Gemara concludes that in Mechasya, which represented the highest ideals of Torah, everyone was makpid to speak only for the best, highest and holiest of reasons.

Thus, we may add that Rashi makes sure that Bava Kamma ends not only on a positive note, but with the actual word tov. We learn from the Ben Ish Chai an extraordinary lesson about life. Every single moment of our lives, we face the momentous decisions of whether to speak or not. We may be adding to Hashem’s world or, G-d forbid, stealing from the kedusha and taharah that He has implanted in our midst. While with most things the less said the better, in the realm of Torah, the more the better. Bava Kamma ends on the best note possible. We have permission to say many things, as long as we are careful to weigh and measure our words to maximize our speech to enhance and not detract from Hashem’s beautiful world.

In last week’s sedrah, we learned that the stone that the kohein gadol wore representing shevet Binyomin was called yashfeh. The Medrash (Bereishis Rabbah 71:5) says that this word is a composite of the two words yeish peh, meaning “has a mouth.” The Medrash concludes that this is because Binyomin knew about the sale of Yosef but did not speak. Many meforshim are troubled that the words should have been ain peh instead of yeish peh. However, the answer they give is that only one who knows when not to speak truly has the power of speech. Bava Kamma teaches that this is also the difference between a thief and adding to the goodness of the universe.

May we use Seder Nezikin to improve both our speech and the rest of our bein adam lachaveiro to make the world a place that Moshiach will want to come to very soon.




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