Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Wishing to be Devout

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Rav Yehudah says (Bava Kamma 30b) : If someone wants to be pious he should fulfill the laws discussed in Tractate Nezikin. Rava says: He should fulfill that which is written in Pirkei Avos (Ethics of our Fathers). Some say: He should fulfill the laws of Tractate Brochos.

The Orach Yesharim explains: The Mishna in Avos (1:2) states: Shimon HaTzadik was from the remnant of the Men of the Great Assembly and he used to say: On three things the world stands on Torah, Service (Avodah), and Acts of Kindliness (Gemilas Chassadim).

Two of these are matters that are between man and Hashem. They are: Torah and Tefillah. Acts of kindness is a matter that is between one man and his fellow. Rav Yehudah is teaching us that in order to be regarded as a devout person, it is not sufficient to be pious in matters that are between man and Hashem. One must be scrupulously ethical in matters that are between his fellow man as well. And quite possibly, he is telling us that a person must first be heedful of respecting his fellow man, and only then can he elevate himself further by fulfilling those laws that govern the relationship between man and Hashem.

In his sefer, Boruch She’amar, Harav Boruch Epstien asks: Why is it that by observing these three areas, one is regarded as devout? Pirkei Avos deals with common sense, practical, and intelligent behavior. Observing the laws of Brochos is also not an issue of piety, since the Gemora (Brochos 35a) states: One who eats without a brocha is robbing from the Almighty." And finally, civil laws that relate to Nezikin, damages, are certainly not issues of piety, but rather of civil obedience!?

He answers, as explained by Reb Hershel Solnica that the Gemora has a deeper and more subtle meaning. In Pirkei Avos, we are taught: A fence to wisdom is silence. This seems to be a matter of common sense. However, a Jew with a soul understands this to mean that not only is silence golden, but words must be measured and be dignified. Too many pious, religious, and fine Jews lose control of their mouth and lavish its use with Lashon Hara, idle talk, and abusive and vulgar language. Brochos is not simply thanking God for what we eat and what we have, but saying that we appreciate these gifts, for were it not for the grace of God, we wouldn’t be able to survive an hour.

Observing civil law – Nezikin - implies more than merely not damaging another’s possessions. It implies that we should consider the money or property of your neighbor as if it were yours. We don’t merely avoid breaking another’s objects. Rather, we care and respect it as we respect our own. These attitudes constitute the core of the soul of a Jew. They do not constitute halachah and they are difficult to concretize, but they are clear to the sensitive eye and heart.

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Tuesday, January 27, 2009

As if it is in his Possession

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Rabbi Elozar said in the name of Rabbi Yishmael (Bava Kamma 29b) : There are two things which are not legally in one’s possession and the Torah views them as if they are in his possession. One thing is a pit that one digs in a public domain, and even though he does not own the public domain, he is responsible for any liability that occurs regarding the pit. Similarly, one cannot have benefit from chametz after the sixth hour on the fourteenth of Nissan, and the chametz is rendered as ownerless, but one who retains chametz after the sixth hour is considered to have violated the transgression of owning chametz when it is prohibited to own chametz.

Rashi seems to say that the chametz is regarded as his only in the sense that he is held accountable for violating the two commandments of “chametz being seen in his possession” and “leaven being found in his house.” However, he does not actually own the chametz.

Similarly, the Meiri writes with respect to the pit. If there is water in the pit, everyone is allowed to draw water from there. The digger of the pit cannot prevent them from drinking the water by saying that he is the owner, for the Torah considers him the owner only with respect to liability for the damages.

The Chasam Sofer writes that if one would have chametz on Pesach and on Pesach, he would sell it to a gentile, he still would be liable, for the Torah considers it his. And so too, the halachah would be by a pit – if a gentile would acquire the pit, it would still be regarded as the digger’s pit with respect to liability for its damages.

The Noda Beyehudah disagrees and maintains that if without the prohibition of chametz, it would not be in the Jew’s possession, we do not say that the Torah treats it as if it is in his possession.

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