Eilu hamishpotim asher tosim lifneihem -- the laws of torts
come right after the Ten Commandments. This two part
article explains why this is so.
The Targum explains that the Ten Commandments mean
not only that we must not murder and steal, but that we as a
society must not allow murders and thieves to live among us.
Their presence corrupts. The traditional Torah education of
youth puts learning laws of Nezikin at the beginning.
HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt"l explained the importance of
this. First, studying the halochos of Choshen
Mishpat will teach the child that the Torah is not only
mitzvos done in the shul. The Torah is relevant to all
of man's life. Another reason is that studying these matters
will implant in the child's subconscious that he must be
careful with someone else's money.
The Chazon Ish wrote: When he devotes . . . [himself] . .
. to study the din and the balance of justice . . .
the knowledge gained will serve as a shield . . . against
man's inclination to love robbery, and bequeath to him a love
of justice and the segulah for tzedek that is
more precious that any wealth or money."
The Chazon Ish writes that a person can therefore reach a
proper moral level only when he perfects himself by
intensively studying the sugyos in Shas in
general and the halochos of bein odom lechavero
When he begins to study these subjects, although he will not
immediately reach a lofty level of intensive study, he will
nonetheless attain a moral kinyan in his nefesh
and will be following the right road. "Even if he is not
proficient in all the halochos, his nefesh
possesses humility to mishpat, the realization that
the halochoh is the secret to avodas Hashem,
and that he needs to ask a rov in all matters relevant to
other people" (ibid., 3).
Actually, the Meiri (Brochos 5a) writes on the same
theme. Chazal teach us that if a person sees his
yetzer is gaining control over him he should engage in
Torah study. "He should engage in Torah study" means "the
fulfilling of mitzvos and religious restraints whose
fulfillment and understanding protect him from breaking down
and doing what his nature craves."
Maran the mashgiach of Yeshivas Mir, HaRav Yeruchom
HaLevi Levovitz zt'l, stressed an additional point to
be reflected upon in this matter. Daas Torah cites an
interesting shmuess on parshas Mishpotim
delivered in Yeshivas Mir to the cream of the Torah scholars.
In that shmuess he said: "Now I will reveal to you a
tremendous secret that will actually result in your studying
Torah differently. Just as the Torah of bein odom
laMokom is a direct study of the Creator, and the Torah
and knowledge of Him are inseparable--without yirah
there is no Torah--so too the Torah of bein odom
lechavero is a study of man."
In his talk he quoted Chazal (Yerushalmi Nedorim 30b):
"`And you shall love your fellow man as yourself'
(Vayikra 19:18). R' Akiva says that this is the basic
foundation of the Torah. Ben Azai says, `This is the book of
the generations of man' (Bereishis 5:1) is a great
foundation of the Torah."
R' Yeruchom says that the sublime secret hidden here is that
in no way can there be a Torah of bein odom lechavero
without knowing what man really is. The study of Choshen
Mishpat contains the foundations of understanding man's
nefesh. The whole Torah of bein odom lechavero,
the whole seder of Nezikin, is a mirror
reflecting the essence of man to the student and shows him
how to behave with and towards others. The preparation for
studying Bovo Kammo is thoroughly understanding what
man is, what are his feelings, to what does he strive, and
what bothers him. The talmid studies in depth how much
another person works and exerts himself, how much he takes
pains to buy something, and what are the results when someone
The Mashgiach demonstrated this with a trenchant
moshol. In medical schools, professors teach their
students how to treat people by studying dead bodies,
skeletons, or artificial models of man's internal organs.
Before clarifying any medical question they look at these
aids, at their veins and tendons, and deduce from them how to
cure the case at hand. Everyone easily understands that
without these means it is impossible to study medicine and
even later to perform operations on people.
This must be the same attitude to studying the Torah of
bein odom lechavero. When studying these
sugyos, a person studies "man," the "skeleton" to whom
the dinim of the Torah refer. "When a person does not
understand something in Bovo Kammo, when he has
difficulty in understanding any Tosafos and the like, he
should go and study the `skeleton,' and afterwards he will
grasp the real pshat."
R' Yeruchom cites an example written in parshas
Mishpotim: "If you lend money to any of my people who are
poor among you" (Shemos 22:24). Rashi explains:
"Picture yourself as being a poor person."
This needs to be explained. Why is this necessary? We are
obliged to give loans and do gemilus chesed -- and it
might seem that that is all. But Chazal reveal to us that if
you lend money to a poor person and you want to fulfill the
mitzvah properly, you must study the "skeleton." You must
study what is "chaveircho," your fellow man.
How can a person actually "study" another person if he is not
at all acquainted with him, if he never saw him before in his
life? How can a person know if another is also a "person,"
whether he feels hunger and cold, pain and sorrow? He does
not know him. As long as a person does not know his
"chaveiro" he cannot give a loan properly nor
genuinely do the mitzvah of gemilus chassodim.
Chazal therefore advise us: "Picture yourself as being a poor
person." Portray this to yourself, by using your kochos
hanefesh, just like a surgeon who first studies a
"skeleton." By doing so you will know and feel "who is poor
among you." In this way you will succeed in fulfilling the
mitzvah of giving loans in the proper manner, as a good deed
and as a true and complete chesed.
This is the explanation of Chazal's (Bovo Kammo 30a)
statement: "Someone who wants to be a chossid should
fulfill the dinim of Nezikin." Only when a
person studies the dinim of Nezikin, analyzes
them and fulfills all its halochos, will goodness and
chesed function within him. When we reflect about what
a person is, when we take into consideration what is demanded
from us in our relationships with others and when we
understand man's profound feelings and realize his efforts
and sorrows, then we cannot possibly damage something
belonging to another.
How can we harm another person? How can we speak loshon
hora about another person, cause him pain and embarrass
him, after we have studied in the sugyos of the
gemora about the significance of man's deeds, the
details of the halochos and the restraints on a
We have no greater Torah of chesed than the study of
Nezikin. Chesed and mishpat are actually one.
Each is connected to the other and each obliges the other.
Studying the dinim of Choshen Mishpat
cultivates in a person's heart the sensitivity for another's
money and his honor, the feeling that he should not in the
least harm or deprive him of his rights.
From the lofty heights of our mussar mentors, those
who teach us the ways to acquire purity of nefesh and
how a person should build himself, we are forced to come down
to hard reality. Unfortunately, due to our many sins, we are
living in a period in which most Jewish children were never
privileged to study even one mishnah of Arba Ovos
Nezikin or Eilu metzi'os shelo, ve'eilu chayov
lehachriz. The taste of intensively studying a
sugya of Nezikin and clarifying the different
views among the rishonim and the reasoning of the
acharonim, was denied them in their youth. They never
knew what odom hamazik and momon hamazik are.
They have no inkling of hashovas aveidoh.
A new generation has been born, one which, unlike our
ancestors, has not internalized the importance of being
careful in monetary matters and not harming another person
We do not refer to the tinokos shenishbu who have
absorbed only the heresy they have been taught and who
degrade all that is precious and sacred to us. We are not
talking about them at all. What can one expect from an
"education" that embodies a poison that produces thieves and
murderers? Regarding this the Torah says: "Surely there is no
yiras Elokim in this place and they will slay me"
Even children of families from whom the spark of
emunoh has not been uprooted and who live in a
partially traditional Jewish atmosphere (unfortunately many
children from traditional homes study in state secular
schools) are also likely to be included in the terrifying
statistics on violence among youth. What can a "good home" --
even a home that preaches restraint and demands correct
behavior -- help? And what can "good citizenship lessons"
accomplish if the main support strut is missing?
Torah-observant Jews who hear of the horrible findings and
reports of violence spreading among secular Jews explain this
away to themselves with general statements about the results
of "secular education."
Maran R' Yisroel Salanter, R' Yeruchom Levovitz, and the
Chazon Ish define this differently and indicate the exact
cause: This violence is what happens when children do not
study Bovo Kammo and Bovo Metzia. This is
simply the natural appearance of a generation that never
opened a Rambam in Hilchos Choveil Umazik and never
analyzed a Ketzos HaChoshen.
Click here to view Part I.