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3 Adar 5764 - February 25, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly









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Opinion & Comment
Why People Should Study Bovo Kammo

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

Part II

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 in particular.

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 causes damages.

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 person's actions?

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 physically.

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" (Bereishis 20:11).

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.

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