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26 Shevat 5760 - February 2, 2000 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








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The Importance of the Study of Seder Nezikin and the Halochos of Monetary Matters

by Rabbi Nosson Zeev Grossman

This week we read parshas Mishpotim, that discusses many of the basic laws that govern the business of society. This essay discusses the importance of these laws, and their place in Torah and a Torah society.

A Study That Develops Intelligence

"Someone who wants to become wise should study dinei momonos' (Bovo Basra 175b). This is because monetary halochos are logical laws that HaKodosh Boruch Hu has given us to use when dealing with others. Man understands them, so their study is beneficial for his intellectual development and it makes him wise" (Maran the Chofetz Chaim zt'l, in a note to his introduction to Torah Or.)

Dinei Momonos -- An Everlasting Spring, More Desirable Than Gold and Sweeter Than Honey

"[These are the mishpotim] that you shall set before them' (Shemos 21:1) -- Rashi explains in several places that mishpotim are logically understandable laws. Hashem informed us that He will cause [the Jews] to agree to His will by making the reasons for the Torah's mitzvos pleasing and palatable. This is what the Torah emphasizes to us by saying "that you shall set before them.'

"The Torah has, in these mitzvos in particular, told us [that they should be pleasing and reasonable]. R' Yishmoel said, Someone who wants to become wise should study dinei momonos, since there is no corner of the Torah greater than they, and they are like an everlasting spring.' These mitzvos are all based on wisdom and reasoning, and are learned by comparing one to the other. They are unlike other mitzvos, about which Chazal write (Chulin 48b), `You cannot compare treifos to each other' and hilchos mo'eid are barren and you cannot learn one from the other' (Mo'eid Koton 12a). [In those cases the underlying reasoning is obscure and one cannot make reliable comparisons or analogies since he cannot be sure that he has taken all factors into account.]

"This is the meaning of what Dovid Hamelech o'h wrote (Tehillim 19:10): `The mishpotim of Hashem are true and are righteous altogether' -- they are inferred one from the other and prove each other. This is what R' Yishmoel meant by calling dinei momonos a "corner" of the Torah -- they are joined together like corners joining two walls.

"The mishpotim are an everlasting spring because their reasons originate from the root of wisdom, that flows like an everlasting spring. Likewise the posuk reads, `The mishpotim of Hashem are true . . . and are more desirable than gold and even much fine gold, and sweeter than honey and honeycomb' (v. 11). The posuk is praising the Torah's mishpotim. Craving gold and diamonds is a purposeless pursuit. The more a person has of them the more his desire for them increases, as is written, `Someone who loves money will not be satisfied by money' (Koheles 5:9). He cannot enjoy such things, because his desire for them has intensified in the meantime. A person craves to eat honey and honeycomb because of their sweetness, but not when he is sated with them, as the posuk says (Mishlei 27:7), `A sated soul loathes [even] a honeycomb.'

"Dovid compares Hashem's mishpotim to both gold and fine gold, since when a person studies more of the Torah's mishpotim his desire for them increases until it becomes as great as an everlasting spring. Moreover the mishpotim are likened to honey and honeycomb in that they are even sweeter and more pleasurable to one's palate than these things" (Ponim Yofos on the Torah by the Haflo'oh, parshas Mishpotim.)

Studying the Dinim of Monetary Matters Causes One to be Careful About Them

"Praised be Hashem! It seems that in our locality the issurim of neveilos and treifos and the like are implanted in Jewish souls. No one needs to force himself and to overcome his desires in order to distance himself from those prohibited things, since they are anyway repulsive to him. No butcher would, cholila, even think of being negligent about asking a moreh tzedek whether there is any doubt of a treifah in an animal's internal organs, even though he might, because of this, suffer a colossal financial loss. He simply fears Heaven, so he is accustomed to acting in a way that characterizes this fear. Cholila for him to do such a wicked thing as to cause Jews to sin.

"Nonetheless, due to our many sins, when business deals are involved, the opposite is true. Most people will not ask a question of something being gezel or oshek until someone lodges monetary claims against them. There are those who, even after such a demand, will carry out, or try to carry out, deceptive schemes. Yet according to the Torah and its specific details the two areas [treifos and gezel] are equal, being both negative mitzvos: `You shall not eat treifah meat in the field,' `You shall not eat any neveilah,' `You shall not oppress another person,' `You shall not steal,' and so on.

"Just as in the Jewish nefesh all sorts of treifos are equal, and a person keeps far away from anything the Torah rules is treifah and follows what the Torah says, so is it true in monetary matters. Anything that according to the Torah belongs to another person is gezel and a person transgresses `You shall not steal.'

"We, however, see, due to our many sins, that even Torah scholars and sometimes even G-d-fearing people are not sufficiently careful about this negative mitzvah, for which Yom Kippur and death together do not atone. Indeed, if a person devotes himself to in-depth study of the halochos pertaining to monetary matters, the gemora and poskim, each person according to his abilities, and especially if he focuses on [the fact of] their being like [any other] issur and heter, becoming fully aware that he must beware of gezel (and even if initially he does not observe them because of a person's strong innate desire to sin, since their observance is remote from the popular habit), how great a power this [study] has to gradually implant an enormous kinyan in his nefesh. Eventually questions of issur and heter and questions concerning money will be equal for him" (Igeres Hamussar of Rabbenu Yisroel of Salant zt'l.)

Character Improvement is Useless Without Studying Monetary Halochos

"Those who have perfected themselves in their youth through studying how to improve their middos, but have not studied halochos of monetary matters and have not acquired the love of mishpat, are more likely to contact the sickness of perverting din than regular people, even though they never studied the mussar of yirah and middos. The reason is that the yetzer hora puts haughtiness and assertiveness in the heart of a person while he is perfecting himself in his middos. He looks at common people with arrogance, as if he is much above them. Anything he does seems to him the most generous and refined thing to do. He will laugh at someone who suspects him of doing some monetary injustice: `Is not everything I do always more than the din requires and as forthright as can be? Being careful about mishpat was not meant for me. It is for people who love themselves, whose deeds are imperfect and all of whose inclinations are towards theft. It was not meant for those who toil over acquiring yirah and perfecting themselves.'

"In addition, someone who suspects him of injustice is as if he is disgracing the chachomim and profaning Heaven's honor, cholila.

"Nonetheless, R' Yisroel zt'l revealed to us in his letter that although a person's intent can be proper, sometimes what he does can be altogether corrupt. Someone who did not toil over studying the halocho intensively will not be aware of its value and will ignore its ways. He will be lacking the main principle of avodas Hashem: [Hashem] commanded us to observe the details of halocho and love them. If a person lacks in mishpat, what has he acquired?

"Just as it is impossible to observe Shabbos without knowing its halochos, just as it is impossible to avoid forbidden food without knowing what is ossur and what is muttar, likewise it is impossible to beware of gezel and chomos without studying the halochos concerning interrelations between people. Doubtless someone who has never studied this or interested himself in knowing it deeply, steals and robs others all the time without even knowing what he is doing. What good is his perfecting his middos, about which he is so proud, when his hands are continually filthy with gezel and chomos?" (Emunah Ubitochon of the Chazon Ish zt'l)

My Torah and My Mishpat

"In my opinion this can be explained with the aid of a general introduction. All of the dinim of monetary matters (which are mishpotim -- based on reasoning), regarding relations between people, are different from other mitzvos of the Torah. Concerning all other mitzvos the Torah warned us to obey positive and negative mitzvos and we fulfill them because of our obligation to do so.

"With the dinim of monetary affairs the case is different. Before we must fulfill Hashem's mitzvah to pay or return money, a monetary obligation must be present. Even when a child, who is not obligated to do the mitzvos, steals, the beis din must rescue the oppressed person and force the child to return what he has stolen to its rightful owner.

"Another basic principle is that when we are discussing what right or kinyan a person has to a certain object or whether a certain sum of money is meshubad to him, we are not talking about observing any mitzvah but rather about to whom it belongs in reality, and who is fitting, according to the Torah, to keep that object.

"I believe that a person's obligation to fulfill monetary obligations is a logically comprehensible din which concerns whether or not a person is culpable to pay a certain sum out of his possessions. This obligation is a mishpat, and the person is obliged to pay even without there being a mitzvah of the Torah involved. It is just like the case of the type of kinyonim and the laws of ownership of objects: this is an obligation based on mishpat, not dependent upon the Torah's injunction to us, `You shall not steal,' as we explained above.

"It is altogether impossible to say that our determination that an object belongs to Reuven is because Shimon is commanded by the Torah not to steal from him. It is just the opposite: the issur of gezel applies after the parameters of ownership have been decided.

"Likewise it seems that the mitzvah of paying back a debt is after it has been decided according to the din that it is a mishpat. If Reuben is obligated to pay money because of the mishpat, then the Torah added a warning and a mitzvah to be careful to pay his obligation.

"Although at first glance it seems amazing to conceive of a person being forced or obligated to do something without the command and injunction of the Torah still, when we think deeply about this matter, we can understand it. Even the obligation to serve Hashem and fulfill His will is based on reason and logical recognition. Likewise the obligation and shibud of money is an obligation based on the reasoning that we are obligated to do this according to the rules of kinyonim or that the Torah obligated us, as in the case of damages, pidyon haben, and the like" (Sha'arei Yosher of Maran R' Shimon Shkop zt'l, sha'ar 5, chap. 1-2.)

Monetary Halochos -- An Answer to Questions in Every Generation

"These two -- wisdom and knowledge -- can only be acquired through deep searching among the roots of the halochos. They are the vital fuel of active Jewish life and the conclusive result of the wealth of the lofty ideals hidden in them. This is because `the beauty of the Torah is wisdom' (Derech Eretz Zuta). This is what R' Yishmoel taught us: `Someone who wants to become wise,' and ascend higher and higher up `the ladder set in the earth and its top reaching heavenward,' until he reaches the peak of wisdom and knowledge through his spiritual stamina, and enters into a realm of kedusha and tohoroh concepts, he should engage in dinei momonos.' They are imperative if one wants to gain true wisdom. The faith of your times will be strength of salvations (yeshu'os), wisdom and knowledge' (Yeshaya 33:6). Yeshu'os is seder Nezikin. A person gains eternal salvation through it. Through studying the dinim of momonos in seder Nezikin, one reaches the pinnacle for which he was created. There is no greater perfection than reaching this goal.

"`R' Yishmoel said, Someone who wants to become wise should engage in dinei momonos, since . . . they are like an everlasting spring.' Man's life is also a continuously flowing spring of varied acts and inventions. Every discovery of something that never previously existed in our world demands a new revelation in our Holy Torah, so that we can draw guidance from its depths. We must learn from it how to deal with everything underneath the sun in every generation, since the halochos of the Torah and the way the world runs, complement each other. Both of them are the will of Higher Wisdom and both were given from one Shepherd.

"Much indeed has changed in civilization from the time we received the Torah on Mount Sinai until today. New inventions that men have made in the last hundred years, employing the hidden powers of [the world's] treasury -- prepared by HaKodosh Boruch Hu in the hidden chests of nature in His world -- have completely changed the way people act. Trains, steam ships, electricity, telegraph, telephone, and aviation have changed man's style of life both in agriculture and industry. Business has also changed its old ways and has paved new paths: farming produce and factories pass from one owner to another on the basis of agreements between groups of stockholders, without the knowledge of those who have founded it. All transactions take place with money that governments issue abundantly according to the quantity of silver and gold they have in their treasuries. All of these changes have created new problems in judging monetary matters, and each practical step needs a chok and mishpat to enable it to endure and reach fruition on a dependable basis.

"In the dinei momonos of the Jewish Torah that were given to us by `Him Who saw all generations from the beginning,' are solutions for all the questions occurring in every generation and every period. This includes problems arising because of changes in this dynamic world, both through new inventions and the jealousy of one nation for another.

"Someone who says that the collection of dinim in the Shulchan Oruch cannot bring order to our life according to the principle of Hebrew mishpat alone, says so only because his contact with dinei momonos was only by way of comparing every concept in Toras Yisroel to those similar to it in the Roman law books and the like. He has not studied Torah by analyzing and discerning [its halochos] from their roots, through which the principle is always and everywhere revealed in every one of [the halocho's] details.

"Just as there is nothing new in nature, which only reveals the powers that HaKodosh Boruch Hu implanted in His world during the six days of the creation, so there is nothing new in the Torah. Even what a veteran talmid will innovate in the future is included in the Torah's ancient brilliance.

"It is customary that a flesh-and-blood king does not built a castle by himself but with the services of a craftsman. The craftsman does not build it by himself but uses plans indicating how he should make the larger and smaller rooms. So HaKodosh Boruch Hu `looked in the Torah and created the world' (Bereishis Rabbah). The mishpat of the whole world, extending throughout all its chains of events, through all that has happened in every time and place, is engraved in the Torah's letters, through which the world's program was prepared before it was created. In it was included the thoughts and feelings of mankind throughout all generations, as many as the days of Heaven over the earth.

"Seder Nezikin has been completely analyzed and has been throughout history. It has enlarged its borders greatly. In the years of Rav Yehuda `everyone studied Nezikin' (Brochos 20). Both when we were living on our own land and in the Diaspora the dinei momonos in the seder of the gemoras were included in the basic Hebrew laws in all botei din throughout the Jewish Nation. After all this, if a person asks you what a new sefer on Nezikin will give us or add to us, since people have no doubt already heard these chidushim and have already discussed this a long time ago -- do not listen to someone who says the Ocean of Talmud reaches only to a certain mark. Do not believe someone who makes an everlasting spring into a spring whose waters have stopped and which has been closed up and sealed. `There is no sefer that does not teach you something' (the Ravad in his hasogos to Hilchos Megilla VeChanukah, chap. 2). This includes even those halochos that everyone seems to know. Someone whose heart has feelings, whose eyes are opened, and whose ears are attentive, will hear the clamor of living water bubbling up.

"How significant is the way the Vilna Gaon zt'l explained the tefillah that R' Meir was accustomed to say, `to be assiduous in studying My Torah' (Brochos 17). The Gaon explained, each word in the Torah is like `a door that opens into several rooms.' Just as in the material world one revelation causes another one to appear, so in Toras Yisroel each commandment opens ways to another commandment and one line leads to a second" (Maran R' Yechezkel Abramsky zt'l in his introduction to Tosefta Bovo Kama.)

The Importance of Studying Nezikin With Small Children

It is well known that the custom has always been that young children concentrate on studying the gemoras of Nezikin. At an Agudath Israel of America Convention several years ago which dealt with the topic of the application of Torah Study To Torah Life, HaRav Reuven Feinstein presented an instructive and meaningful anecdote from the life of his father Maran HaRav Moshe Feinstein zt'l.

During the first years when Torah institutions were being established in the U.S.A., a group of parents requested not to start studying gemora with Bovo Kama, Bovo Metzia, or Bovo Basra as was customary, but to favor Brochos, in which the daily halochos such as tefillah, krias Shema, and birchos hanehenin are taught.

Maran HaRav Moshe Feinstein heard about this request and when he spoke at a chinuch conference he strongly opposed the change proposed by the parents. "We must be aware," he said, "that if children start to study with Eilu Metziyos or HaMafkid, that is not by accident. This was the minhag Yisroel for generations and should not be changed."

R' Moshe also told the reason for this tradition. "First, studying the halochos of Choshen Mishpat will permeate the child's heart with the knowledge that the Torah is not only mitzvos done in the shul. The Torah is relevant to all of man's life and even tells him how he should act in the street, with others, and in business, when he finds some lost object, when he is asked to watch something, or when he asks about something. The Torah teaches us the way we should act in every situation, not only in matters of tefillah and the like. Another reason is that studying matters of Nezikin and dinei momonos, including studying certain dapim and repeatedly reviewing them, will implant in the child's subconscious that he must be careful with someone else's money. He will come to realize that he should not touch something that is not his, not feel that the world is hefker or that he can pick up something he finds on the way, and the like. The study of these chapters gives him the deep feeling that all monetary matters need to be prudently and basically analyzed."

HaRav Reuven Feinstein added that sometimes he sees young children who mistakenly damage other people's possessions and excuse themselves by claiming they did it accidentally, although this is not halachically correct, since a "person is always liable for what he does." There are other similar mistakes. When he checked about these talmidim he found out that they had not started studying gemora with Nezikin but rather with Seder Mo'eid or other sedorim. The basic correct concepts of dinei momonos and being careful with others' money was not implanted within them.

HaRav Moshe Feinstein added another interesting point. He said that he greatly feared changing the way of studying gemora by beginning gemora study with Brochos. The young child studies and reviews the halochos of krias Shema and tefillah, matters applying to positive mitzvos of the Torah and derabonon, and later goes to his neighborhood shul. In shul he sees his father and other Jews davening after the permitted time, and other Jews not being careful about these dinim, as unfortunately happens frequently. When the young child encounters such an apparent contradiction to what he has studied in detail he is liable to internalize a dangerous diagnosis: there is a difference between a halocho and what you actually have to do. It is as if "it isn't so terrible if you don't do every single thing." This viewpoint will later on ruin his outlook for his whole life, since "once a mistake creeps in it remains."

The above teaches us that the Jewish minhagim about what to study in the chadorim and yeshivos kedoshos have deep roots. They are based on significant reasons (only part of which may be known to us). We should therefore beware and warn others not to change the accustomed way of studying Torah, even if parents think that it is possible to study in a more "efficient" way. Since the above is true even about what gemora to study, how much more do we have to rebut any attempt to found a new type of "yeshiva" that includes in its agenda alien combinations.

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