Beit Midrash

  • Torah Portion and Tanach
  • Chukat
To dedicate this lesson
Chukat 5778

At The Shabbat Table


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Tamuz 8 5778
"…and it was that if a snake had bitten a person…" (Bamidbar 21:9)

Lawn and Order

Nachum opened the door to his house, walked into the living room, and sank down into his favorite arm chair. After a full day at work, and a long ride on the train, he was pleased to have a few minutes of quiet, to himself.
Nachum was startled by the sound of someone pounding on the door. "Help! Help!" called a voice from the other side.
Nachum ran over to the door, and was distressed to see his good friend, David, in a state of near panic. Before Nachum could say anything, David blurted out "a car! You have a car don’t you?!" Nachum nodded, and David continued to explain "My little Yosef was bitten by a snake. I think it was poisonous. Can you take us to the hospital?"
Nachum immediately agreed, and grabbed his keys. Soon, Nachum, David and Yosef were seated in the car, and speeding off in the direction of the hospital. They were only a few minute drive from the hospital, but it was a challenging ride, because of the twists and turns in the road. Nachum struggled to drive as fast as he could, and still maintain the lane, as the car navigated the winding path.
The road curved suddenly, yet Nachum sped along, eager to get the sick young boy to the hospital. The three riders was alarmed to feel a sudden impact. Nachum slowed briefly, and realized that he had run over someone’s lawn, and that the impact they had felt was from the car colliding with an array of lawn furniture. Nachum had no time to think. He continued driving, barely daring to breathe until he had reached the doors of the emergency room. David helped Yosef out of the car, and, almost immediately, medical personnel were on hand, assessing the situation.
Nachum breathed a sigh of relief. He turned the car around, and began to drive home. As he drove, he came upon the site of his earlier collision. He was filled with the unpleasant recognition that he might have some obligation to make amends for the mishap. Nachum pulled over to the side of the road, and assessed the damage. All that remained of what had obviously been a well-tended lawn, replete with coordinated lawn furniture, blooming tiger lilies, and decorative lawn ornaments, was a heap of pieces of wood, plastic and ceramic, decorated half-heartedly with detached flower petals.
Embarrassedly, yet determinedly, Nachum walked up to the door of the house which overlooked what was left of the lawn. The cheerful plaque on the door, which had once coordinated with the ill-fated lawn furniture, read "Goldberg." Heart pounding, Nachum knocked on the door. The door soon opened, and Nachum shared his story about the boy with the snake bite, the rush to the hospital, and the destroyed lawn. Mr. Goldberg stepped outside, and needed little convincing that Nachum’s assertion that he had caused damage was, indeed, accurate. "While I understand that you had good intentions, and were, in fact involved in the mitzva of saving a life, it is still your responsibility to reimburse me, fully, for that damage that you caused," Mr. Goldberg insisted.
Is Nachum, in fact, obligated to pay the Goldbergs, despite the fact that he caused damage only as a result of the mitzva in which he was involved? Does the fact that he was involved in saving a life mean that he does not, in fact, owe the Goldbergs any money? (It should be noted that the insurance company did not agree to pay for the damage caused.)
Rabbi Shlomo Zalman Auerbach, zt"l:

The Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat, siman 378, se’if 8) states that a person who was running, and accidentally ran into another person and caused damage, is obligated to pay him. However, if the person was running on Erev Shabbat, even if he caused damage, he is not held liable, because this type of running is permitted, due to the honor of Shabbat. Based on this ruling, it appears that Nachum would not be held liable.
However, the cases are not entirely comparable. This is because running is permitted before Shabbat, because running is not so dangerous. Driving a car very fast, on the other hand, has the potential to cause much greater damage. It is comparable to a person who is running with a bomb which might explode! A person driving a car is required to be much more careful than a person who is running.
Nonetheless, because driving quickly was necessitated due to the need to save a life, Nachum is not liable to pay the Goldbergs. (The same would hold true for an ambulance driver, who is driving quickly, in order to save a life.)
Rabbi Dov Lior, shlita, disagrees. Rabbi Lior is of the opinion that Nachum is obligated to pay. This is because, even if a person must drive quickly, they still must be careful not to run over people or property. Therefore, if a driver causes damage, even while saving a life, he is obligated to pay.
This is true whether the driver is driving a private car, or is the driver of an ambulance. Either way, they would be obligated to pay. (Naturally, if insurance agrees to pay, that is also acceptable, but the bottom line is that the owner of the damaged property should be reimbursed.
In summary:According to Rabbi Auerbach, Nachum is not responsible to pay, because he was correct in driving quickly, while Rabbi Lior holds that Nachum still must pay for the damages he caused.

"This is the Torah (i.e. teaching) of one who dies in a tent…" (Bamidbar 19:14)
The Sages interpret this homiletically to mean that Torah learning will only be retained if the person learning "kills" (i.e. exerts himself greatly) over it.
Ehud was in sixth grade. He loved learning Torah. If one would look for Ehud, in the hour following supper time, one would be sure to find him sitting and learning Mishna. And, just as surely, when the hour ended, one would find Ehud’s mother, insisting that it’s late enough, and that it’s time for Ehud to go to sleep. Ehud’s mother found herself patiently explaining, night after night, that if Ehud would like to be a talmid chacham, he must get enough sleep, so he would grow to be healthy and strong. And, so, night after night, Ehud would reluctantly close his sefer and go to bed.
After a few minutes, Ehud’s mother would come into the room, sit with Ehud as he said shema, kiss him good night, and wish him that he sleep well, with pleasant dreams. After Ehud’s mother left the room, Ehud would wait another minute. Then, he would furtively dig under his pillow, and take out his flashlight. He would switch on the flashlight, and find the Mishna on the shelf. Then, he would quickly duck back under the cover, shine the light on the pages of the Mishna, and continue learning. He would continue learning, under his blanket, until he fell asleep.
One night, after Ehud had been learning in his bed for a while, he was startled, as the blanket was suddenly pulled off his head. Meir, Ehud’s brother, stood over him. "Ehud, what are you doing?!" Meir exclaimed. "If you want to be such a big tzaddik, why are you violating kibbud av v’eim (the mitzva to honor one’s parents)? Mom said that you have to stop learning and go to sleep. You can’t learn now if she told you not to!"
Did Ehud act correctly, by learning at night, despite his mother forbidding it, or was he obligated to listen to her, and go to sleep?
Rabbi Tzvi Rimon, shlita:
On the one hand, it appears that Ehud is allowed to learn under his blanket, even though his mother did not allow it. This is for two reasons:
1) The rabbis cite the words of the Maharik, who states that the primary obligation of kibud av v’eim regards issues which pertain directly to the parent. There is no direct obligation for a child to acquiesce to the wishes if the parent, in areas which relate exclusively to the child, himself.
(ed. note: Obviously, when the wishes of the parent do not contradict performance of a mitzva, and there is no other compelling impediment to fulfilling the parents’ wishes, the child must listen to the parent, even if the wish of the parent is not strictly for the benefit of the parent. See Minchat Asher on Devarim, end of siman 51, as well as Halichot Olam, page 141.)
2) This question relates, specifically to the keeping of a mitzva, and the rabbis rule that if a father instructs his child to do something for the father, and this contradicts the performance of another mitzva, the child must observe the mitzva, despite the wishes of his parents. (See Yechaveh Da’at, which discusses a case in which parents insist that their child leave Israel permanently. Because this would cause indefinite failure to perform the mitzva of living in the land of Israel, Rabbi Ovadia Yosef rules here that the child should disobey his parents, and remain in Israel.)
However, even with the above considerations, it is still important to take into account which child we’re talking about. If this is a child who diligently learns throughout the day, we would be inclined to think that it is allowed for him to stay up late, learning. This was the case with Rabbi Yosef Dov Soloveitchik, who would hide under his blanket and learn the book Minchat Chinuch, and finished the entire sefer before his bar mitzva.
If, on the other hand, we’re talking about a child who is out playing all afternoon, and suddenly, when his mother tells him to go to sleep, he remembers that he wanted to learn, in this case, the child should listen to his mother and go to sleep.

Shabbat Shalom!

Translated from Hebrew by Avigail Kirsch
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