Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Theft and Damage
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

An Oily Start


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Av 19 5780
Avi looked eagerly at the assembled crowd, and then back to the door of the men’s section. True, he hadn’t chewed his nails since elementary school, but right now the thought was sorely tempting. Finally, finally, he saw it. A fluffy white pillow, decorated with silver trim. And there, in the center of it all, engulfed in coordinating white footed pants, shirt and cap, was the star of the show. Avi’s first baby!
As the embroidered pillow and its occupant made their way toward the front of the room, the mohel put his hand on Avi’s shoulder. "Avi, I see we have a kos, but I don’t see any wine. Did anyone bring wine to the shul?"
This revelation was more than Avi could take. Avi was way beyond nail biting now. He needed a new outlet. Just then, Avi’s cousin, Dani, walked toward the front of the room. Unfortunately for Dani, that meant he was right in the line of fire.
"Dani!" Avi bellowed. "Don’t you know that you need wine for a brit?! You were supposed to take care of that! Everyone is waiting! Run to my in-law’s house and get some wine. It’s right at the bottom of the basement steps. And hurry!!"
Dani was a little startled, but was too embarrassed by the sudden attention to ask any further questions. He ran down the block, into the house, and down the basement steps. He grabbed the nearest bottle, and headed back to the shul. As surreptitiously as he could, Dani walked down the aisle, between all the waiting guests, placed the bottle on the table, and slunk back to his seat.
The brit proceeded. The kos was handed to the elderly rabbi who had been given the honor of reciting the blessings. Rather than drink the cup, himself, the rabbi handed the cup to Avi. Avi poured eagerly into his mouth, and then began spitting and screaming!
"What is this!? This is disgusting!" he roared, in between audible attempts to cleanse his palate.
One brave guest approached the table, picked up the cup of wine, and gave it a sniff. "It’s motor oil!" he announced. Apparently, Avi’s father-in-law had used an old wine bottle to contain leftover motor oil. He hadn’t thought that anyone would chance upon the bottle left on the basement floor.
The discrete whispering that ensued after that revelation was loud enough to be heard on the sidewalk. Someone kindly offered Avi a cup of water, who smelled it first before taking a drink.
"The baby!" the mohel cried. "I gave the baby two drops of what I thought was wine, during the brit ceremony. Avi, please take the baby to the doctor as soon as you can, and check out if everything is OK!"
Avi, his wife Bracha, and Bracha’s mother, piled into Avi’s car, together with the newborn celebrant, and drove off to the pediatrician. After asking a few questions, and examining the baby, the doctor assured the assembled that the baby had barely ingested any of the oil, and that everything would be fine.
(This is based on a story which appears in Along the Maggid’s Journey, page 118. Rabbi Paysach Krohn, the author of the book, was the mohel in the story.)
Is Dani, the relative who was sent to bring wine, and brought motor oil instead, obligated to reimburse the family for the co-pay given to the pediatrician for this visit?
Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:
Dani acted negligently, and caused harm. However, it was not directly caused harm, rather it was grama (indirectly caused damage). In other words, because he gave the bottle of motor oil to the mohel, who then filled the cup and gave some oil to the baby, the family ultimately had to take the baby to the doctor. The law regarding grama is that the offender is exempt in human court, but is liable for punishment in the Heavenly court.
However, in our case, Dani is not obligated to pay the full co-pay. This is because he was not entirely guilty, for two reasons:
1. He was preoccupied with the fulfillment of the mitzva of bringing wine for the brit. (See Gemara Shabbat 137a, which states that a person who is busy doing a mitzva on Shabbat, and accidentally violates a Shabbat prohibition, is not obligated to bring a chatat (guilt offering). Similarly, see Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 378, 8, which states that a person who is running on erev Shabbat, and accidentally causes damage as a result, is exempt from compensating the damaged party, because it was proper that the offending party was running.)
2. Avi greatly pressured Dani, and did not sufficiently explain to Dani where to find the wine.
Therefore, it appears that, under the rule of Heavenly court, Dani is obligated to pay about a third of the co-pay.
The mohel is exempt from payment, because he had no reason to suspect that the cup contained anything other than wine.
In summary:
Dani is obligated, according to Heavenly court, to pay about a third of the co-pay.

Thanks to Avigail Kirsch for the English version
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