Beit Midrash

  • Mishna and Talmud
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To dedicate this lesson

The Torah study is dedicatedin the memory of

R. Avraham ben-tziyon ben shabtai

A Spiritual Introduction to Seder Nezikim (Order of Damages)

As is our custom before beginning to learn a new tractate, we concentrate on the spiritual aspect that lies behind that tractate. The new tractate we will be learning this time is - Seder Nizikim.


Rabbi Zalman Baruch Melamed

Cheshvan 5762
The Six Orders of the Mishneh-the Foundation for Worshipping Hashem
Those Who Desire to be Righteous Should Follow the Laws of Nizikim
Fear and Wisdom
Repentance and Monetary Laws

The Six Orders of the Mishneh-the Foundation for Worshipping Hashem
In the Gemarah Shabbat (page 31), "Resh Lakish states that knowledge is Seder Taharot and even awe of Hashem is his treasure." Rashi comments that "The salvation of Hashem is Seder Nizikim- i.e. that in order to save another person, one needs to warn him to act in a way that will prevent him from having monetary debts." In other words, the goal of Seder Nizikim is to teach monetary obligations based on specific damages in order to prevent people from causing damage to another person or his property.

The Gemarah in Shabbat tractate continues: "Rava states that at the time of the ultimate judgment in the world to come one is asked the following: Were you honest in your business dealings? Did you set aside regular time to study Torah? Did you fulfill the mitzvah of procreation? Did you anticipate the ultimate redemption? Did you delve into wisdom? Did you deduce from one idea from another? Even the most revering of Hashem this is his treasure."

The Mahral in his masterpiece Nativ Haira (Perek 4) explains that the questions that are asked in the beginning are the foundation of one’s personality. Questions such as if the person was careful not to take anything that did not belong to him, or if is depended on himself and not on others, and did he make a livelihood from his own efforts? In other words, was the person honest in his business dealings? The second question is asking whether the person had a regular connection to the Torah and if his life was spiritually intact. The connection to Torah is permanent and consistent, with regular intervals of Torah learning.

Was this person only involved with himself, an egoist, or did he include himself in the concerns of the nation and the world and the future generations. Did he worry about his own self-gratification or did he try to contribute to the continuation of the human race? The fourth question of whether he anticipated the ultimate salvation is asking if he was satisfied with the present situation or if he strived for a better future.

Did you delve into wisdom and understand and deduce one idea from another is relating to whether he expanded and deepened his spiritual strength. In summation, the questions concentrate on whether one has built personal foundations necessary for worshipping of Hashem and fulfilling the Mitzvot such as; independence, regularity, belonging to the nation as a whole, idealism, depth, and spiritual expansion.

Seder Nizikim is the order of salvation: the anticipation of a personal as well as general salvation, the anticipation to escape all sorrow and injury. Just as there are material damages and injuries, so too are there spiritual damages and injuries. The expectation for salvation is basically the desire and goal to escape injuries and damages until the arrival of the complete redemption and salvation.

Those Who Desire to be Righteous Should Follow the Laws of Nizikim
"Rabbi Yehuda said anyone who wants to be righteous should follow the laws of Nizikim, whereas Rabba said he should follow the Ethics of Our Fathers, and others say words of blessings will make him a righteous man." (Baba Kama 30,b). It is understandable that the words of the Ethics of Our Fathers bring one to the position of a righteous man. The words of the blessings do the same, for when one makes a blessing before performing mitzvahs or before each meal, he constantly internalizes and recognizes the Master of the Universe and sanctifies his actions for the sake of heaven. However, according to the Gemarah, one who desires to be righteous should follow the laws of Nizikim. This needs to be clarified. Being careful not to damage or hurt another person or his belongings is a basic moral obligation and one who tries to prevent such destruction or harm may not necessarily be deemed a righteous person.

The Maharal, in his explanation of the tractate Baba Kama, explains that one who is careful not to hurt another’s property or person is on a higher level than one who performs acts of kindness to others. Following the laws of Nizikim does not mean only preventing injury to one's fellow man, but also involves preventing damage to another’s property or person from other harmful sources. One who sees an obstacle in the public domain and removes it in order to prevent injury to another person is an example of this. How can these deeds be considered on a higher level than doing acts of kindness for others? With acts of kindness the person usually knows that a good deed was performed on his behalf and often feels obligated to return the kindness, but when one protects a friend or his property from harm, that friend does not receive anything concrete and does not necessarily know what has been done for him and, therefore, does not feel any obligation to the other. Because this is an act that doesn't involve receiving something in return or any type of compensation, it is within the scope of true righteousness. One does not feel the same self-satisfaction by preventing damage as he does when performing a concrete act of kindness. Therefore there is a differentiation between the two types of righteous acts.

Pirkei Avot (Perek 2, Mishne 10) relates that "There were five students of Rabbi Yochanan Ben Zakkai... Rabbi Yosi Hacohen was righteous" and afterwards it is written that "Rabbi Yosi Hacohen says that your friend’s money should be just as valuable as your own." Here also we learn that the character trait of righteousness demands of one to be concerned about another’s property with the same concern as if it was his. This is the meaning of "Follow the laws of Nizikim" –to watch out for one's friend and make sure that no harm comes to him.

Fear and Wisdom
According to the Gemarah in Shabbat, the first step toward wisdom is fear of Hashem. "Rava bar Rav Huna said that any man that has learned Torah and does not possess awe of Hashem is like a treasurer who has received the keys to the internal door but does not have the key to the outer door." The awe of Hashem is like the outer door through which one progresses to enter inside. Without this awe of Hashem it is impossible to be meritous in Torah.

The Gemarah in Yoma (daf 72,b) contrasts this idea by stating the following "Rabbi Yanai would say it is a pity for one that does not have a courtyard, but an opening could be made for it." Rashi explains that the Torah is the gate through which awe of Hashem enters. This seems, however, to contradict the idea that awe of Hashem is the gate to Torah. This is not really a contradiction. Each of the ideas compliments and completes each other. Without basic awe of Hashem, it is impossible to enter the world of Torah, and from within the Torah one can attain an elevated level of awe of Hashem. Thus, we understand the meaning behind of the Ethics of Our Fathers "If there is no awe of Hashem there is no wisdom and if there is no wisdom there is no awe."

One's awe of Hashem should also spread to awe of the wise sages. Rabbi Akiva states in his explanation of the Torah that one should be in awe not only of Hashem but also of those who are truly learned in Torah and who subjugate their will to the will of Hashem.

Upon seeing a wise person amongst all the nations, the sages would give him this blessing: "Blessed be he that has given wisdom to flesh and blood." The blessing for a wise person amongst the people of nation of Israel would receive a different blessing: "Blessed be he that has dispensed of his wisdom to those who are in awe of him." There is a great difference between the two Hebrew words for give (natan) and distribute (hilek)- the word hilek means as if that Hashem has divided his wisdom into parts and has distributed them to others. Thus the wisdom the sages of Israel possess is the wisdom of Hashem.

Repentance and Monetary Laws
Rav Kook, in his book Orot Hatshuva (Perek 13, Piska 5) wrote that the way to the best and most basic repentance Is through learning and striving to fully understand the monetary laws and statues between one man and another, which is found in Chosen Mishpat. "This removes all of one's obstacles of the heart in life and stands Hashem’s justice on its faithful pedestal." The Rav wrote that one path to repentance is to study in breadth, as well as in depth, the laws of Nizikim. Through this knowledge one attains the understanding of how Hashem wants him to behave in this world, and his heart is thereby awakened to worship Him. In footnote number six of Orot Hatshuva, Rav Tzvi Yehuda Kook related the story of Rabbi Zundel Salant (Rabbi Yisrael Salant's Rabbi and the student of Rabbi Chaim from Volozyin) who said repeatedly that it would be impossible for one who is in awe of Hashem if he did not study in depth Chosen Mishpat, because he would not be careful in laws of Nizikim if he lacks the basic knowledge of good character traits and morality that are derived from the Torah.

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