May these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel Ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Bava Metzia 96 and 97. These are some highlights.
Bava Metzia 96: The head of the co-op board borrowed a ladder. It was stolen. Did he have to pay?
Reuven was the head of the co-op board. A light bulb in the building entrance went out. He wanted to repair it. He asked Shimon, who lived on the first floor, if he could borrow his ladder. Shimon graciously gave him the ladder. Reuven realized that he needed another piece for the repair. He left to go to the store to get the piece. When he returned the ladder was gone. It had been stolen. Did he need to give Shimon a replacement ladder? He had been a borrower. Was he responsible for theft?
Our Gemara deals with partners who borrow and partners who lend. What is the status of the co-op board president?
Rav Zilberstein ruled that Reuven was not a borrower. A shoel has great liability for he gets all the benefit and the owner of the item has no gain. However, in our case, Shimon has a gain. When the light will be changed, he too will gain. Therefore, the co-op board president was not a shoel. However, he was a paid watchman. He gained from the ladder he was watching. Therefore, he was responsible for an incidence of theft. However, he was representing all the residents when he borrowed the ladder. If he was not negligent, they were all responsible for the theft; he could take funds from the building and with them purchase the replacement ladder for Shimon (Chashukei Chemed).
Bava Metzia 97: A scholar refused to teach a student. Did he need to ask the student to forgive him on Erev Yom Kippur?
A Torah teacher was once approached by a student who asked him for help. The student was trying to understand a paragraph in the Code of Jewish Law. He asked the teacher to explain it to him. The teacher said, “Work at it. Try hard to figure it out yourself. That is the best way to learn.” The student was upset and walked off. Several months later, the eve of the Day of Atonement arrived. Shulchan Aruch rules that sins between man and man are not forgiven by Yom Kippur. The offender must mollify the person he hurt. He must apologize to gain forgiveness. The teacher approached Rav Zilberstein. Did he need to apologize to the student? Had he committed a sin between man and man when he had refused to teach? He regretted his actions. He had apologized to the Almighty. Was that insufficient? Did he still have to apologize to the man he had turned down?
Rav Elyashiv ruled that a conversation in our Gemara resolved this question.
Our Gemara discusses the law of ba’alav imo. If I borrow an item, but before that—or simultaneously with the borrowing—I had the owner of the item in my employ, then I would have no liability if the item was stolen or ruined. Rava’s students told him, “You are in our employ. You are teaching us. If we would borrow an item from you, the law of ba’alav imo would be triggered. We would not have to pay if it was stolen.” Rava responded with fury. “Are you trying to deny me of my financial rights?! You are wrong. I do not work for you. You are the ones working for me! You cannot force me to teach a particular subject. I, though, can choose to switch our topic to a different tractate so that the lesson will help me remember. You are performing a service for me. If I would borrow from you and a theft would occur, I would be the one gaining financially. I would not have to pay you.” The Gemara concludes that both were wrong. During the yoma d’kalah, the thirty days of preparing for a festival, Rava and Torah teachers would be obligated to the students. They would have to teach the laws of the forthcoming festival. However, during the rest of the year, the students were the “employees” of the teacher for he could switch the subject matter he taught as per his wishes.
Rav Elyashiv explained that the dispute between Rava and his students was about the definition of the obligation to teach Torah. It is a mitzvah to teach Torah. Does a service performed because of a mitzvah create a status of ba’alav imo? Our Gemara is teaching that it depends on the nature of the mitzvah. An act obligated because of a mitzvah between man and God would not create a ba’alav imo status. An act obligated by a mitzvah between man and man would render the person obligated to his friend and include him in the ba’alav imo category.
Rava’s students thought that Rava, their teacher, was fulfilling a mitzvah between man and man when he taught them. They therefore felt he was obligated to them and ba’alav imo was applicable. Rava was upset by them. He felt that the teacher had a mitzvah to Heaven to teach. He thought the teacher was not obligated to teach a particular subject to the student. Therefore, if the teacher would lend to the student, ba’alav imo would not be triggered. The Gemara concluded that during the yoma d’kalah, when a particular set of laws had to be conveyed, the teacher was obligated to the students. During the rest of the year, the teacher’s teaching of Torah to his students was a mitzvah between man and God.
In light of this understanding, in our case, if the student had asked the scholar to teach him a paragraph in the laws of kashrut or tefillin, it was a man-God obligation. The teacher had not committed a crime to the student. On Erev Yom Kippur he did not need to apologize to the student. However, if the student had asked him for help with a Pesach law during the month before Passover and he had refused, he had denied the student what he owed the disciple. He would have to apologize to him before Yom Kippur to gain forgiveness. (Chashukei Chemed)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.