May 28, 2024
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Concrete Steps: Bava Metzia, Daf 49

The Sanzer Rebbe lost his wife and all his children in WW II. He would subsequently go on to remarry and build a new life and legacy in Netanya, Israel. Prior to the war, his son was engaged to the daughter of Rav Maizel. However, as the Holocaust began, the Rebbe decided that it would be best to wait until things calmed down. Tragically, life didn’t calm down.

After the war, the Sanzer Rebbe crossed paths with Rav Maizel, and asked him how his daughter was. “She made it,” he replied.

“How about your son?”

“Sadly, he was murdered,” the Rebbe replied. “Do you know my greatest regret? That I pushed off the wedding of our children…”

***

Today’s daf discusses personal appropriation of goods entrusted to a guardian for safekeeping. Usually, a guardian would be absolved from liability for unanticipated mishaps, such as theft of the item. However, if he uses the item for his own needs, he becomes liable for any damage or loss. How about if he indicated his intention to misuse the item? Would that engender an assumption of liability?

החושב לשלוח יד בפקדון בית שמאי אומרים חייב ובית הלל אומרים אינו חייב עד שישלח בו יד שנאמר אם לא שלח ידו במלאכת רעהו
תוספות
החושב לשלוח יד—הך מחשבה הוי דבור כדיליף מעל כל דבר וכן מחשבת פגול נמי הוי בדבור ולא בלב

One who intends to personally appropriate an item entrusted to his care, Beis Shammai says: He is liable to pay for any damage to the item, and Beis Hillel says: He is liable only if he actually appropriates the item for his personal use, as it is stated, “Whether he has personally appropriated his neighbor’s property.”

Tosfos: One who intends to personally appropriate—This implies a verbal statement of intent.

***

The Almighty created the universe in equilibrium. Just like misappropriation requires a verbal statement, the Radvaz notes that any holy designation requires a verbal statement of intentionality, such as the writing of a Sefer Torah, tefillin, and mezuzos. “Speech has a tremendous effect,” he writes, “therefore when engaged in any matters requiring intent, it is good and proper to verbally articulate that one is performing the action with intent.”

We find a similar discussion regarding the utterance of l’shem yichud, observes the Aliba d’Hilchesa. Prior to performing a mitzvah, many have the custom to declare that they are about to do a mitzvah “for the sake of unifying God and His Divine presence.” Here’s the meaning of that prayer: In our current state of being, we do not perceive Hashem in the world around us. At best, we appreciate an emanation of the Divine glory, variously called, “shem, kevod, malchuso”—the “name,” the “glory” of “His kingdom.” Thrice daily, we conclude our prayers with the Aleinu, declaring, “for royalty is Yours (alone) and eternally You shall reign with glory, as it is written in your Torah: ‘God will reign eternally,’ and it says, ‘And God will be King upon all the Earth, on that day, Hashem will be one and His name one.’”

Why is l’shem yichud recited before a mitzvah? Every mitzvah brings the world one step closer to perfection, explains the Sefas Emes. A person should contemplate that goal when he performs a mitzvah. The purpose of l’shem yichud is to remind us why we’re doing the mitzvah. The verbal declaration serves as a statement of intentionality. As the Radvaz says, “Speech has a tremendous effect… therefore when engaged in any matters requiring intent, it is good and proper to verbally articulate that one is performing the action with intent.” Nevertheless, the Sefas Emes emphasizes, it is paramount to remember that maintaining kavanah for the mitzvah is key to its effective performance—the utterance of l’shem yichud is merely a catalyst for the kavanah.

Chasidim have a popular saying, “Tracht gut, vet zayn gut,” which basically means: Think positively and everything will work out for the best. The field of positive psychology certainly supports this approach. What emerges from our discussion, however, is that sometimes it’s not enough just to think positively. Verbalizing those positive cues, telling yourself out loud that life is great and that you are on the path leading to great accomplishments, reinforces and sustains those beliefs, transforming the mind into a conduit for success.

The soul, via the medium of the body, has three modes of expression: thought, speech and action. Thought is the most spiritual faculty, and as one transitions to speech and action, the activity becomes more tangible and physically manifested. Physical performance of mitzvos transforms the physical world. Consequently, verbalizing or actioning a thought cements its status in the material, physical realm. The first example we encounter each day is the recitation of Modeh Ani. The “prayer” is actually not a prayer at all. There’s no mention of God’s name. It’s a recognition to mentally acknowledge as you awaken to a new day. By verbalizing that acknowledgement, you strengthen its impact on your life. Not to mention, the act of speaking entails additional physical effort, helping your body and soul return to the realm of active physical alertness.

Why did the Sanzer Rebbe regret delaying the wedding? Tragically, his son perished in the Shoah! Because creating that new reality by drawing the thought down into the realms of speech and action would have concretized the union in this physical world, thus infusing it with enduring material strength and longevity. Perhaps what the Rebbe meant was: Who knows? If they’d held the wedding, maybe the merit of that physical mitzvah would have sustained and protected his son from the genocidal clutches of the Nazis.

Following the October 7 Hamas massacre, social media was flooded with incredible stories of IDF soldiers getting married. And the preeminent halachic authority Rav Asher Weiss was inundated with unprecedented shailos, such as, “May the family still gather with the bride for sheva brachos if her new husband is not present because he has returned to the battlefield?”

Why are soldiers getting married in such uncertain times? Because they believe wholeheartedly that Heaven will protect them. But more importantly, they want to cement their commitment, transforming it from thought to speech and action. Taking concrete physical steps is how that commitment is cemented and eternalized.

Today, we are witnessing a level of faith never before seen in the history of our people. Not only does it surpass the path taken by the Sanzer Rebbe, who chose to delay the wedding, but it completely transcends and upends the approach and attitude of the great King David’s army. His soldiers would divorce their wives before heading out to war, so fearful were they that they would not return! The tzaddikim fighting for Israel in our generation, by contrast, believe that getting married will ensure their safe and imminent return home.

Don’t just tracht gut, speak it and do it. You have the power to make it a reality. May you never stop telling yourself, loud and clear, how prosperous and successful you are destined to be, physically, materially and spiritually!


Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He teaches at Touro University’s Lander Colleges and his Center for Torah Values combats Christian anti-Zionism.

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