May these words of Torah serve as merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk, a”h.
This week we learned Bava Metzia 81 and 84. These are some highlights.
Bava Metzia 81: A visitor asked, “Can you watch my suitcase?” The yeshiva student answered, “I can, but only for five minutes.” After five minutes the watchman left and the suitcase was stolen. Must he pay?
A man from the United States arrived at the yeshiva building from the airport with stuffed suitcases. He saw a yeshiva student. He asked, “Can you watch my bag for a few minutes while I bring one bag into the dormitory?” The young man replied, “I have a shiur I must attend. I can watch your bag for five minutes only. After that, I must go to the class.” The new arrival said, “Fine.” He dragged his first bag into the dormitory. It took him 15 minutes to put down his bag and return to the front of the building. When he came down, his bag was gone. After five minutes the student had left the bag and ran in to go to his shiur. The bag had been stolen. Was the student liable to pay?
Our Gemara discusses what responsibilities a watchman has when the term of his service ends. It talks about a shoel, borrower. A borrower is usually responsible for all forms of loss. Even in loss due to an ones, an act of God that could not be avoided, the shoel must pay. Our Gemara taught that if a man borrowed an item for 30 days, if the term ended, even though he has not yet returned the item to the owner, he no longer has the responsibilities of a shoel. Since he received a benefit from the owner—he was the borrower who had use of the item without having to pay, he therefore was now a shomer sachar on the item. However, he was not a shoel. If the animal he had borrowed would drop dead after the 30 days of borrowing, he would not have to pay for it. What would be the law with an unpaid watchman? If he had to watch something for a period of time and that time was now past, was he now completely absolved of any responsibility to watch the item?
Machaneh Efraim (Perek 19 of Hilchot Sechirut) dealt with this question. He ruled that one who is an unpaid watchman for a limited period of time, after that period of time is not a watchman at all. According to this, perhaps we can suggest that the yeshiva bochur was exempt. He had said he would only be a watchman for five minutes. Once the five minutes were up he was allowed to leave the item for he was not a watchman on it at all and he should bear no liability.
Alternatively, one might wonder if leaving a suitcase in a busy street, where it will likely be stolen by passersby, is an act of damage and worse than merely not watching.
Rav Zilberstein pointed out that we would not consider the yeshiva student to be a shomer aveida, a watchman on a lost object. The man had left the object there. It was a willful losing, aveida mida’at. The yeshiva student would not be obligated to treat it as a lost object, especially since he had specified that he only intended to watch it for five minutes (Chashukei Chemed).
Bava Metzia 84: When are heavenly messages relevant to Halacha?
Our Gemara relates that at least 18 years passed between the time of R’ Elazar ben R’ Shimon’s death and his burial. During that period, people who were in need of judgment would still visit R’ Elazar ben Shimon’s home to resolve the matter. Each litigant would present his claim and a voice would emerge and declare which person was guilty and who was innocent. In Sefer Devarim, Moshe declared that Torah was no longer in heaven. This teaches that since Moshe’s time, no prophecy can teach a law. If a prophet after Moshe could reveal a law from prophecy, then in the days of Moshe there was still some Torah in heaven. Torah is not in the heavens (Bava Metzia 59b), so how did people resolve their disputes from the Heavenly voice that emerged from the room of the deceased R’ Elazar Ben R’ Shimon?
A similar question was asked about the ruling of many authorities that gentiles do not transmit impurity through a common roof, tumat ohel. In Bava Metzia (114b), Rabbah bar Avuha questioned Eliyahu Hanavi why he was standing in a gentile cemetery. Eliyahu Hanavi answered that halacha follows R’ Shimon ben Yochai, who held that the graves of gentiles do not transmit tumah. How could poskim cite this as proof? A prophet cannot teach law. Torah is not in heaven!
Birkei Yosef suggested that a prophet is permitted to issue a halachic ruling based on his Torah scholarship. A prophet cannot issue a ruling based on prophecy. Therefore, when Eliyahu Hanavi taught that the halacha of the graves of gentiles follows the opinion of R’ Shimon ben Yochai, it was his scholarship that was speaking, not his prophecy.
Birkei Yosef also suggested a principle that could provide an answer for our Gemara. Although a prophet may not reach a halachic conclusion based on prophecy, he may use prophecy to determine facts (לברר ספק במציאות). One example of this principle is found in the Gemara Shabbos (108) which discusses whether it is acceptable to write tefillin on the skin of a fish. The Gemara relates that Eliyahu Hanavi will have to come and inform us whether the זוהמא—spiritual filth—was removed from fish or not. It is not a halachic matter that he will decide; rather, he will clarify a simple fact of whether the זוהמא was removed or not, and that is within the domain of a prophet. Accordingly, one could suggest that in our Gemara the two litigants came to R’ Elazar ben Shimon to determine a fact rather than issue a halachic ruling, and that is the reason it was acceptable (Daf Yomi Digest).
The Student-Rebbe Relationship
Our Gemara relates details about the relationship between R’ Yochanan and Reish Lakish. Reish Lakish was a very close and important student of R’ Yochanan. After Reish Lakish died, R’ Yochanan went mad. The Sages prayed for him and he passed away.
Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz derived a great lesson from this Gemara. A rebbe needs his students and the students need the rebbe. The rebbe lives through his bond with his talmid. A rebbe cannot survive without his talmid. If a student needs to go to exile to a city of refuge, the rebbe must come with him. If a rebbe must flee to a city of refuge, the student must go with him.
Gemara Berachot relates that R’ Yochanan lost 10 of his children in his lifetime. He would carry a bone from his youngest child to comfort people who were in mourning. R’ Yochanan was able to overcome the loss of his child, yet he could not overcome the loss of his student Reish Lakish. A rebbe needs his student. The Sages did not pray that R’ Yochanan overcome his madness. They knew that even were he to recover he would become mad again once he would realize that Reish Lakish was still not alive. A teacher needs his talmidim, for only through them and with them does he live (Daf al Hadaf).
By Rabbi Zev Reichman