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 Batra 88 and 89. These are some highlights.
Bava Batra 88: If a customer lifted an item in the store and then it broke, does he have to pay?
Shu”t Mishneh Halachot (Chelek 14 Siman 216) was asked by a person who had taken an item off the shelf with the intent of purchasing it, and as he was walking to the checkout dropped the item and it broke. Did he still have to pay for the item? Perhaps, since he had not paid for the item yet when he had picked it up he had not yet acquired it and he did not have to pay for the loss, which should be borne by the store owner?
He answered that based on our Gemara the customer must pay. Our Gemara teaches that when an item has a set price, once the customer lifts it he acquires it and must pay if it got lost through an act of oness. Shmuel taught that one who lifts the utensil of the potter in order to make sure that it has no flaws, if the price is set and known for the item, he has acquired the item, and if it then breaks in a manner out of his control he must pay. The Gemara relates a story about a man who went to the butcher. He lifted up a side of an animal. While he was examining it a Roman horseman came by and stole it from his hands. Rav Yeiymar made the customer pay for the chunk of meat. The meat had a set price. His lifting it acquired it. Its loss through a means out of human control was a loss to him and not to the butcher. Shu”t Mishneh Halachot argues that in our days all goods in the stores have set prices. The store owner puts a tag with a price on each item. The customer knows what the item costs. When he lifts it up he acquires it and is responsible for the subsequent loss (Mesivta).
Why do dishonest weights and measures attract enemies?
Our Gemara teaches that the command to have honest weights and measures is very important. The sin of dishonest weights and measures is worse than the sin of illicit marital relations. It is a sin in which the perpetrator harms the masses and he cannot atone for his misbehavior. Rashi in Chumash (Devarim 25:17) teaches that if Jews have dishonest weights and measures the enemies come and attack. After the Torah commands about honest weights and measures it commands about Amalek. Dishonest scales attract Amalek. Why is this so? Why do dishonest weights open us to assault by our enemies?
Maharal in Gur Aryeh (Devarim 25:17) explains: When God made the world He apportioned to each creature a place in existence. Each being has a channel of life that the Almighty has set aside for him. If a store owner has a dishonest scale, he is trying to take from the life that the Almighty allocated to his friend. He is not respecting the boundaries Hashem has set up in the world. When the nation performs this sin, Hashem allows, measure for measure, for the enemies of Israel to disrespect the boundaries of our existence. They then penetrate into the space of the Jewish nation and attack the Jews. Honest weights and measures help preserve and protect Jewish lives (Mesivta).
Bava Batra 89: A blessing for the mitzvah of honest weights and measures?
Our Gemara discusses the Torah obligation for honest weights and measures. The seller of goods must be sure to keep only honest and complete weights and measures. Our Gemara teaches that the court is to appoint officers who will check in on the stores and ensure that the scales, weights and measures are honest. Rambam (Hilchot Sanhedrin) includes this mandate in the mitzvah of appointing judges: “It is a positive command of the Torah to appoint judges and enforcers in each locale and locale due to the verse ‘Shoftim veshotrim titein lecha bechol she’arecha, You shall appoint judges and enforcers in all your gates.’ Shoftim refers to the judges established in the courts who have litigants coming before them, shotrim refers to those with sticks and whips who stand before the judges and patrol the markets and stores to fix the prices and ensure honest weights and measures and to punish for any corruption.” Rambam rules that the appointing of police to ensure honest weights and measures and fair prices is a part of the positive commandment “Shoftim veshotrim titein lecha bechol she’arecha.”
Is there a blessing to recite for this mitzvah?
Talmud Yerushalmi (Berachot 6:1) relates a story about Rav Chagi and Rav Yirmiya. They entered a store early in the morning. Rav Chagi jumped and blessed. Rav Yirmiya told him, “You did well. Every mitzvah needs a blessing.”
The Ba’al Hachareidim taught that Rav Chagi was fulfilling the mitzvah of ensuring honest weights and measures. He was going to the stores to ensure that there were honest weights and measures. He was reciting a blessing over this commandment. According to the Chareidim, Rav Chagi said, “Baruch ata Hashem Elokeinu Melech Ha’olam Asher kidshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu lekadeish hamidot vehamoznaim uletakein hashe’arim, Blessed are You, Hashem, Who has sanctified us with His commandments and commanded us to sanctify the measurements and scales and to fix the prices.”
It is not our practice to recite this blessing. Why don’t we?
There is another interpretation of the story in the Jerusalem Talmud.
Chatam Sofer (OC Siman 54) suggests that Rav Chagi was not going into the stores to fix weights. He was going to his office to judge. He was reciting a blessing for the mitzvah of appointing judges, not for the command to sanctify weights as per the explanation of the Chareidim. According to this, there was never an opinion to recite a blessing about weights and measures. Perhaps the reason we did not have a blessing for weights and measures is that we do not recite blessings on mitzvot between man and man (Mesivta).
By Rabbi Zev Reichman
Rabbi Zev Reichman teaches Daf Yomi in his shul, East Hill Synagogue.