April 12, 2024
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April 12, 2024
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Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

I was davening at another shul in town. As they were taking out the Torah, the gabbai approached and offered me shlishi. I thanked him for the generous offer, but then let him know that I’m a Levi. He shook his head and sighed, “Oy, I just gave away the Levi aliyah.” I responded that I was more than happy to do gelilah or hagbah. He smiled and thanked me for being so accommodating.

Let’s digress for a moment. Despite my offer, I never get gelilah. Standing at six feet tall, if it’s one of the “wrap-up” aliyos, you can rest assured I’ll be asked to do hagbah. So, you can imagine my surprise when he returned a few minutes later and handed me the gelilah card. I wasn’t bothered in the slightest—on the contrary, I was rather pleased, for our Sages teach that the one who performs gelilah receives all the reward. Nevertheless, I’ll admit that I was a little puzzled.

Sure enough, my bewilderment was resolved as a fellow standing at 6’5” and weighing around 230 was called up to perform hagbah. Next to that Goliath, it made sense why I merited receiving the coveted gelilah honor.

***

Today’s daf discusses a person who harmed his fellow’s animal indirectly. If he places poisonous food before the animal, is he liable? After all, he didn’t force the animal to eat. He simply placed the food in its vicinity, but the animal chose to partake of it.

הִכְנִיס פֵּירוֹתָיו לַחֲצַר בַּעַל הַבַּיִת וְכוּ’: אָמַר רַב לֹא שָׁנוּ אֶלָּא שֶׁהוּחְלְקָה בָּהֶן אֲבָל אָכְלָה פָּטוּר מַאי טַעְמָא הֲוָה לַהּ שֶׁלֹּא תֹּאכַל אָמַר רַב שֵׁשֶׁת אָמֵינָא כִּי נָיֵים וְשָׁכֵיב רַב אֲמַר לְהָא שְׁמַעְתָּא דְּתַנְיָא הַנּוֹתֵן סַם הַמָּוֶת לִפְנֵי בֶּהֱמַת חֲבֵירוֹ פָּטוּר מִדִּינֵי אָדָם וְחַיָּיב בְּדִינֵי שָׁמַיִם סַם הַמָּוֶת הוּא דְּלָא עֲבִידָא דְּאָכְלָה אֲבָל פֵּירוֹת דַּעֲבִידָא דְּאָכְלָה בְּדִינֵי אָדָם נָמֵי מִיחַיַּיב וְאַמַּאי הֲוָיא לַהּ שֶׁלֹּא תֹּאכַל אָמְרִי הוּא הַדִּין אֲפִילּוּ פֵּירוֹת נָמֵי פָּטוּר מִדִּינֵי אָדָם וְהָא קָא מַשְׁמַע לַן דַּאֲפִילּוּ סַם הַמָּוֶת נָמֵי דְּלָא עֲבִידָא דְּאָכְלָה חַיָּיב בְּדִינֵי שָׁמַיִם

If he brought his produce into the homeowner’s courtyard without permission, and the owner’s animal was injured, he is liable. Rav says: They taught this only in a case where the animal slipped on it, but if it ate from the produce (and was harmed by overeating), he is acquitted. What is the reason? The animal should not have eaten it. Rav Sheshes said: I say that Rav stated this while dozing off to sleep, for it is taught: One who places poison before another’s animal is acquitted by the mortal court but guilty by heavenly law. (This implies that specifically where he placed) poison (he is acquitted), since it is not suitable for eating. But if he placed produce, which is suitable for eating, he is also guilty by mortal law. But why? We should say that it should not have eaten it. Rather, they said: The same is true even if it ate produce, he would also be acquitted by mortal law. And the point is that even in the case of poison, which is not suitable for eating, he is guilty by heavenly law.

***

The Gemara teaches that if an individual places poison before his neighbor’s animal with harmful intent, the local court cannot prosecute him. Nevertheless, he is guilty by heavenly law—and should pay for the loss caused if he wishes to absolve himself of spiritual liability and punitive measures. Let’s say, however, he did not drop the poison with harmful intent. Picture a scenario where he simply disposed of a hazardous substance unthinkingly and the animal consumed it and died. Logic dictates that such a case of negligence also incurs heavenly liability, and he should seek to compensate his fellow’s loss, thereby absolving himself spiritually. And if that’s true of poisoning an animal, then certainly poisoning a fellow human being, even unintentionally, warrants restitution to avoid spiritual liability.

While most people won’t find themselves guilty of dropping physical poison on their neighbor’s property, sadly we are often guilty of depositing emotional and psychological poison, albeit unwittingly. It’s not unusual to say and do things without thinking that have deleterious effects upon your fellow. It may not be intentional, but with greater attention and sensitivity, you can avoid even such unconscious missteps.

Let’s consider some of the things we do every day without thinking of the “poison” we might be dropping. I began with my gelilah story. Any astute reader would immediately have picked up on the unconscious bias I was demonstrating that’s on display each time the Torah is raised high into the air for all to see. While gelilah might technically be the prize aliyah, everyone knows that getting gelilah means you’re the shorter guy. Or the younger guy. Or the weaker guy. It’s rare to see the robust tall fellow do gelilah alongside a short, “puny” young teenage hagbah honoree. And that’s not because they can’t do it. It’s actually rather simple to do once you know the trick of leveraging the sefer Torah off the edge of the bimah. You don’t need to be a strong adult to perform the feat. And you certainly don’t need to be big and tall!

Meanwhile, however, every time poor Chaim Yankel gets gelilah, all he’s thinking is, “I’m the little guy.” That’s not what the gabbai was thinking. He didn’t mean to drop the poison. It was simply unconscious bias that motivated him to distribute hagbah and gelilah as he did. What’s the solution? Just a little thought and sensitivity, and we have an emotional gamechanger in the shul.

That’s but one small example of poison that gets dropped completely unwittingly on a regular basis in shuls everywhere. Just to mention a couple more obvious common traps people fall into: A woman has come to shul for Shacharis. She’s standing in the ladies’ section. One of the men looks around to count the minyan, and comments, “OK, we currently have eight people here. We need two more.” Of course, what he meant to say was, “OK, we currently have eight men here. We need two more for a minyan.” Instead, he treated this pious woman as invisible.

One final example of poisoning that was all too prevalent in the early days of the State of Israel. Shockingly, the unconscious bias displayed by certain Ashkenazim towards their Sephardic brethren still rears its ugly head in the 21st century. Without getting into specifics, people will make comments about educational levels, occupational fields and even etiquette and mannerisms that are beyond despicable. Unbelievably, in many instances, the speaker is not ill-intentioned. They’re merely echoing the ethnic biases they’ve grown up hearing.

I have a friend from a Chinese family whose great-great-grandparents immigrated to America in the middle of the 19th century. It’s incredible to see how frequently people will speak slowly in English to him to make sure he understands. Because they automatically flick the unconscious bias switch in their minds and decide he’s a foreigner. It’s time we flicked on our sensitivity and thoughtfulness mind-switches. May you forever remain attentive, ensuring you never drip any psychological or emotional poison upon your neighbor’s property!


Rabbi Dr. Daniel Friedman is the author of The Transformative Daf book series. He battles Christian antisemitism and teaches International Relations at Landers.

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