Sunday, August 10, 2008

סליק מסכת בבא בתרא: The Tractate of Bava Batra is Completed

While the learning of this entire masechet was in memory of our heroic soldiers, Ehud Goldwasser and Eldad Regev z"l, I would like to give these words a different dedication, to two young people who were taken before their time, and whose Yahrzeits occur during this week surrounding Tisha B'av, the saddest day in the Jewish calendar.
ה' נתן וה' לקח יהי שם ה' מבורך - God gave and God took, may the name of God be blessed (Job 2:21), is a beautiful but difficult verse to accept. These tragedies defy human explanation, but hopefully we can learn from them and make their memories a kiddush hashem, a sanctification of God's name.
Michael Levin, zecher gibor livracha (may the memory of a hero be for a blessing), died age 21, 8 Av 5766, who died in Lebanon defending the land and people of Israel. Michael, an alum of USY, Camp Ramah in the Poconos and Nativ set an example in his dedication to Am Yisrael by leaving his family while on vacation to return to fight with his unit in Lebanon.
Jared Ascher, died age 4, 12 Av 5753, my first cousin (and the closest in me to age, just two months younger than me), who died of an incurable brain tumor.
Each of these young souls had something special to give the world, and were taken from us before their time. Y'hi Zichram Baruch - may their memories serve as a blessing. I wish to end the dedication with the opening words of this week's haftarah: נחמו נחמו עמי יאמר אלוהיכם - comfort, comfort my people! Thus says your God. (Isaiah 40:1)

While many hold that 'just' completing a tractate of Mishnah, is not enough for a proper siyum, which requires a tractate of Gemara or a Seder (one of the six orders of Mishnah), I still feel that my completion of Bava Batra's ten chapters deserves some summarizing and reflection.
Many Masechtot, especuially those which are almost exclusively concerned with halachic material, end with a short passage of aggadah which provides a bit of flavor to the extended legal section. As a sort of virtual siyum (celebration of study), I would like to 'teach' the final mishnah of the masechet and provide some 'drash' on it.
Bava Batra 10:9
י,ט [ח] המלווה את חברו בשטר, גובה מנכסים משועבדין; על ידי עדים, גובה מנכסים בני חורין. הוציא עליו כתב ידו שהוא חייב לו, גובה מנכסים בני חורין. הערב שהוא יוצא לאחר חיתום שטרות, גובה מנכסים בני חורין. מעשה בא לפני רבי ישמעאל ואמר, גובה מנכסים בני חורין. אמר לו בן ננס, אינו גובה לא מנכסים משועבדין ולא מנכסים בני חורין. אמר לו, למה. אמר לו, הרי החונק את אחד בשוק. אמר לו הנח ואני נותן לך, פטור, שלא על אמנתו הלווהו. איזה הוא ערב שהוא חייב: אמר לו הלווהו, ואני נותן לך--חייב, שכן על אמנתו הלווהו. אמר רבי ישמעאל, הרוצה להחכים, יעסוק בדיני ממונות, שאין מקצוע בתורה גדול מהן, שהן כמעיין הנובע. והרוצה לעסוק בדיני ממונות, ישמש את שמעון בן ננס.

One who loans to his fellow through a written contract, he [the loaner] can collect from liened property (i.e., assets that can be seized to pay outstanding debts); a loan made though witnesses, payment can be collected with unliened property. If the loaner poroduces the loanee's handwriting that he is owed money, he may collect from unliened property.
If a guarantor is found after the loan has been granted, he may collect from unliened property. This case came before Rabbi Yishmael, who said that he may collect from uniened property. Ben Nanas said to him, he may not collect from liened or unliened property. Rabbi Yishmael responded, why? Ben Nanas replied, behold the case of a loaner who halts (lit. strangles) a creditor in the marketplace. A passerby said, leave him alone and I will give you [the money]. He (the passerby) is not liable to pay back the loan, because the loaner duid not loan to the creditor based on this person paying back the loan. however, in the caee that the guarantor said, loan to him money, ande I will repay you, he [the guarantor] is liable to repay because the loan was made based on his promise.
(and now, the message): Rabbi Yishmael says, one who wishes to become wise, should study the laws of commerce and property, because there is no greater pursuit than it in Torah, for it is like a flowing fountain. And one who wishes to learn these laws, should study under Shimon Ben Nanas.

Although pages could be written about the legal and philosophical implications of the legal portion of this mishnah, I would like to focus on Rabbi Yishmael's closing maxim. One might think it strange for a rabbi, especially one living quite soon after the destruction of the Temple, to tell his followers to focus on the intricacies of civil law- what about shabbat, kashrut and agricultural tithes?
I think that this statement, which echoes Rabbi Akiva's famous words ("Thus said Rabbi Akiva, this is the essence of Torah, love your neighbor as yourself") is indicative of the true goal of rabbinic Judaism: If one is only concerned with matters of ritual and their relationship with God is only fulfilling half of the mitzvot. Rabbi Yishmael is making a strong statement about the importance of interpersonal relationships, which are regulated through Mitzvot Bein Adam L'chaveiro (commandments between human beings) and codified in the tractates of Seder Nezikin.
Rabbi Yishmael's statement is all too necessary of a reminder today in the wake of the agriprocessers fiasco (in which the country's largest kosher meat plant has been accused of violating immgration laws, child labor and worker mistreatment. Although some rabbis such as representatives of the Orthodox Union and National Council of Young Israel have claimed that kashrut is only abut the minatae of those specific regulations (that would be found in masechet hullin), I, and I believe the rabbis of the mishnah, would strongly disagree.
In this time when we mourn so many different tragedies, some far beyond human understanding, we should resolve to work on our fulfillment of interpersonal mitzvot and our treatment of others, and thus we will be watered by the sweet spring of Torah and hopefully improve the world as well!

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