Talmud Tips

For the week ending 11 June 2016 / 5 Sivan 5776

Bava Kama 9 - 15

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

Rabbi Zeira said, “One should add a third in order to beautify a mitzvah.”

Rashi explains: If one wants to buy a Sefer Torah (Torah Scroll), and he finds two to choose from, if one is more beautiful than the other he should add a third of the value and buy the more beautiful one. Rashi cites a beraita for this requirement to “beautify a mitzvah”: “The Torah states ‘This is my G-d and I will glorify Him’, which teaches us to be beautiful in the presence of G-d in mitzvah fulfillment. For example, one should have a beautiful Sefer Torah, a beautiful lulav, a beautiful talit, and beautiful tzitzit.”

Tosefot explains the obligation to beautify the mitzvah in a different manner, not in terms of adding a third more money, but to obtain a larger etrog. In the event that he finds one etrog that is small but kosher, he should beautify the mitzvah by buying a larger etrog, up to a third larger.

The gemara also records that in Eretz Yisrael it was taught in the name of Rabbi Zeira, “Until a third, from his own; after that, is from G-d”. Rashi elucidates this cryptic statement as follows: For the additional third of money that a person spends to beautify a mitzvah, he receives reward in the World-to-Come instead of this world. But if he spends more than an additional third, G-d will reward him in this world during his lifetime. Tosefot appears to concur with Rashi on this point. The halacha regarding “hidur mitzvah” — beautifying a mitzvah — is codified in the Shulchan Aruch Orach Chaim 656:1.

  • Bava Kama 9b

Rabbi Natan said, “From where do we learn that a person should not raise a ‘bad dog’ (i.e., dangerous) in his house, and that he should not put up an unsafe ladder in his house? The verse states “Don’t put blood in your house(Deut. 23:8).

Although the verse specifically mentions only the mitzvah of building a ma’akeh (parapet) on the roof of one’s house to help prevent a person who goes there from falling and losing his life, Rabbi Natan teaches that this verse is also the source for not having dangerous objects around one’s house.

The Maharsha explains the need to teach the prohibition of ‘giving home to’ these additional potential dangers, in addition to the explicit need for the verse to teach the mitzvah of ma’akeh. A ma’akeh serves as protection for the dwellers of his household, who may go on the roof and risk the danger of falling off. Therefore a ma’akeh is needed. However, a dangerous dog is something he may want to have for protection against thieves and criminals, and is a creature well known to his family and would seemingly pose no danger to them. Likewise, a ladder that is not really safe is known by his family to be a potential threat, since they live there and know the unsafe state of the ladder. Therefore, members of his household will know to be careful with these potentially life-threatening items. Rabbi Natan teaches that it is nevertheless forbidden to possess these items in one's home, since they are dangerous by nature, and thus pose a danger to guests and others who come to his house. In fact, they may even be considered a threat to the lives of his own household members, despite their awareness of the potentially harmful nature of these items.

  • Bava Kama 15b

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