Talmud Tips

For the week ending 23 July 2016 / 17 Tammuz 5776

Bava Kama 51 - 57

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
The Color of Heaven Artscroll

A Galilean person said to Rav Chisda, “When the shepherd of a flock is angry with the flock he blinds the leading goat.”

The context for this statement on our daf is how to make an acquisition of a herd of animals. Rav Yaakov states that when the seller gives possession of the “front goat” to the buyer, this act constitutes an agreement for the buyer to acquire the entire herd, since the entire herd follows the leading goat. The gemara cites the above statement of the Gallilean to show that this is the typical manner of “animal behavior”, and is what many refer to as “herd mentality.”

Rashi, however, explains that the gemara also cites the statement of the Gallilean to teach an important lesson in human behavior, in particular with regard to the relationship between the nature of the people to be led and the nature of the leader who is appointed from Above to lead them. According to Rashi we are meant to learn from the goat analogy the following: When G-d feels it necessary to punish the Jewish People, He chooses leaders who are inappropriate, and who will lead their followers to receive the punishment that they deserve.

This statement on our daf teaches that the Jewish nation receives a leader that it is worthy of. We have witnessed this Divine appointment of Jewish leaders throughout the Tanach until the end of the era of prophecy. The first “king” appointed by G-d was Moshe Rabbeinu, followed by Yehoshua bin Nun, the Shoftim (“Judges”, who were leaders) and the Kings who ruled the Jewish People.

But what about the rulers who were appointed after the end of the era of prophecy, and the rulers who are elected nowadays in a democratic system? How does “Divine appointment” continue to provide leaders who reflect the level of righteousness of the Jewish People?

I have heard from a great Rabbi in Jerusalem that the leaders are controlled by G-d even nowadays, as is taught in Mishlei (21:1): “A king’s heart is like a stream of water in the hand of G-d; He turns it wherever He wishes.” Although we have free-will, it seems from this verse that a special exception is made in the case of a leader’s behavior and actions. Even in a democracy. If so, one might ask, what is the point of voting, since the leader is decided from Above?

One explanation I have heard is that the act of choosing a leader can be one of “Kiddush Hashem” — “Sanctifying Gd’s Name” — if a person shows that he wants a leader who represents the values, ethics and principles taught in the Torah. In addition, if the leading Rabbis of that generation issue clear guidance regarding the candidate of choice, the voter is fulfilling the mitzvah of “obeying the words of the Rabbincal Sages”. The voters can do their part to perform a Kiddush Hashem and also fulfill a mitzvah, and regardless of the outcome they need not be concerned since the “heart of the leader is in the hand of G-d”, and He will “turn the heart of the leader as He wishes.”

  • Bava Kama 52a

Rabbi Chanina ben Agil asked, “Why is the word ‘tov’ (good) not mentioned in the First Tablets, whereas the word ‘tov’ is in fact mentioned in the Second Tablets?”

Rabbi Chanina ben Agil is puzzled in our gemara by the difference in wording in the Ten Commandments regarding the command to honor one’s parents. Specifically, he wondered about the lack of the word “tov” (good) when the Torah first records the text of this commandment and the reward for its fulfillment, and the presence of (a form of) this word “tov” in its second appearance in the Torah.

We see this difference in the following verses:

“Honor your father and your mother in order that your days be lengthened on the land that the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you.” (Ex. 20:12)

“Honor your father and your mother as the L-rd your G-d commanded you in order that your days be lengthened, and that it may go well (“yitav”) with you on the land that the L-rd, your G-d, is giving you.” (Duet. 5:16)

We clearly see the lack of the word “tov” in the first verse.

In conclusion, Rabbi Tanchum bar Chanilai explains the lack of the word “tov” in the first verse by stating in the name of the Sage Shmuel bar Nachum: “The First Tablets were destined to be broken, and G-d didn’t want the ‘goodness’ that was destined for the Jewish People to be ‘broken’ along with the breaking of those Tablets.”

  • Bava Kama 54b, 55a

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