What’s Being Served for Haftarah This Week?

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Question #1: What Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read on Shabbos Parshas Shemos?

Question #2: Why do we read this Haftarah?

Question #3: What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

Before providing the clues to answering these questions; let’s first understand some background.

The Word Haftarah

I remember, as a child, assuming that the word Haftarah was pronounced half-Torah, because it was always much shorter than the Torah reading. Unfortunately, I occasionally hear adults mispronounce the word this way, too.

Although there are several interpretations of the word Haftarah, it is usually understood to mean completing, as in “completing the reading of the Torah” (Levush, Orach Chayim 284:1).

What Should We Read?

Chazal established specific Haftaros for some Shabbosos and Yomim Tovim (Megillah 29b- 31b). During weeks when no specific Haftarah was instituted, we should recite a Haftarah appropriate to the parsha.

Sometimes, the Haftarah relates not to the parsha, but to the season, such as during the Three Weeks and on the seven consecutive Shabbosos following Tisha B’Av. We also find that some places had a custom on a Shabbos aufruf to read the Haftarah from Yeshayahu that concludes, “And as a chosson rejoices with his kallah, so shall Hashem rejoice with you” (Terumas Hadeshen #20).

On most Shabbosos, when there was no requirement to read a specific section of Navi, each community would choose a selection of Navi reminiscent of the parsha. Indeed, if one looks at old Chumashim and books of community minhagim, one finds many variant practices. In addition, several sefarim mention different customs, and the Encyclopedia Talmudis provides a very extensive listing. Particularly, Sephardic and Ashkenazic practices often vary from one another, especially regarding minor differences, such as exactly where to begin or end the Haftarah, or whether to skip certain verses.

However, our Chumashim usually mention only the most common selections of Navi that have become generally accepted, only mentioning the differences between Sefardic, Ashkenazic and occasionally Italian practices.

Every Three Years

Today, the universal practice is to complete the entire Torah reading every year. However, in the times of the Gemara and for many centuries afterward, some communities read much smaller sections of the Torah every week and completed the Torah reading only every three years. Those communities also divided the Haftarah into three-year cycles by reciting a Haftarah that corresponded to their shorter readings. I have seen photographs of old manuscript Haftarah books based on the three-year system, where each sub-parsha has the name of the first words of the week’s portion. In the selection I saw, Parshas Vaeschanan was divided into three parts named Parshas Vaeschanan, Parshas Az Yavdil Moshe, and Parshas Shema Yisroel.

How is Parshas Shemos Unique?

Now is the time to address the questions I raised above:

Which Haftarah does Klal Yisrael read this Shabbos?

Why do we read this Haftarah?

What unusual fact about this week’s Haftarah inspired me to discuss this topic this week?

There are many different customs regarding which Haftarah to read. On no other Shabbos am I aware of as many different customs as this Shabbos. I am aware of five completely different choices for the Haftarah reading for Parshas Shemos! On many weeks, Ashkenazim and Sefardim either begin or end in different places, or add or skip certain pesukim, but the basic reading is the same. The five selections I saw mentioned for this week’s Haftarah are all from Neviim Acharonim, but they are five completely different readings. The Abudraham, who lists different customs regarding what to read on each week’s Haftarah, cites three alternate haftaros for Parshas Shemos, each from a different one of the three major seforim of Nevi’im Acharonim: Yeshayahu, Yirmiyohu and Yechezkel. And yet, the standard Haftarah read in Ashkenazi communities for this Shabbos is not any of the three that Avudraham quotes, which is highly unusual.

What do Ashkenazim read?

To the best of my knowledge, all Ashkenazic communities nowadays read Haba’im Yashreish Yaakov, from the Book of Yeshayahu (27:6 – 28:23). There does not seem to be any obvious reason to associate this passage from Yeshayahu with parshas Shemos. Why do we read this Haftarah? Rashi, in his commentary to the first words of the Haftarah, notes that the first words mentioned by Yeshayahu refer to the Bnei Yisroel going down to Mitzrayim, similar to the first words of this week’s Torah reading. Thus, although the rest of the Haftarah has little connection to the parsha, the beginning allusion was sufficient to choose this particular Haftarah for this week.

What do Sephardim and Edot Hamizrah read?

Some oriental communities, particularly those originating from parts of Yemen or Iraq, read from Yechezkel: Ben Adom Hoda es Yerushalayim (Yechezkel 16:1- 14), which is one of the three selections mentioned by Abudraham. This portion is also mentioned by the Rambam as the Haftarah for this week, which is probably the source for the Yemenite communities. Reading these words of Yechezkel, one can readily see why this was chosen for this week’s Haftarah. It describes the bleak origins of the Jewish people. Some of its verses have found their way into the Hagadah that is recited on Pesach-night, for the same reason.

However, most Sephardic communities read the beginning of the book of Yirmiyohu, Divrei Yirmiyohu. This Haftarah is very familiar to Ashkenazim because it is read on the first of the Three Weeks, usually parshas Pinchas, but occasionally on Parshas Matos.

Since this Haftarah discusses the impending attack of the Babylonians on Israel, it seems extremely appropriate to the Three Weeks; but why do Sephardim read it on parshas Shemos? Some note that several analogies between Moshe and Yirmiyohu surface in the parsha and Haftarah. Both Yirmiyahu and Moshe are beginning their careers as prophets, reluctantly. Yirmiyahu says that he is unable to speak, as he is little more than a child, and Moshe claims that he cannot speak due to physical impediment.

However, I must admit that I am baffled why it has become more commonly accepted to read either of these two haftaros: Habaim Yashreish Yaakov or Divrei Yirmiyohu, rather than Yechezkel Chapter 20, whose relationship to our parsha is more obvious. This passage mentions that Hashem made Himself known to the Jewish people in Mitzrayim, and that the Jews should not assimilate and follow Egyptian idolatrous practices. Indeed, this Haftarah was read by many Yemenite communities, yet it failed to gain acceptance in most other communities, either Ashkenazi or Sephardi, and furthermore, is not one of the three haftaros mentioned for this parsha by the Avudraham. (I refer our readers to Rav Mendel Hirsch’s commentary on the haftaros, where he suggests a connection between our Haftarah and parshas Shemos.)

Thus, I find two very surprising factors about the Haftarah we read this week.

  1. There are, or probably more accurately now, were at least five different accepted customs followed in choosing the Haftarah for this week, more than I am aware of for any other Shabbos.
  2. The ones standardly read in accordance with most Ashkenazi or Sephardi customs are the least obvious choices – meaning they are choices where we must strain to understand why they were chosen rather than other, more obvious candidates.

Conclusion:

We thus see that recital of the weekly Haftarah is an ancient custom and should be treated with respect. We may wonder why certain passages were chosen to be read on any given week; and at times, cannot even say that these were the most appropriate choices. In any event, we should pay attention to the Haftarah reading. We can gain much from understanding the inspiring messages that the navi is teaching.

 

What Is a Temurah?

Question: Two Temurahs

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, Bechukosay, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”

Answer:

The concept of offering korbanos is foreign to us, since, unfortunately, our Beis Hamikdash still remains in ruin and we are neither required nor permitted to offer korbanos anywhere else. Precisely because this topic is so unfamiliar, we should utilize every opportunity to familiarize ourselves with these laws. There are numerous reasons that underscore the importance of this topic, including:

(1) When our Beis Hamikdash is rebuilt — may it be speedily in our days — we will have to know all the laws about offering korbanos.

(2) It is part of the Torah we are required to know, and will also help us better understand this week’s Torah reading.

(3) The concept of uneshalmah parim sefaseinu (Hoshea 14:3), that when we are unable to offer korbanos, our reading and studying these Torah sections fulfills our requirement to offer the korbanos.

(4) There are some very important and little known laws that affect us today. We will soon study them.

What Is Temurah?

Towards the end of this week’s parshah, the Torah mentions a very unusual concept called temurah. Someone who had consecrated an animal to be his korban subsequently changes his mind and decides to substitute a different animal for the korban. By doing so, he violates the Torah’s prohibitions of lo yachalifenu velo yamir oso, “do not exchange it and do not substitute in its stead.” The Torah teaches that as a result of his declaration, both animals now have the sanctity of that korban (Vayikra 27:10). This means that the declaration succeeded in creating sanctity on the new animal, but failed to remove the sanctity from the original animal. Now, use of either animal for personal benefit is prohibited min hatorah. The animal that attained sanctity because of the second declaration is itself called a temurah (pl., temuros), so the word temurah refers both to the prohibited act and to the animal that is now affected by that act.

What Happens to the Animal?

What ultimately happens to an animal that has just become a temurah?

Each of the several types of korbanos has specific details as to how it is offered. Consequently, although every temurah animal has sanctity, its status will be determined by the specific korban for which it was dedicated.

Shelamim

One of the most common types of consecrated korbanos is the shelamim, whose name comes from the word shalom, peace. Rashi (Vayikra 3:1) explains two approaches for its name:

(1) The purpose of a shelamim is to bring peace to the world.

(2) The meat of a korban shelamim is divided: most of it is eaten by the owner in Yerushalayim. He may share it with any tahor person he chooses. A portion of the shelamim, the breast meats and the right thigh, is given to the kohen to eat in Yerushalayim and share with whomever he desires. The mizbei’ach (the altar) receives much of the fat of the animal, the kidneys, its diaphragm meat (which butchers often call the “skirt steak”), and a small part of the liver. Thus, “everyone” is made happy by this korban, and it brings peace to the world.

No Gender Discrimination

Shelamim is unique among the commonly consecrated korbanos in that one may offer an animal of either gender of any of the three types of kosher beheimah (domesticated animal — bovines, sheep or goats) and that there is no age restriction once the animal is seven days old. Of the other three main types of common consecrated korbanos, chatas must be female, whereas both olah and asham must be male. Both chatas and asham have other requirements as far as species, and asham has specific age requirements.

Temuras Shelamim

Now that we understand some of the basics of shelamim, our question is what happens to a temuras shelamim. This is the subject of a dispute in the Mishnah (Temurah 17b, 18a), but the halachic conclusion is that a temuras shelamim is treated just as a shelamim. It is offered as a korban and its meat is then divided: part eaten by the kohen and his family, a small part burnt on the mizbei’ach and the majority eaten by its owner.

Temuras Olah

The other very common type of consecrated korban is the olah, which is completely burnt on the mizbei’ach. In the case of olah, both the original korban and its temurah are offered in the Beis Hamikdash with all the details of the appropriate halachos observed. In this way, a temuras olah is treated similarly to temuras shelamim.

There is, however, one case when this cannot be done, which is when the temuras olah is a female animal. Since an olah must be male, the female temurah cannot be offered. This creates a very interesting predicament, since the female now has the sanctity of an olah, yet it cannot be offered as such because of its gender.

To resolve this difficulty, the temurah is sent out to pasture temporarily. The plan is that, left to her own devices, she will eventually develop a blemish that invalidates her as a korban. This requires a bit of explanation:

The Torah requires that all animals offered in the Beis Hamikdash be unblemished. There is an extensive list of physical shortcomings that invalidate an animal from being offered as a korban. For example, an animal whose legs are of uneven length is invalid as a korban, even though the animal is otherwise perfectly healthy. Also, an animal that shows evidence of damage, such as a split lip, is invalid as a korban. A blemish is called a moom and an animal bearing such a blemish is called a baal moom.

In the case of most korbanos, a consecrated animal that has become blemished is redeemed with the redemption money used to purchase a replacement korban. After the baal moom korban is redeemed, it may be slaughtered and eaten, but one may not work it.

This is what happens to a female temuras olah. She is sent out to pasture with the hope that she will eventually develop a moom that will invalidate her as a korban. When that happens, she will be redeemed, the redemption money being used to purchase a new korban olah.

It is prohibited min hatorah to blemish a korban intentionally (Rambam, Hilchos Issurei Mizbei’ach 1:7); however, one may release the animal to the pasture in the hope that it becomes blemished.

Temuras Chatas

There are other instances when one cannot offer the temurah animal in the Beis Hamikdash. For example, both chatas and asham korbanos are offered to atone for specific sins. If someone creates a temurah of either a chatas or an asham, the temurah has sanctity that will preclude its being used any more by the owner, although it will be invalid for offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Exactly what one does with these animals is discussed by the Gemara and the rishonim but includes too many details to discuss in this article.

Bechor

The temurah of another korban, bechor, has yet a third status. A bechor is a firstborn male animal of a kosher species whose mother is fully owned by a Jew or Jews. An unblemished firstborn male was given to a kohen who brought it as an offering in the Beis Hamikdash. Its meat was eaten by the kohen and his family anywhere in Yerushalayim when they were tahor, and the kohen was able to share it with any tahor person, similar to the laws of a shelamim.

If the bechor is blemished, the halachah is unlike other korbanos, where the blemished animal is redeemed with redemption money that is used to purchase a replacement korban. The owner of a blemished bechor gives the animal to a kohen, who now owns it as his personal property, although he is still forbidden to work the animal and may use it only to slaughter for meat. It is one of the matanos kehunah, the gifts provided to the kohen, so that he can devote himself to his responsibilities as a teacher of the Jewish People. Should the kohen choose to, he may sell it to someone else. There are some other specific laws regarding where it may be slaughtered and how it may be sold, but it may be eaten by anyone, even a person who is tamei.

Temurah of Bechor

We have now seen that the korban of bechor is unusual, in that a blemished bechor loses some of its sanctity as a korban and as a result is slaughtered and eaten. The temurah of a bechor, therefore, also has halachic status different from other temuros. The owner gives the temuras bechor to a kohen, who sends the animal to pasture until it develops a blemish, at which point he may slaughter it and consume it (Mishnah Temurah 21a).

Temuras Maaser

When the Beis Hamikdash stood, every farmer was required to gather all his newborn kosher animals three times a year and send them though the opening of a pen, one at a time. The farmer counted each animal aloud, and marked each tenth animal exiting the pen with a red mark (Mishnah Bechoros, Chapter 9). This tenth animal has the halachic status of maaser, which is a type of korban. One could not work this animal. Instead, the owner was required to bring it to the Beis Hamikdash, where it was offered as a korban. The owner received most of the meat of this korban, which he was required to eat in Yerushalayim.

This korban shares many halachos with the bechor mentioned above. For example, just as a blemished bechor is not redeemed but is slaughtered and eaten, so too, a blemished maaser is slaughtered and eaten.

There is a difference between the bechor and the maaser, in that the owner is required to give the bechor to a kohen, whereas the maaser he keeps for himself.

There is a similarity between the temurah of bechor and that of maaser in that the temurah is not offered, although it, also, may not be worked, but one waits until it develops a blemish, at which point it can be slaughtered and eaten. In the case of maaser, the owner keeps the animal which he now may eat.

With this information, we can now answer the question asked above:

“Why does the Torah mention the mitzvah of temurah twice at the end of this week’s parshah, once at the beginning of Chapter 27 and again at its end?”

Checking the two pesukim, one will see clearly that the first verse (Vayikra 27:10) is addressing temurah of most korbanos, whereas the second verse (Vayikra 27:33) is addressing the temurah of a maaser animal. As Rashi explains on the latter verse, the halachah of temurah for maaser is different from that of other korbanos, which are usually either offered as a korban or redeemed. Whereas it has the sanctity of a korban, the temurah of a maaser prohibits only working the animal. One awaits its developing a blemish, and then slaughters it for its meat.

Who Can Make Temurah?

A person cannot create a temurah unless he is the owner of a korban. This means that if Jerry walks down the street one day and decides that he wants to substitute a different animal for Yosef’s korban, no temurah has happened. Yosef has to make the temurah for his own korban, or, alternatively, authorize someone to make temurah on his korban.

Who Is the “Owner” of a Korban?

Technically, the person who creates the temurah does not have to be the person who originally declared the animal to be a korban, although temurah can be declared only with the authority of the “owner” of the korban, meaning the person who is to benefit from its offering. If one person declared an animal to be a korban for the benefit of another, it is the beneficiary of the korban who is considered its “owner,” not the donor. Therefore, if the beneficiary of the korban subsequently decided to substitute a different animal, he will violate temurah and both animals will become sanctified, whereas if the donor did so, he did not violate temurah, and only the original animal has the sanctity of the korban. In the latter case, the replacement animal has no sanctity at all and can be worked with or used as one chooses.

Temurah on Birds?

The laws of temurah apply only to animal korbanos and not to korbanos of birds or of flour (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Therefore, if someone who has turtledoves set aside for his offerings decided to substitute something, whether a bird, an animal or anything else for the turtledoves, he has not violated the prohibition of creating temurah. Since the declaration was totally ineffective, the original turtledoves will be offered and the substitute animal or bird has no sanctity whatsoever.

Unusual Temurah Laws

There are several curious aspects to the laws of temurah and sanctifying offerings. One can create a temurah only when the original offering is owned by an individual, but not when it is a communal offering (korban tzibur) or even when it is a korban owned by two or more partners (Mishnah Temurah 13a). Notwithstanding the fact that one cannot make such a temurah, the Rambam (Hilchos Temurah 1:1) rules that one who attempts to substitute an animal for a communal korban violates the Torah’s prohibition and incurs the punishment of malkus. Nevertheless, since the temurah is completely ineffective, the new animal has no sanctity whatsoever. (The original animal is also, of course, not affected, and it is offered as the korban for which it was intended.)

Multiple Temurah

Someone can even create several temurah animals at the same time. For example, if the owner tried to remove the sanctity of the original animal by substituting two or more animals in its place, all the new animals become consecrated as korbanos, and the original animal still retains its korban status (Mishnah Temurah 9a).

Negligent Temurah

One of the interesting laws of temurah is that someone can create temurah even though he did not intentionally violate the Torah’s prohibition (Temurah 17a; Rambam, Hilchos Temurah 1:2; Tosafos, Temurah 2a s.v. Ha). For example, someone who did not realize that temurah is prohibited will still have created two animals that are holy.

Minor Temurah

Here is another unusual aspect to the laws of Temurah. The Gemara teaches that, under certain circumstances, an eleven-year-old girl or a twelve-year-old boy can declare an animal to have the sanctity of a korban, provided that he or she is the owner of the animal (Temurah 2b). This is true even though they are halachically minors and not obligated to observe mitzvos.

The Gemara (2b) discusses whether a minor who can consecrate a korban can also create a temurah. This is highly surprising; a minor cannot violate the prohibition of creating temurah, one would think that he cannot create a temurah either. Evidently, the creation of a temurah is not dependent on violating the prohibition of temurah.

Conclusion

Do we live with a burning desire to see the Beis Hamikdash rebuilt speedily in our days? Studying the halachos of the korbanos should help us develop our sensitivity and desire to see the Beis Hamikdash again in all its glory. May we soon merit seeing the kohanim offering all the korbanos in the Beis Hamikdash in purity and sanctity and Klal Yisrael in our rightful place in Eretz Yisrael as a light unto the nations!

What I Borrow, I Must Surely Return

In Parshas Mishpatim, the Torah teaches us the responsibilities we assume when watching or borrowing other people’s property. Personal experience has demonstrated that most people are unfamiliar with the halachic obligations entailed in borrowing.

SHE’EILAH VS. HALVA’AH

Hebrew uses two different words for borrowing, she’eilah and halva’ah, which describe two different types of transactions with major legal distinctions. She’eilah means borrowing an item that will itself be returned. In a she’eilah, the pikadon, the item loaned, remains the property of the lender, and the borrower has rights to use it. (The borrower is called the sho’el and the lender is called the mash’eil.)

Halva’ah, on the other hand, refers to an item that will not be returned. Rather, the borrower uses the item and returns its value or a replacement item. Although often people think that only borrowing money is considered halva’ah, borrowing eggs is also halva’ah since they will be eaten and different eggs will be returned. Similarly, borrowing any item that will not be returned intact is halva’ah. In a halva’ah, the borrower becomes the owner of the loaned item and assumes financial responsibility to repay the lender. Once the borrower receives the loaned item, the lender loses his legal right to ask for the item back. (An exception to this is if the item is loaned in error, for example, if I loan someone an item that is more valuable than I intended.) This is in contrast to an item given as a she’eilah where the borrower assumes responsibility to care for the item and returns it intact when the loan is over.

At times, borrowing money can be she’eilah and not halva’ah. For example, if I borrow a rare coin for an exhibit, it is understood that I do not intend to spend it and that I will return the same coin. Therefore, it has the laws of she’eilah.

OTHER DIFFERENCES BETWEEN SHE’EILAH AND HALVA’AH

There are many other halachic differences between she’eilah and halva’ah. For example, the borrower of a halva’ah that has no specific repayment deadline automatically has 30 days to repay the loan (Choshen Mishpat 73:1). However, an item lent as a she’eilah without specifying a length of time must be returned as soon as the owner wants it back (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 341:1).

Charging money for she’eilah is not prohibited; this is called rental. In this case, the “borrower” is now a “renter” and is less responsible for the item than a borrower is.

However, charging for a halva’ah is considered interest and is prohibited because of ribbis. It should be noted that in the case mentioned above where a coin was borrowed for an exhibit, one may charge a rental fee for the coin without incurring the prohibition of ribbis since it is a she’eilah and not a halva’ah (Yoreh Deah 176:1). (There are specific other rules that must be followed in these circumstances to avoid ribbis that are beyond the scope of this article.)

The following story illustrates a case where money was loaned as a pikadon and not as a halva’ah.

Reuven was negotiating a business deal which required investing a significant amount of his capital. The potential partner insisted on proof that Reuven could produce the required funds. Although Reuven had sufficient resources for this purpose, it was easier for him to “rent” money from a third party as a pikadon. The agreement was that he would not use the money and would return the very same banknotes to the lender.

Two shaylos are involved in this case. 1. Is this act geneivas da’as, deception, since Reuven is showing the partner someone else’s money? (This shaylah will, IY”H, be discussed in a future article.) 2. Is there a problem of ribbis?

Reuven may rent the money because he does not have the right to spend it; rather, he must return it intact. Therefore, the transaction is a she’eilah and not a halva’ah, and there is no ribbis prohibition.

We will discuss the halachos of ribbis at a different time, I”YH. For the rest of this article, we will focus on the halachos of sho’el, someone who borrows an item that will itself be returned.

RESPONSIBILITIES OF A BORROWER

In general, someone who borrows an item becomes fully responsible for its welfare. As the Torah says, if he borrowed an animal and it became injured or died, the borrower must repay, even if he was not negligent.

I borrow a friend’s laptop computer for a business trip. I take exceptional care of the laptop since it is someone else’s property, even making certain to put it in the hotel safe when not using it. While I am away one day, a fire breaks out in the hotel and the computer is irreparably damaged. Although the damage was accidental, I am still obligated to pay for the computer.

But why should I be obligated if something happened that was beyond my control? The damage was no fault of mine!

Although the details of hilchos sho’el are basically a g’zeiras hakasuv, a declaration of the Torah, there is a rationale behind these rules. When I borrow something, I receive a pure gain from the transaction since I can use the item without giving the lender anything in exchange. Therefore, the Torah obligates the borrower to ensure that the owner receives his item back, even when the borrower is not responsible for the damage (see Gemara Bava Metzia 94b; Shu”t HaRan #20).

We will later discuss two circumstances where the borrower is not responsible to compensate for the loss.

CAN I LIMIT MY RESPONSIBILITY?

Someone wants to borrow my car, but does not want to be responsible for anything that might happen to it. According to halacha, while he is borrowing my car, he is responsible if it is stolen, suffers damage from a storm or fire or is hit by another car.

Can we arrange to absolve the borrower from this responsibility?

Yes. The two parties can agree to limit the borrower’s responsibility to whatever level they are comfortable with. This is referred to as a tnai she’b’mamon, condition included in a business agreement, which is fully valid in halacha. The Mishnah states that a borrower may stipulate that he is not responsible to pay for damages even if he is negligent (Bava Metzia 94a).
SOME INTERESTING SHAILOS

Someone once asked me the following shaylah. Their yeshivah bachur son traveled back and forth between their hometown and his yeshivah, often transporting automobiles for a frum car dealer. Each side considered this an ideal arrangement – the son had free transportation and the dealer had his shipping needs serviced very inexpensively. However, I pointed out that although the son is not considered a “sho’el” (who is responsible even for accidental damage, as explained above) since the dealer also gains from the arrangement, the son is still responsible for the total value of the car if he acts negligently. (Whether he is responsible to replace the car if it is stolen is dependent upon details that are beyond the scope of this article.)

Needless to say, his parents were rather concerned about their son assuming this level of financial responsibility. I explained that their son should negotiate with the dealer exactly how much responsibility he was accepting.

My wife was once asked to transport a large sum of money on a journey. Although she was doing the other person a complete favor, she would still be responsible for negligence. We told the person that she was assuming no responsibility whatsoever, and he agreed. Since we made this condition, she could not be held responsible no matter what happened.

Similarly, someone who borrows an item may specify to the owner that he is not assuming full responsibility for the borrowed item, and this absolves him if the owner agrees. Of course, the owner may not want to lend the item if the borrower does not assume full responsibility.

DOES THIS ARRANGEMENT NEED TO BE IN WRITING?

No, an oral agreement or understanding between the two parties is perfectly sufficient. The main advantage of a written agreement is to prevent misunderstanding or disagreement about the terms of the agreement.

But one second! Doesn’t the Torah require the sho’el, borrower, to pay for damages? How can the Torah’s instructions be pushed aside?

There is a major difference between the financial rules established by the Torah and its prohibitions. In business arrangements, two parties may create their own terms. Thus, an employer can agree to give his employee benefits beyond what halacha requires and be obligated to provide them. Similarly, when a couple marries, the husband assumes responsibility to support his wife. However, if the two choose to marry without this responsibility, they may do so (Gemara Kiddushin 19b).

However, two parties cannot make a business agreement that violates a Torah prohibition. Therefore, one cannot create a contract that charges interest, ignores the Shmittah time limit for collecting debts or authorizes using non-halachic courts for adjudication. These cases all involve Torah-ordained prohibitions, and therefore cannot be eliminated by a “deal” between the two parties.

WHEN IS A BORROWER NOT RESPONSIBLE FOR DAMAGE?

I mentioned above that there are two circumstances whereby the borrower is absolved from paying for the damage. The Gemara calls these two cases “be’alav imo” literally, “the owner is with him,” and “meisah machmas melacha,” which means “the loaned animal died because of the work.”

The basis of each of these two pturim, absolutions, is totally different and both need to be explained.

BE’ALAV IMO

Be’alav imo means that if the lender was working for the borrower when the pikadon was borrowed, the sho’el is absolved from paying for any subsequent damage. According to the halacha, this applies only if the owner was working when the she’eilah began. However, if the owner began work after the loan was begun, the borrower is fully responsible (Bava Metzia 94a).

This rule sounds very strange. What is its rationale?

We generally divide mitzvos into two categories, bein adam lachaveiro, mitzvos between us and our fellow men, and bein adam laMakom, mitzvos between us and Hashem. We are not surprised when mitzvos bein adam laMakom are beyond our comprehension and based on gezeiras hakasuv, decrees of Hashem in His Torah. For example, we never question why the Torah commanded holding an esrog on Sukkos and not a lemon – we know that the Torah’s mitzvos are beyond our comprehension. Nor do we ask why the flimsy schach on a sukkah must come from plant growth. We understand that these halachos are gezeiras hakasuv.

However when we it comes to bein adam lachaveiro, we expect to understand them. Indeed, most halachos of civil law are very comprehendible and include relatively few halachos based on gezeiras hakasuv. However, there are some exceptions and the rule of be’alav imo is one of them. The Torah states that under these circumstances, the borrower need not pay, even though we cannot comprehend the difference.

Nevertheless, several rationales have been suggested for the law of be’alav imo. In other words, even though it is a gezeiras hakasuv, we can derive certain hashkafic concepts from these laws. However, we must realize that these rationale should not be considered as “reasons” for the mitzvah. After all, do we think that we can comprehend the reasons for Hashem’s mitzvos? As the Sefer HaChinuch explains, the words ta’am hamitzvah should be translated as the taste of a mitzvah, rather than the reason for a mitzvah. This is because we can never explain why Hashem gave us mitzvos. We can only suggest ideas that will help us grow while we observe the mitzvos that Hashem has granted!

Similarly, the ta’amim given to explain be’alav imo should be understood as tastes, ideas that illuminate these halachos.
That being said, we can now present a ta’am suggested for the law of be’alav imo. Some explain that since the owner is being employed by the borrower, the borrower does not assume that he is responsible for the item borrowed. Rather, he assumes that the owner is taking care of his own item (Chinuch, Mitzvah 60). Under these circumstances, the Torah does not require the borrower to pay for damage done to the loaned item.

MEISAH MACHMAS MELACHA

The other occasion when a borrower is absolved from paying is “meisah machmas melacha,” literally, “the loaned animal died because of the work.” This is based on a logical concept that if the borrower had express permission to use the borrowed item for a certain purpose, he should not be penalized for utilizing it for that purpose (Tosafos; Nimukei Yosef).

There is an alternative explanation for meisah machmas melacha that contends that the borrower has the right to assume that a borrowed item can withstand normal wear and tear. If the pikadon did not withstand normal use, then we presume that it was inferior and the borrower is not responsible for the loss (Ramban; Sma 340:3).

A LOANED CAT

The Gemara discusses a strange case of someone who borrowed a cat to rid his house of unwanted mice. A din Torah was called when the mice killed the cat instead and the mash’eil claimed that the borrower must pay him for his loss! The Gemara concludes that the borrower is exempt because there must have been something wrong with a cat that was overpowered by mice (Bava Metzia 97a).

The following case is discussed by poskim. The residents of a threatened town borrowed weapons to defend themselves. They were defeated and the weapons were confiscated. Must they pay for the weapons?

The poskim dispute this issue. Some rule that they are exempt because the items were borrowed specifically for use in self-defense and the loss is categorized as meisah machmas melacha. Others contend that they are obligated to pay since the weapons were not inferior (Sma 340:8 and Shach ad loc.).

I was recently asked a shailah about someone who borrowed a power saw that was damaged during use. Is this considered meisah machmas melacha?

The halachic issue is to determine whether the borrower used the saw in a normal fashion, in which case he would be exempt from paying, or whether he perhaps abused the appliance, in which case he is obligated.

A FEW UNFAMILIAR HALACHOS ABOUT BORROWING

I have discovered that there are several halachos of which even knowledgeable people are unaware.

If I borrowed an item for a specific purpose, may I use it for something else?

In most instances, the answer is no. It is prohibited to use the pikadon for a different job without permission, even for a job that involves less wear and tear than the task for which it was borrowed (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 341:7). Some poskim permit using the pikadon for a job that is clearly less taxing on the tool, but all agree that I may not use it for work that might be equally stressful (Taz 340:1; Sma 341:20).

RETURNING THE BORROWED ITEM

Many people are unaware that a borrowed item is not considered returned until the lender knows about it (Choshen Mishpat 340:8). Therefore, if I borrow a hammer from my neighbor and return it to his house, I have not discharged my obligation until he knows that it has been returned. If it becomes damaged in the interim, I am still responsible to pay!

I borrowed a sefer from someone. When I came to return it, his children told me that the owner had gone on vacation. Consequently, I am responsible for the sefer until he finds out that I have returned it to his house.

BORROWING COLLATERAL

Reuven borrowed money from a non-Jewish bank and placed a valuable painting in the bank’s vault as collateral. Knowing that the painting was worth far more than the loan, Shimon asked Reuven if he could borrow some money from the bank, using the painting as collateral for his loan as well. Both Reuven and the bank agreed. Subsequently, a massive explosion at the bank destroyed the painting. According to secular law, neither Reuven nor Shimon were obligated to pay back the loans since the collateral was not returned. (Incidentally, according to halacha, if the lender was Jewish, he would be obligated to repay the loan since the lender was not at fault for the loss.)

However, Reuven wants Shimon to compensate him for the painting, claiming that Shimon benefited from his loss. Reuven claims that Shimon “borrowed” the painting as collateral, since without it Shimon could not obtain his loan. Therefore, Shimon should have to compensate Reuven since he borrowed an item that he did not return. Does Reuven have any basis for his claim?

According to halacha, Shimon has no responsibility to compensate Reuven. The painting was in the bank’s vault because of Reuven’s loan, not because of Shimon’s (Mordechai, Bava Metzia #371; Rama, Choshen Mishpat 340:1).

However, if Reuven had never borrowed from the bank, but Shimon had used the painting as collateral, Shimon would indeed be responsible for it.

We have touched on some of the halachos involved when borrowing. This certainly indicates how much we have to know in order to observe them correctly. We should always bear in mind that the Gemara advises someone who wants to become a great tzaddik to ensure that he is highly familiar with all the halachos of damages!

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