י״ח בתמוז ה׳תשע״ו (July 24, 2016)

Bava Kamma 54a-b: A Common Scenario

When describing an animal that falls into a bor (a ditch or hole in the ground) the Torah talks about an ox or a donkey (see Shemot 21:33). The Mishna on our daf teaches that the same rule applies to all other animals, as well, and that the Torah simply used examples that are the most common domestic animal – an ox that was used for work in the fields and a donkey that was used for carrying loads – as examples that apply to all.

The Mishna also presents a list of cases where the Torah mentions one type of animal but whose intent is that the law should be applied to other animals, as well.

For example:

  • When the Torah says that the Torah forbade behemot – domestic animals – from approaching Mount Sinai when the Torah was to be given (see Shemot 19:13), the prohibition applied to all animals.
  • When the Torah rules that someone who steals an ox, a donkey or a sheep pays back double (see Shemot 22:3), it applies to someone who steals any animal (for that matter, it applies to someone who steals anything – see Shemot 22:8).
  • When the Torah requires a person to return a lost ox or a donkey that he finds wandering (see Shemot 23:4), it applies to all animals.
  • This applies as well to cases of helping unload an animal (Shemot 23:5), refraining from muzzling an animal ( 25:4), not working an animal on Shabbat (Shemot 20:10; 5:14), etc…

While most of these are cases that refer to issues of Jewish law, the first example that discusses the case on Mount Sinai seems to be without purpose – whatever took place at the time has already happened – why is it necessary for the Mishna to teach this idea? In answer to this type of question, the Gemara in Massekhet Yoma (5b) says that there is value in explaining the meaning of the biblical verse, even if there is no practical application in halakha.

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