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The Gemara in Bava Kamma 30a shares the teaching of Rav Yehudah concerning one who wishes to be a chossid, e.g. a pious person.

One who wants to be pious should observe the matters of tractate Nezikin, so as to avoid causing damage to others.

Besides the basic meforshim on this Gemara, I've searched on Otzar HaChochma for another possible explanations on what it means that one should study Nezikin. There, I found an explanation from sefer Orot HaThiya (p. 87; האי מאן דבעי למהוי חסידא) from Rav Kook and R' Shlomo Aviner (Rosh Yeshiva of Ateres Yerushalayim). In the sefer, the author(s) explain that by dealing with the subjects of this seder Nezikin, one obtains a higher morality and little by little he gradually becomes a Chossid. Yesterday, I also read a shiur given by Rav Avigdor Miller in Toras Avidgor, who explains that the message of this Gemara is that we need to train ourselves to obtain awareness that Hashem is always watching us.

The sefer Biur HaGra explains that another meaning of this can be that one is really carefully in not harming another person through his actions.

as long as one is careful that harm and evil do not come to another because of it, one is a complete Hasidic.

Rav Soloveitchik is quoted in saying that parashas Mishpatim is the practical application of the ten commandments, B'nei Yisrael just received (parashas Yisro) on Har Sinai. That is the reason why parashas Mishpatim, which is connected with Nezikin, comes immediately after Matan Torah in parashas Yisro. (see: Parashah Roundup: Mishpatim 5773 on TorahMusings)

However, it still seems a bit difficult to understand why the Torah needed to begin the first parasha after Matan Torah with dealing with these kind of mishpatim. Why was it so important to stress the laws of the Eved Ivri (Hebrew Slave) or the prohibition of starting a strive or the goring ox (v. 28)? Why not dealing with the spiritual aspects after Matan Torah? We just received G-ds Holy Torah. True, I understand the explanations that it is a true Torah concept that we must not do anything to others, that we don't want to be done to ourselves (Avos 2:10 for example), but is that really the reason why parashas Mishpatim deals with these mishpatim (laws)?

Are there any insights given to this matter? Why parashas Mishpatim deals with these kind of laws and why this parasha is so connected with Seder Nezikin? Is the reason that "one obtains a higher morality" through studying these laws (See sefer Orot HaThiya) the reason why?

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  • Oh Shmuel, what a GREAT question. My only regret is I have but one vote to cast
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Feb 17, 2023 at 9:51
  • sefaria.org/Sheet_98290.0
    – אילפא
    Feb 17, 2023 at 12:39
  • @Avrah This Abarbanel I find a bit difficult to understand. Could you provide a translation?
    – Shmuel
    Feb 18, 2023 at 19:59

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This is such a fundamental question, and so well spotted. Prepare for some long quotes, followed by a conclusion making the overall point at the end.

What is a Chassid? Mesilat Yisharim defines:

כי הנה המצות המוטלות על כל ישראל כבר ידועות הן וחובתן ידועה עד היכן היא מגעת.

It is known which mitzvot are binding on every Jew and the extent their obligation reaches.

אמנם מי שאוהב את הבורא ית"ש אהבה אמתית לא ישתדל ויכוין לפטור עצמו במה שכבר מפורסם מן החובה אשר על כל ישראל בכלל, אלא יקרה לו כמו שיקרה אל בן אוהב אביו שאילו יגלה אביו את דעתו גילוי מעט שהוא חפץ בדבר מן הדברים, כבר ירבה הבן בדבר ההוא ובמעשה ההוא כל מה שיוכל. ואע"פ שלא אמרו אביו אלא פעם אחת ובחצי דיבור, הנה די לאותו הבן להבין היכן דעתו של אביו נוטה לעשות לו, גם את אשר לא אמר לו בפירוש, כיון שיוכל לדון בעצמו שיהיה הדבר ההוא נחת רוח לפניו ולא ימתין שיצוהו יותר בפירוש או שיאמר לו פעם אחרת.

But he who truly loves the Creator, blessed be He, will not strive and intend to discharge himself with the known obligations binding on every Jew. Rather, what will happen to him is the same as that of a son who loves his father. Even if his father reveals a slight indication of something he desires, already the son will strive greatly, to the best of his ability, to fulfill this thing or service. Even though the father merely mentioned it once and only halfway, this will be enough for such a son to understand the direction of his father's intent and to do for him even what he did not say explicitly. For he can deduce on his own that this thing will bring pleasure to his father, and he will not wait until his father commands him more explicitly or tells him another time.

והנה דבר זה אנחנו רואים אותו בעינינו שיולד בכל עת ובכל שעה בין כל אוהב וריע, בין איש לאשתו, בין אב ובנו. With our own eyes we can observe this matter occurring at all times and in all places between all friends and lovers, between man and wife, between father and son.

כללו של דבר בין כל מי שהאהבה ביניהם עזה באמת. שלא יאמר לא נצטויתי יותר, די לי במה שנצטויתי בפירוש, אלא ממה שנצטוה ידון על דעת המצוה וישתדל לעשות לו מה שיוכל לדון שיהיה לו לנחת.

The general principle: wherever the love between two is true and strong, one will not say to the other: "No more was requested of me. It's enough for me to do what I was told explicitly". Rather through what one requested, the other will infer the requester's intent and will strive to do what he deems will be pleasing to the other.

והנה כמקרה הזה יקרה למי שאוהב את בוראו ג"כ אהבה נאמנת, כי גם הוא מסוג האוהבים ותהיינה לו המצות אשר צוויים גלוי ומפורסם לגילוי דעת לבד לדעת שאל הענין ההוא נוטה רצונו וחפצו ית"ש, ואז לא יאמר די לי במה שאמור בפירוש, או אפטור עצמי במה שמוטל עלי עכ"פ, אלא אדרבא יאמר כיון שכבר מצאתי ראיתי שחפצו ית"ש נוטה לזה, יהיה לי לעינים להרבות בזה הענין ולהרחיב אותו בכל הצדדין שאוכל לדון שרצונו יתברך חפץ בו, וזהו הנקרא עושה נחת רוח ליוצרו.

Similar to this will occur to he who loves his Creator with a faithful love. For G-d is also a class of those who are loved. Thus, the mitzvot which are clear and familiar will be to him only as a revelation of intent, to indicate to him that the will and desire of G-d inclines in the direction of that principle. Then, he will not say to himself "it is enough for me what was stated explicitly", or "I will discharge my duty with what is nonetheless incumbent upon me". Rather, on the contrary, he will say "since I discovered and saw that G-d's desire inclines to this, this will be a guide for me to increase in this matter and to expand it in all directions which I can infer that His will desires. Such a person is called: "one who gives gratification to his Maker".

I apologise for the length of the quotes, but it is all pure gold and leads to the next point. What, practically, is involved in being a Chassid? He addresses this in the next chapter:

חלקי החסידות הראשונים ג', הא' במעשה, הב' באופן העשיה, הג' בכונה. החלק הא' במעשה אף הוא יתחלק לב' חלקים, הא' במה שבין אדם למקום, והב' במה שבין אדם לחבירו.

There are three primary divisions of Piety. The first relates to deed, the second to manner of performance, and the third to intent. The first division of deed itself further divides into two subdivisions. The first between man and G-d and the second between man and his fellow.

On the matter of treating our fellow man like a Chassid should:

החלק השני שבא' הוא במה שבין אדם לחבירו, וענינו גודל ההטבה שיהיה האדם לעולם מטיב לבריות ולא מריע להם, וזה בגוף, בממון, ובנפש.

The second subdivision of the first division, namely, piety in deed between man and his fellow, its matter is great beneficence, namely, that one always does good to others and never harms them. This applies to the body, possessions, and spirit of one's fellow.

בגוף, שיהיה משתדל לעזור כל אדם במה שיוכל ויקל משאם מעליהם, והוא מה ששנינו (אבות פ"ו): ונושא בעול עם חבירו ואם מגיע לחבירו איזה נזק בגופו, והוא יוכל למנוע אותו או להסירו, יטרח כדי לעשותו.

Body: that one strives to help all men however he can, and lighten the burden that is upon them. As we learned: "bearing the yoke with one's fellow" (Avot 6:6). If his fellow is about to be struck by some bodily harm and he can prevent it or remove it, he should exert himself to do so.

בממון, לסייעו באשר תשיג ידו, ולמנוע ממנו הנזקין בכל מה שיוכל, כל שכן שירחיק הוא כל מיני נזקין שיכולים לבוא מחמתו, בין ליחיד בין לרבים.

Possessions: to assist him with whatever means he can and to prevent damages from befalling him however he can. It goes without saying that the pious person will distance all possibilities of damages to individuals or the public that may arise from his own part.

ואפילו שעתה מיד אין היזקן מצוי כיון שיכול לבוא לידי כך יסירם ויעבירם, ואז"ל (אבות פ"ב): יהי ממון חבירך חביב עליך כשלך.

And even though there is no immediate likelihood of damage, since it may potentially lead to this, he will remove it and dispose of it. Our sages, of blessed memory, said: "the possessions of your fellow should be as precious to you as your own" (Avot 2:12).

בנפש, שישתדל לעשות לחבירו כל קורת רוח שיש בידו, בין בעניני הכבוד, בין בכל שאר הענינים, כל מה שהוא יודע שאם יעשהו לחבירו הוא מקבל נחת רוח ממנו, מצות חסידות הוא לעשותו, כל שכן שלא יצערנו בשום מיני צער כלל, יהיה באיזה אופן שיהיה.

Spirit: to strive to bring however much contentment to his fellow that he can. This applies to matters of honor or any other area. If he knows that he can do something to his fellow that will give him contentment, it is a mitzvah of Piety to do so. It goes without saying that he will not cause him any pain of any kind whatsoever.

There are many proofs he brings, including the gemara you mentioned:

ואמרו עוד ז"ל (ב"ק ל'): אר"י האי מאן דבעי למהוי חסידא לקיים מילי דברכות וזה למה שבינו לבין קונו. ואמרי לה: לקיים מילי דנזקין וזהו למה שבינו לבין חבירו. ואמרי לה: לקיים מילי דאבות ששם נכללים ענינים מכל החלקים.

Our sages, of blessed memory, further said (Bava Kama 30a): "Rabbi Yehuda said: 'he who wishes to become pious, let him fulfill the matters of Berachot (blessings)' (this is for those things between man and his Maker), some say 'let him fulfill the laws of damages' (this is for those things between man and his fellow), and some say 'let him fulfill the matters of Pirkei Avot' (which include matters from all the divisions of piety).

והנה גמילות חסדים הוא עיקר גדול לחסיד, כי חסידות עצמו נגזר מחסד ואז"ל (אבות פ"א): על ג' דברים העולם עומד ואחד מהם ג"ח. וכן מנוהו ז"ל עם ...הדברים שאוכל פירותיהן בעולם הזה והקרן קיימת לו לעולם הבא.

Behold acts of kindliness are of great primary importance to the Chasid (pious). For the term "Chasidut" itself comes from the term "kindliness" (Chesed). And our sages, of blessed memory, said (Pirkei Avot 1:2): "on three things the world stands", and one of whom is "acts of kindliness". Likewise, they counted them as one of those things which a person "eats of its fruits in this world while the principal [reward] is reserved for him in the World to Come."...

ואמרו עוד (יבמות ע"ט): דרש רבא כל מי שיש בו ג' מדות הללו, בידוע שהוא... מזרעו של אברהם אבינו, רחמן, וביישן, וגומל חסדים.

...Rava expounded: "whoever has these three traits is surely of the seed of Avraham our forefather: mercy, shame, and kindness" (Yevamot 79a).

With the bold above, we are almost there. One final point:

כללו של דבר הרחמנות וההטבה צריך שתהיה תקוע בלב החסיד לעולם, ותהיה מגמתו תמיד לעשות קורת רוח לבריות, ולא לגרום להם שום צער וכו'.

The general principle of the matter is that mercy and kindness must be permanently fixed in the heart of the Chasid (pious person), and that his aspiration is always be to bring contentment to his fellow creatures and not cause them any pain, etc.

The point is that a Chassid, who is defined by what is going on in his heart and mind as much as his actions, has an inner feeling and outlook that it is repulsive to him to cause suffering in any way to another creature, nor to his Creator. He has an inner thirst to bring joy and benefit to his fellow creatures, as well as his Creator.

How does one develop this? Firstly, one acquires a trait of mercy, shame and kindness. A trait is indeed expressed by an inner feeling, outlook - da'at. This inner feeling is characterised by fear and shame at the thought of harming or neglecting to benefit a fellow creature, and this will lead one to seek out Hashem's wisdom on all the various ways this can be achieved, such as learning the laws of nezikin (damages), and the wisdom of Avot.

The person, i.e. the soul, internalises goodness, becomes good, rather than the naki (tzaddik, see ch. 13), who just does good, but may not have transformed on the inside. This of course is a primary goal of Torah, to transform us into mentchen, not just regulate our behaviour, which is bedi'eved at best.

How does the Torah do that? Well, you hit the nail on the head. The very first thing that Hashem tells us after the 10 Commandments is, paraphrased "you know your slave? He's not a thing, but a fellow creature, you can't do as you please, you must treat him well. If you only have one bed, you must sleep on the floor and give it to him". See the message, and how it relates to the above? Hashem is inculcating us with a message that will hopefully, over time, cure our coldness to our fellow creatures, and open us up to the reality that there is a great shame involved in harming them, and a great joy involved in serving them, which is not natural to the body.

Thus far, I am quoting sources. My own little idea, if I may, take it or leave it: As far as I can tell, it has been working well. We are now living in a world that abhors slavery, is very concerned that people have rights and are treated well - certainly people hate the idea of objectification of humans. There might be a little extra work to be done, but we are doing good. Baruch Hashem and His Torah!

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    I have been reading this great answer more than once since you posted it. Besides that, I found, in his commentary to Vayikra 19:18, that Rav David Tzvi Hoffmann writes: אני ה׳ – האב האחד של כל בני אדם הוא המאחד אותנו כאחים וכבני עם אחד. - so, also based on your answer, the reason why this is all linked together, might be because we are all Hashem's children, and surely, our Heavenly Father wouldn't want his children to harm one another. Can that be a conclusion?
    – Shmuel
    Mar 4, 2023 at 20:27
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    @Shmuel us interacting in all kinds of relationships is the world of Godliness, it is life itself. Hashem created and designed life and made it holy, and had in mind a correct way life should be lived after His unfathomable preference and true desire. It's so serious and awe inspiring, and brings out the holiness in life, in each-other and invites Him into the world, and is the end goal of Creation, Him Himself becoming one with us. Studying nezikin is learning how to treat everyone as holy and infinitely Godly and precious. Us being children/brothers adds to the obligations to this too
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 4, 2023 at 21:20
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    Thanks very much for your nice words. So this deep seriousness about how precious we all are to Hashem, and how precious life is, does connect with what you say. We are so close to Him and each other, children/brothers and we also are in a relationship of choice, which is the eved/Master, Spousal relationship. It all is a mashal for the true Oneness. This connection and the love and holiness that goes with it, help us understand the seriousness of nezikin and the inner feelings and outlook appropriate to develop with regards to how we treat eachother
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 4, 2023 at 21:27
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    Wonderful, great answer and I have accepted it :). Hatzlacha and may you keep growing in Torah.
    – Shmuel
    Mar 4, 2023 at 21:36
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    @Shmuel amen, a very well received bracha, thank you tzaddik and chassid, you too
    – Rabbi Kaii
    Mar 5, 2023 at 4:01

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