Justice and Ethics in the Talmud  
"Underneath the Law"

Lesson 4 - Underneath the Law 

Portion 1 

Mishnah – If one sends a fire—and it consumes the wood, stones or earth of another, -- he is liable to pay compensation, – because it is stated:  --If a fire shall go forth and find thorns, and a stack of grain or the standing grain or the field is consumed, the one who kindled the blaze shall surely pay. 

Portion 2 

The Gemara examines the verse quoted in the Mishnah:

2a. Rava said: - Why do I need the Merciful One to write in His Torah:  —“thorns, stack of grain, standing grain and field?” 

2b. What is the purpose of each term: --They are all necessary, -- because if the Merciful One had written only thorns, --I would have said that it is only where one’s fire burned thorns that the Merciful One imposes liability,  - because fire is often found among (thorns), -- and it is typical that one would be negligent in regard to them. – But if one’s fire burned a stack of grain, - where fire is not often found, - and it is unusual that one would be negligent, -- I would have said that he is not liable.  Therefore, the verse had to add stack of grain to teach there is liability even in such a case. –And if the Merciful One had written only stack of grain, -- I would have said that only where one’s fire burns a stack of grain does the Merciful One impose liability,  - because it is a substantial loss. – But if one’s fire burns thorns, --where the loss is small, --I would have said that he is not liable.  That is why the Torah had to include thorns.

Portion 3 

Rava now explains why the verse added standing grain: --

Why do I need the verse’s mention of standing grain?  It serves to teach the following law: --Just as standing grain is exposed, --so too everything else must be exposed if one is to be liable for damaging it with his fire.  From here we learn that one is not liable for fire damage to something that is concealed. 

The Gemara asks;

-But according to R’Yehudah, --who rules that one is liable for damage to concealed items caused by fire, --why do I need the Torah to mention standing grain? 

The Gemara answers:

R-Yehudah needs it to include anything that possesses stature. 

The Gemara asks:

And the Rabbis, who use the Torah’s mention of standing grain to teach a different law (namely, that there is no liability for fire damage to concealed items), -from where do they know to include anything that possesses stature? 

The Gemara answers:

They derive it from the word or that precedes standing grain

The Gemara turns back to R’Yehudah:

But R’Yehudah, what does he derive from the word or

The Gemara answers:

He needs the word or to divide the items listed in the verse, i.e. to teach that liability is imposed not only where one’s fire burns all the listed items but even where it burns only one of them.  

Portion 4 

The Gemara cites an Aggadic teaching regarding the verse discussed above:

--R. Shmuel bar Nachmani said in the name of R. Yonasan:  Tribulation visits the world only when the wicked are in the world – but it initiates only upon the righteous first,- as it says:  If a fire shall go forth and find thorns. -- When does a fire (tribulation) go forth?  --When thorns (the wicked) are available to it.  –But it initiates only with the righteous first, -- as it says in that same verse:  and a stack of grain (the group of the righteous) is consumed. - It does not say: “And (the fire) consumes a stack of grain,” -- but rather:  and a stack of grain is consumed, meaning –that the stack of grain is already consumed by the time the fire reaches the thorns. 

Portion 5 


The following Mishnah deals with one’s responsibility to care for the objects he finds:  -- If one found books, --he should read from them once in thirty days, to air them out and prevent their decay. - If he does not know how to read, --he should roll them from beginning to end to air them out. -- However, he should not study in them any text he is learning for the first time, since he would then keep the scroll open for longer than necessary, which might lead to its damage. - Nor should another person read from the scroll together with him, so that they should not each pull the scroll in opposite directions, causing it to tear.”  --If one found a garment, - he should shake it out once every thirty days,  - and spread it out as necessary for its needs, to prevent its disintegration – but he should not spread it out for his own honor, to decorate his home.  - If he found silver utensils or copper utensils, he should make use of them as necessary for their needs,--but not to the extent that he wears them down. – If he found gold utensils or glass utensils, --he should not touch them at all while he holds them, -- until Elijah  the Prophet comes and reveals the identity of their owner.  - If one found a sack or a box, - or any other object that would not be his practice to pick up if it were his own -- he need not pick it up

Portion 6

The Gemara records another piece of advice imparted by R’Yochanan:

And R’Yochanan said; -- If one’s father left him a great sum of money as an inheritance, -and he wishes to lose it, - let him wear linen clothing, - use glass utensils, - and hire workers and not sit with them to supervise.

Portion 7 

Mishnah:  The fifth chapter continues the discussion begun in the previous chapter about which subsidiary items are included in standard sales of various properties.  The previous chapter dealt with the sale of real estate and the other fixed properties; this chapter deals with the sale of movable properties. 

The first Mishnah of the chapter discusses which items are included in the standard sale of a ship:  - One who sells a ship without specifying exactly what is included in the sale, has sold the mast – and the sail – and the anchor and all the items that drive (the ship).  – But he has not sold the ship’s slaves, - nor the sacks that hold the ship’s cargo, - nor the cargo itself—However, in a case where (the seller) said to (the buyer), -“I am selling you (the ship) and all that is in it,”  - all the items excluded in the first case are sold along with the ship. 

Portion 8 

The Gemara elaborates on the size of Jerusalem in the World to Come:

Relish Lakish said:  - The Holy One, Blessed is He, will one day add on to Jerusalem - gardens numbering a thousand times the numerical value of the word (169), - and towers numbering a thousand times the numerical value of the word (210), - and castles numbering a thousand times the numerical value of the word (146) - and fortresses numbering one thousand and two times the numerical value of the word (345).  – And each of these additions will have a population as that of the city Sepphoris in its prosperity, 

The Gemara elaborates on the size of Sepphoris:

 It was taught in a Baraisa:   R’ Yose said:  I  SAW SEPPHORIS  IN ITS TRANQUILITY – and there was in it one hundred and eighty thousand marketplaces merely for vendors of pot-stew. 

Portion 9 

The Gemara now returns to the subject of the Mishnah – the sale of a ship.  As is true of all movables, a ship cannot be acquired simply by paying the seller for it.  Rather, the buyer must perform the relevant proprietary act (kinyan) to the ship in order to acquire it.  One of the proprietary acts relevant to acquiring a ship is meshichah (pulling or drawing near), and the Gemara discusses the extent to which the ship must be pulled in order to acquire it. – It was stated:  -- Regarding the extent of meshichah needed to acquire a ship, -- Rav says:  - Once (the buyer) has pulled the ship even a small amount, -- he has acquired it.  – But Shmuel says: - He has not acquired the ship – until he pulls all of it away from the place it originally occupied. 

Justice and Ethics in the Talmud Lesson 4 - Underneath the Law

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