The Nature of Obligation : Bava Kamma 38

In Bava Kamma 38, the page deals with a piece of the Mishna that states: if a Jew’s ox bores a Caannites ox, he is exempt from payment. It is based on the phrase in Exodus which requires the relationship between the parties to be ‘raahu” or friends, neighbors, i.e. some sort of relationship. Incidentally, it is the same relationship which exempts payment by an ox of the temple-since one is not in an “raahu” relationship with the Temple. Essentially it requires a a co-existent relationship.

The Talmud questions why this should be. One answer given is that the non-Jews forfeited their rights to be part of Jewish society when they failed to uphold the Noachide laws. The Talmud questions this assertion and then makes the great and famous statement: Greater to do when obligated, then do when not obligated.

One of the more thoughtful, caring people in the daf shiur posited that this is counterintuitive. Logically, if one does something which one is not obligated to do, it should be on a higher level than doing something which is required. For example, we honor those people who give charity, not those people who pay their parking tickets. WE have to pay parking tickets, we don’t have to give charity.

So how do you resolve this. The Talmud really doesn’t give a great answer so the Shikkerdovid will weigh in. The Shikkerdovid would like to give his classic response. Everyone has their own personal yardstick with Hashem. We are all commanded to do the same things, however, our obligation is based upon our ability. Not everyone can be the Vilna Gaon, Albert Schweitzer, or Mother Teresa. For example the Shikkerdovid cannot do heart surgery or save lives on a daily basis.. but others are so obligated. Our obligations are based upon the talents, capabilities and predispositions that Hashem has endowed with us. The Torah has a variety of commands. The work in our lives is to find our path and pursue the obligations which we are capable and to the best of our ability. We might all be commanded in 613 Mitzvot. But none of us are able to fulfill all of them.

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One Response to The Nature of Obligation : Bava Kamma 38

  1. Jonathan Field says:

    As always the ShikkerDovid displays his wisdom in his treatment of today’s Daf.
    I love the yardstick analogy.

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