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Simcha Groffman

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Parashas Balak

The Goring Ox

"Your ox gored my sheep."

"I am very sorry."

"I am glad that you are sorry, but that is not enough. You must pay for the damage that your ox caused."

"Wait just a minute. My ox was minding its own business, locked up in my corral. Your sheep wandered in, slipping through the bars. He had no business being in my corral. Therefore I do not have to pay anything."

"It is true that my sheep should not have been there, but you ox did the damage. You must pay."

The question is:

Does the owner of the ox have to pay for the sheep that his ox gored?

The answer is:

This puzzle is from the Gemora (Bava Kamma 13b). The Mishna (on page 9b according to Rashi's explanation) states that I must pay for damages caused by a dangerous object or animal (e.g. an ox) that I am obligated to guard. However, if the damaged object or animal (e.g. a sheep) enters the property of the owner of the dangerous object or animal, he is exempt from paying. Why? The Gemora (13b) explains that the owner of the ox can say, "What was your sheep doing on my property?" Based on this the Shulchan Aruch Choshen Mishpat (389:10) explains that when the sheep enters without permission, the owner of the ox can say, "If your sheep would not have entered my property, he would not have been damaged." Therefore, the owner of the ox is exempt from paying damages. If, however, he had permission to enter, then the owner of the ox is obligated to guard his animal and pay for all damages to the sheep.

This puzzle and answer is for learning and discussion purposes only. Do not rely upon it for psak halacha! Consult a Rav to determine the correct halachic ruling.

The Donkey Must Die

"Hashem opened the mouth of the donkey and she said to Bilaam, 'What have I done to you that you hit me these three times?' Bilaam answered, 'Because you ridiculed me. If only I had a sword in my hand, I would have killed you now!'" (Bamidbar 22:28-29). The Medrash (Bamidbar Rabba 20:14) reveals a little more of this conversation. The donkey said, "You cannot kill me without a sword?!? How can you hope to wipe out an entire nation?" Bilaam was silent. He had no answer to this sharp comment. The officers of Moav were dumbstruck. They had just witnessed a miracle that was unparalleled in history. The donkey put Bilaam to shame. What would be?

And so, the fate of the donkey was sealed. "The donkey said to Bilaam…'Have I been accustomed to do such a thing to you?'" (Bamidbar 22:30). The word "hasken" is translated here as "accustomed". The word "has" is similar to the word "chas" (to be concerned). The Medrash darshens (expounds) on this word. The Almighty was "chas" (concerned) about the honor of the evil Bilaam. Therefore, the donkey cannot continue to live, because people would see her and say, "This is the donkey that dismissed Bilaam with criticism so sharp that he could not answer." What a humiliation! And so, Hashem killed the donkey to save Bilaam from shame. If Hashem is so worried about the honor of a rasha (evil person), how much more so is He concerned about the honor of a tsaddik. And if The Almighty is concerned about the honor of others, how much more so should we respect and honor our fellow human beings.

Kinderlach . . .

"Beep, beep!" The young boy was zipping along the sidewalk on his scooter. He did not see the man walking in front of him until it was too late. He swerved to avoid hitting him, but did not succeed. The man was startled by the bump from the scooter. "Hey, watch out!" he said to the young boy. The boy laughed at him. His friend who was watching joined in the humiliation. It was entertaining watching the man get upset.

These boys have no concern for the honor of others. They will even go as far as humiliating someone if it gives them pleasure. Our Torah teaches us that this is wrong. Bilaam would have gladly wiped out the entire Jewish nation. He was of one of the most evil people in history. Yet Hashem Himself guarded Bilaam's honor. We must follow in His ways and guard the honor of our fellow man. Stand up for older people. Speak softly to them, with respect. If you do offend them in any way, apologize immediately. Follow Hashem's example. Honor your fellow man.

Not a Burden

Instead of cursing the Jewish people, Bilaam blessed us. "He did not see any struggling in Israel" (Bamidbar 23:21). How could he say that the Jewish people do not struggle? We learned just a few weeks ago in parashas Bechukosai that we must toil in Torah (omel batorah). To learn Torah properly, one must struggle. How is that not a burden?

The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh explains that although we exert ourselves, it does not feel like a burden. When you are laboring at something that it is worthwhile, which you love, you do not feel strained. Quite the contrary! It is your greatest pleasure and enjoyment to put in the maximum effort! You express your creativity and feel great accomplishment! Toiling in Torah learning is not a burden at all. It is our pleasure and privilege.

Kinderlach . . .

Do you remember last year's summer vacation? I am sure that there were many preparations. Packing the clothes, food, and toys take time. Schlepping the suitcases, making the reservations, packing up the car, and preparing the house. The list is endless. Does anyone ever say, "Oy vey, vacation is such a struggle?" Of course not. Vacation is a pleasure. Sure it is hard work. However, that hard work is for a good purpose. The whole family goes away together, sees some new sights, and gets plenty of rest and relaxation. This builds family unity, and everyone arrives back home refreshed with new energy for school and their jobs. The hard work is anything but a struggle. So too with Torah and mitzvos. Sure they are hard work. But they are not a struggle. Our Torah learning keeps the world going and is a source of blessing in our lives. Mitzvos bring us closer to Hashem and earn tremendous rewards for us. How could anything so important and satisfying be a struggle?

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