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Lifnim Meshurat HaDin- Part I

By: Rav Yechezkel Yakovson

The gemara in Masechet Bava Metzia (24b) relates that Rav Yehuda followed Mar Shmuel in the shuk of Bay Daysa. Rav Yehuda inquired what is the halachic status of a purse found in the shuk. Mar Shmuel replied that it would belong to the finder (Rashi comments that Bay Daysa constituted a busy center of commerce- consequently the previous owner would relinquish hope of retrieving his lost item-ye'ush). Rav Yehuda continued to query Mar Shmuel- what is the halacha if a Jew subsequently provided distinguishing characteristics (simanim) of the purse? The finder is required to return the purse to the original owner, responded Mar Shmuel. "Chayav lehachzir"- is the precise terminology employed by Mar Shmuel.

Rav Yehuda was profoundly troubled by the two rulings of Mar Shmuel. If the item truly belongs to the finder, subsequent mentioning of simanim should be irrelevant. Mar Shmeul clarifies the latter ruling. Although according to the strict letter of the law the finder may retain ownership over the purse, on the level of superior behavior (lifnim meshurat hadin- above and beyond the letter of the law) it is proper for him to return it to the previous owner.

Mar Shmuel marshals the following episode to strengthen his ruling. The father of Shmuel found donkeys in the desert and returned them to their previous owners after 12 months had elapsed-lifnim meshurat hadin.

An internal contradiction seemingly appears in this passage. Mar Shmuel states that the finder is expected to return the purse on the level of lifnim meshurat hadin. This status is by its very nature non-compulsory. Why did Mar Shmuel employ obligatory terminology (CHAYAV lehachzir)?

Furthermore, the gemara immediately records the following conversation between Rava and Rav Nachman that transpired in either the shuk of members of the leather trade, or of the rabbinate. Rava inquired what is the halacha if a purse is found there. Rav Nachman rules that it belongs to the founder- even if the original owner provides simanim. This ruling applies even in a situation where the original owner vocally protests- similar to an individual whose home has fallen or ship has sunk, protests are ineffective. Why is the lifnim meshurat hadin element absent from this passage?

Tosafot mention similar cases of lifnim meshurat hadin. The gemara (Bava Metzia 30b) relates that Rabi Yishmael the son of Rabi Yosi assisted a gentleman in loading pieces of wood on his shoulders. The gemara notes that a scholar is exempt from removing and loading heavy objects (prika uti'ena) in situations beneath the dignity of the scholar (zaken ve'ayno life kvodo). The gemara responds that Rabi Yishmael the son of Rabi Yosi involved himself on the level of lifnim meshurat hadin. A verse from Shmot 18 is quoted, with the phrase of "they shall do (asher ya'asun)" advanced as the source for lifnim meshurat hadin. The gemara proceeds to reveal in the name of Rabi Yochanan that Jerusalem was destroyed due to the absence of conduct lifnim meshurat hadin. How can the absence of exemplary behavior generate destruction?

Mar Shmuel (in reference to returning a purse found in a public area) does not quote a verse to establish the principle of lifnim meshurat hadin. Why does the gemara quote a verse in the case of Rabi Yishmael the son of Rabi Yosi?

Tosafot refer to an additional case recorded further in Masechet Bava Metzia (83a). Raba the grandson of Chanan (according to alternative texts the grandson of Chana- Rif, or Raba the son of Rav Huna- Rosh) hired movers to transport barrels of wine. The employees were negligent and the barrels were shattered. Raba the grandson of Chanan proceeded to possess their outer cloaks as payment for the loss of his merchandise. The employees approached Rav. Rav instructed him to return their clothes. Raba the grandson of Chanan was incredulous- is this the halacha?! Rav responded in the affirmative- "one should always walk in the ways of the good" (lema'an telech bederech tovim- Mishlei 2). Raba the grandson of Chanan executed the ruling of Rav. The employees commented that they were indigent, had toiled for a full day, were hungry and lacked the funds to procure a meal. Rav commanded Raba the grandson of Chanan to pay the (negligent, ineffective) movers wages for their efforts. Rav quoted the continuation of the verse from Mishlei "and keep the ways of the righteous".

(It should be noted that this episode constitutes the Talmudic source for the Chasidic tale of the wife of Rav Zusha. The daughter of Rav & Rebbitzin Zusha was engaged to be married. The wife of Rav Zusha took the wedding dress to the seamstress. While working on the dress the seamstress burst into tears. She also had a daughter who was engaged to be married, but she lacked the financial means to buy a wedding dress. The wife of Zusha immediately offered the dress to the seamstress and returned home. Upon relating the events of the day to Rav Zusha, he inquired if she had paid the seamstress her wages. "Her wages? I gave her the whole dress!" exclaimed the wife of Rav Zusha. " No matter, she still is entitled to her wages", responded Rav Zusha. Thus the original item (barrels of wine, wedding dress) left the original owners possession and wages were delivered to the workers.)

Although this case of lifnim meshurat hadin includes a verse from Tanach it is different than the verse from Sefer Shmot "asher ya'asun". An additional difficulty must be addressed. The Torah (Sefer Devarim ) commands the Jewish People to do what is proper and good (ve'aseta  hayashar vehatov). Rashi understands that this verse directs us to compromise and to perform actions lifnim meshurat hadin. The Ramban comments in this direction and mentions the halacha of dina debar metzra (Bava Metzia 108a). If an individual decides to sell a field the owners of the neighboring fields merit priority in acquiring the property as this is convenient for them (as they already are cultivating in close proximity to these fields). Why is this verse not mentioned as a source for lifnim meshurat hadin?

Summary of difficulties:

1. How can one be obligated to act lifinim meshurat hadin?

2. Why does the lifnim meshurat hadin case of Rav Yehuda and Mar Shmuel not merit a verse?

3. Why does a subsequent case in the gemara omit the lifnim meshruat hadin factor?

4. How does the absence of lifnim meshurat hadin conduct warrant the destruction of Jerusalem?

5. In the cases of Rabi Yishmael son of Rabi Yosi and Raba grandson of Chanan different sources are advanced.

6. Why is the verse of ve'asita hayashar  vehatov not mentioned as the source of lifnim meshurat hadin?


Categorized under: 1: Halacha > General
Uploaded: 3/21/2006 11:46:43 AM