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Thought for the Day: Make Your Learning Real

Chances are you have learned or at least heard of a case from the talmud that just, well, seemed more than a little far-fetched.  My early morning chavrusa and I have been struggling through one of those for a few days now.  Yehuda's innocent ox gored Shimon's ox, which fell (before it died) into Levi's pit, where it finally died (Bava Kama, 53a).  That happens every day in downtown Chicago, right?  The main issue is that the owner of a pit pays full damages, whereas the owner of an innocent ox pays half damages.  In this case Yehuda and Levi were equal in there contribution to the death of Shimon's ox, but their individual obligations to pay are different.  The gemara tries different s'varas as to how much each should pay.

Along comes R' Nosson and says a new pshat that is (at first) difficult to understand, but the gemara goes with it and Tosofos works with it even more.  Why?  R' Nosson was a dayan (actually Av Beis Din) and therefore understood the depth and intent of the halacha.  A dayan, apparently, has a different perspective.  There is actually a famous ma'aseh regarding an issue on how to address an invitation to an intermarried couple.  I called R' Fuerst and got a p'sak.  My wife heard the p'sak and felt I had not adequately explained the situation (which involved a family member) to the dayan.  I suggested she call to explain it better.  She called and explained the situation much better and with a measure of passion to be sure the dayan appreciated all the nuances of our particular situation.  R' Fuerst gave a different p'sak.  In retrospect, when I called we were essentially speaking in learning.  When my wife called it was to get to the depth of the intent of the halacha and be sure we did everything correctly.

Now I suppose you are wondering what brought all this up.  I was riding my bike to work yesterday when suddenly the dread of every bike commuter happened in front of me: a car door opened in my path.  A cab had stopped (without pulling over) and the passenger opened the back door toward the curb.  I saw it in time and was able to go around it, so no worries.  My first thought was, "Hey!  This is that case in the gemara!"  The cab (bor) was owned by one person and the ox (idiot opening the back door) was another person!  I started wondering how they would have split up the damages.  (Ok... my first thought was really, "BREATHE, Michael, BREATHE!"  It was also really after my heart started again.)

In any case, I looked at that gemara a whole different way this morning and my chavrusa and I were able to get p'shat in the gemara and tosofos.  Ah... that's living!

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