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Thought for the Day: Thoughtful Speech That Leads to Divine Service Is What Makes You Human

The mishna (Bava Kama 34b) uses a common pedagogical tool of listing contrasting cases to ease memorization: "There are cases where the action of a person's animal incurs a penalty, but the same action by the person himself is exempt from penalty; where the action of a person's animal is exempt from penalty, but the same action by the person himself  incurs a penalty;  Howso?"  A list of such scenarios is presented, ending with: if the ox ignites a hay stack on Shabbos, the owner must pay for damages, while if the person himself does so he is exempt from paying damages because he has incurred the death penalty.

The person is exempt due to the principle of "kam lei mi'd'raba minei"; Once he has transgressed a capital crime, he is exempt from paying monetary damages that were also incurred in his transgression; he's had a bad enough day without adding insult to injury.  The gemara, however, it taken aback by this p'sak.  From the wording of the mishna, it is clear that the actual crime (so to speak) is the same for the animal and the person; it is only the resulting punishment that differs.  The burning down of a hay stack is clearly a purely destructive act.  The m'lachos of Shabbos are learned from the building/running of the mishkan; an inherently constructive endeavor. Therefore m'lachos which are done in a purely destructive manner (ie, not even as preparation for a repair) are usually "patur aval assur"; exempt from punishment at the d'oraisa level, but forbidden mi'd'rabanan.  One amora actually suggests that burning something down (being an inherently destructive act) is different; R' Yochanon tells him: take that kind of talk outside of beis medrash.

How does R' Yochanon, though, understand our mishna?  No problem; the person must have burned the hay stack to produce ashes that he needed for something.  But... but... sputters the gemara... that would mean the ox also had a plan use the ashes!?!  Yep, replies R' Yochanon, he needed ashes to for a bite that was bothering him on his back.  What?!  The ox planned this out?  How do you know?  Simple... you see oxen rolling in ashes, so they planned it that way.  Besides, everyone knows about Rav Papa's cow who had a tooth ache and so broke into a barrel of beer to ease the pain.

So animals think and plan.  Animals communicate by making sounds.  So what, precisely, is the difference between man and animal?  It appears that if you are thinking, planning, and acting only to satisfy your physical and/or emotional needs, then you are not doing anything different than an animal.  The G"ra on Mishlei says in several different ways that a person's job in this world is to Think in Torah, Speak in Torah to do mitzvos, Perform mitzvos.  This three pronged approach combining Thought & Speech & Action is our purpose for being in this world and (as we see from the gemara in Bava Kama) the only thing that distinguishes as human; as Tzelem Elokim.

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