Shabbat Parashat Vayeishev | 5765
Chanuka and Choshen Mishpat
Where in mishnayot can we find discussion of the laws of Chanuka? The gemara deals with it in the 2nd perek of Shabbat, but that is the gemara, not the mishna. Are there any mishnayot anywhere? Actually, there is one, in Bava Kamma (62b) of all places, dealing with the laws of damages.
The mishna states that if one puts a flame outside his store and a man leads his loaded animal down the street and his load catches on fire, the storeowner is liable to pay for damages. Rabbi Yehuda adds that if the fire was caused by Chanuka lights, then he would be exempt from paying. The gemara explains that the exemption stems from the fact that the potentially dangerous situation he set up, which at the end did cause damage, was done as part of a mitzva, thus alleviating him of financial liability. This is a rule that exists in other places as well, exempting one from payment when causing damage while running to honor the Shabbat as it enters (ibid. 32a).
Perhaps there is another lesson here, which we should keep very well in mind. The fact that damages stemming from reasonably done mitzva activities carry a monetary exemption is not meant to signal that one should not worry about such consequences. The contrary is true. We have a rule that “shluchei mitzva einan nizokin- emissaries to do mitzvot are not damaged due to these activities” (Pesachim 8a). One might think then that one could ignore risks while being involved in performing mitzvot. This is partially true and partially not so. The gemara (ibid.) points out that where damage is common, the rule does not apply. By discussing damages stemming from Chanuka lights in such a prominent way, Chazal may be teaching us, in a secondary message, that these little flames are very capable of causing damage. While the threat of damage does not deter us from doing the mitzva under normal circumstances, we should realize that we must be careful not to cause damage to ourselves or our neighbors. Exemption from payment does not imply exemption from moral obligation. And where we have no way to fulfill the mitzva without putting someone in danger of serious injury, we are to refrain from doing the mitzva.
We wish you all a meaningful and safe Chanuka!
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