Shabbat Parashat Nitzavim| 5763
Levels of Obligation - Part II
We continue to discuss cases where beit din cannot make someone pay, but there is some level of moral obligation to do so. The gemara mentions in a few contexts the concept of an obligation to be latzet y’dei shamayim (roughly, to fulfill his obligation according to Divine Justice).
A list of four such cases is found in Bava Kamma 55b-56a. One is of a person who places poison in front of his counterpart’s animal, who, as a result of eating it, dies. The common denominator between the cases is the fact that the damage was caused indirectly. This situation, known as gerama, causes the “damager” to be exempt by the [Torah’s] laws of man and obligated by the Heavenly laws. In these cases, even if the damaged party takes the law into his own hands and grabs payment, beit din returns the money to the indirect damager (Yam Shel Shlomo, ad loc.).
There is another case in which the gemara uses similar terminology, but the theoretical basis is quite different. The gemara has a rule that we cannot make a person pay money which is connected to a capital offense (see beginning of 3rd perek of Ketubot). In such a case, while a person has done something which should have obligated him to pay, there is a halachic reason to exempt him, in practice. However, there is an obligation latzet y’dei shamayim. In such a case, Rashi (Bava Metzia 91a) rules that the obligation is grounded enough that if the damaged person grabs payment, we do not extract it from him. The Torah’s exemption from payment means only that beit din cannot carry out the levying of the payment in a case where they are obligated (at least potentially) to carry out the death penalty. (See a lengthy discussion of the topic in K’tzot Hachoshen 28:1).
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