Simcha Feuerman
Psychology, Torah and the Daf Yomi

Dayyenu, Contracting with God and More Bava Metzia 79-81


I Got You This Far, Didn’t I?

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses various scenarios and liabilities incurred where a hired porter or wagon breaks down mid trip. Even if the wares did not reach the desired and contracted destination, if at the current location they can be sold too, albeit inconveniently, or if after a day he can hire another transport for the remainder of the journey, the person must still pay the fare for the trip up to this point. The claim of the wagoneer is: “Had you wanted to come to here, i.e., halfway through the journey, wouldn’t you have had to pay a fee? Therefore, pay me for the distance that my donkey carried you.”

I was reflecting on this idea about getting half way toward the goals we set.  Especially in relationships we might have resentment that one aspect or another of our spouse’s limitations held us back. While this might be true, or not (don’t be so quick to blame your failures on others), the feeling itself is a common occurrence.  Yet, the spouse (and God) might argue the same: “I got you this far, and that’s something.” A person has all kinds of plans and goals, and may indeed reach them, or not. Sometimes we wanted to go to a certain place, but in the end where we landed was just fine. The halfway point might just have been the destination all along, or maybe we keep traveling. Regardless, we appreciate the help we received to get thus far on our journey.

This is the sentiment of the Dayeinu liturgy in the Haggadah, and I am quoting a few stanzas below:

Had He brought us out of Egypt

without bringing judgment upon

[our oppressors],

that would have been enough for us. 

Had He given us their wealth

without splitting the sea for us,

that would have been enough for us. 

Had He drawn us close around Mount Sinai

without giving us the Torah,

that would have been enough for us. 

There are all kinds of vertlach about what value there would be in getting free from Egypt but still being annihilated at the Red Sea, or what is there to be thankful for, if we made it to Mount Sinai but sat around waiting for the revelation to happen, and it never did.  Perhaps the simple answer is what we have been discussing: “I got you this far, didn’t I?”  Imagine the Jews emerging victorious from Egypt, with the taste of freedom (and Matzah, Pesach and Bitter herbs) in their mouths, and then along come the Egyptians and, God forbid, the Jews die valiantly in battle by the Red Sea.  That would be tragic, but they still would die triumphantly as free men, facing down their oppressors, eye to eye.  


Contracting with God

Our Gemara on amud beis discusses what are the liabilities of a rented object. A paid watchman is liable for ordinary theft that could have been prevented through vigilance, while an unpaid watchman is exempt, so long as he was not negligent.  The basic idea is that if you are paid, you are expected to devote more energy and focus on safeguarding the object. However, a renter can be seen either way: Is he like a paid watchman, and his “pay” is the the use of the rented object, or do we say that since he already pays a rental fee, that neutralizes the benefit of usage, and now it is as if he is a free watchman. The Gemara says:

With regard to a renter, whose legal status is not stated explicitly in the Torah, how does he pay in the event that a rented article is lost or stolen? Rabbi Meir says: He pays like an unpaid bailee, i.e., only in cases where the loss of the item was due to his negligence. Rabbi Yehuda says: He pays like a paid bailee, i.e., even in cases where the loss of the item was not due to his negligence. 

The Shalah brilliantly analyzes Torah observance and our contract with God in this light (Aseres HaDibros Pesachim Matzah Ashirah). He explains:

Each of the four watchmen represent a different way of relating to God, similar to the Four Sons of the Haggadah. The Free Watchman serves God expecting no reward, and therefore is not held liable for certain sins that he commits due to being overtaken (“stolen”) by his impulses; he is only liable for sins of outright negligence. The Hired Watchman represents the person who serves God expecting a reward. Therefore, he is held liable even for sins that are committed impulsively or compulsively, but still exempt for sins committed that could not have been foreseen or prevented. The Borrower represents the person who really does not serve God, he does not believe in reward and punishment, and he takes and takes. Because of that, he is held liable even for sins committed that he could not prevent or stop.  

The Renter represents someone who serves God generally without expectation for reward, but may make a particular mitzvah conditional, such as a person who says, “I am giving this donation to charity on the condition that my son is healed.”  Shalah quotes the Semag who rules that this is permitted, when the person resolves to be happy having given the charity regardless of whether his son is healed; he is merely dedicating the mitzvah as a merit. However, if his attitude is that “God owes him”, then it is forbidden. This why the liability of the Renter is represented in the Gemara as an opinion that is variable and fluctuating because the person who performs a particular mitzvah with the hope of a specific merit and benefit (“the Renter”) may be hardly liable, as the Free Watchman, or heavily liable as Borrower, depending on his attitude. (In the mystical world there is no such thing as machlokes, but instead just different dimensions of truth, see Psychology of the Daf Eiruvin 45.) If he acts with a full heart and with only hopes, but no demands, then he is treated by God as a free watchman and is less liable for sin. But if his observance of mitzvos is utterly contingent on receiving a reward, then in a self-fulfilling manner, he is now engaging with God as a paid watchman, with more liabilities for sin. 


We Are Not Alone

Our Gemara on amud aleph discusses what happens when two people agree to watch each other’s possessions. Since they are both doing it in exchange, they are considered to be paid watchmen and liable for theft that could have been prevented by more vigilance. However, the Gemara raises an objection:

But why is this the halacha? It is a case of safeguarding with the owners simultaneous involvement! There is a principle that a watchman is exempt from paying for the damage if the owner of the item is present with the bailee or in his employ when he is safeguarding the item (Shemos 22:13). Rav Pappa said: The mishna means that he said to him: Safeguard my property for me today and I will safeguard your property for you tomorrow. At the time of his safeguarding, the owner was not in the bailee’s employ, and therefore the regular liabilities of the paid watchman apply.

Continuing along the lines of yesterday’s daf, where we used the metaphor of the watchman to understand aspects of our engagement with God and our contract with Him, Agra Dekallah (Eikev 1) uses this idea to explain a difficult verse (Devarim 7:12):

וְהָיָ֣ה ׀ עֵ֣קֶב תִּשְׁמְע֗וּן אֵ֤ת הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים֙ הָאֵ֔לֶּה וּשְׁמַרְתֶּ֥ם וַעֲשִׂיתֶ֖ם אֹתָ֑ם וְשָׁמַר֩ הַאֱלֹקֶיךָ לְךָ֗ אֶֽת־הַבְּרִית֙ וְאֶת־הַחֶ֔סֶד אֲשֶׁ֥ר נִשְׁבַּ֖ע לַאֲבֹתֶֽיךָ׃

And if you do obey these rules and safeguard them carefully, your God will faithfully safeguard for you the covenant made on oath with your fathers.

Agra Dekallah asks, why does God need to “guard” His oath? God is capable of keeping His promises and needs no reminders or vigilance. The verse could have said simply, “God will honor His oath” However, if we understand that there is an obligation for man to safeguard his soul and that is part of the covenant, and since the verse is promising a reward, this would incur the obligations of a paid watchman. As we have seen a paid watchman is liable even for theft, when extra vigilance could have prevented it.  So too, in that case, a person would be liable even for sin that could have been prevented by exceptional caution and mindfulness. That is a high standard. To relieve us of this extraordinary burden, God employs the legalism of our Gemara.  If two agree to watch at the same time, then a watchman is exempt from paying for the damage if the owner of the item is present with the bailee or in his employ when he is safeguarding the item. Therefore, God says, “Watch for me, and I will watch for you”, so this is a simultaneous agreement and watching together.

We must keep in mind that we are not alone in our journey and our efforts. God is there to help us, and says, you watch mine and I’ll watch yours, and I am with you, so you are not alone in the responsibilities. 

About the Author
Rabbi, Psychotherapist with 30 years experience specializing in high conflict couples and families.
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