Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Wisdom in Money

A Mazel Tov is due to myself for having finished the Tractate Bava Basra earlier
today. Here are som concluding thoughts on the Talmud's largest single tractate:

The Mishnah teaches[1] that one who wishes to become wise should engross himself in the study of the laws concerning money. The Mishnah continues to said that monetary laws is the greatest of all the branches of Torah learning, for it is like an ever-flowing spring. Rabbi Yisrael Lipschitz of Danzig (1782-1860) explains[2] that no other branch of Torah law provides the human intellect with as wide-ranging a field for analytics and reasoning as much as civil law does; therefore, its study mentally sharpens the mind. Monetary law requires the involvement of human logic in making practical halachik decisions and drawing analogies between rules establish in precedents set by Rabbis of previous generations. Clearly, monetary laws require the most amount of mental agility, for in other situations of halacha, such as the disqualifying blemishes on a ritual sacrifices[3], previous rulings which are similar to a situation at hand bear no relevance to the situation at hand, and one cannot use such an established precedent. However, in cases of monetary dispute, the Judges (called a dayanim) must use halachik precedents in deciding their verdict. Furthermore, in most questions of Halacha, when in doubt, one can always act stringently as means of "playing it safe", but in situations of financial matters, one cannot simply rule stringently because a stringent ruling for one party is actually a lenient ruling for the opposing plaintiff. Therefore, in cases of money, Halacha sets certain principles in how to rule, including imposing the burden of proof on the claimant, not the defender.

Rabbi Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) points out[4] the numerical value of the Aramaic word used for "money" (mammon) equals the numerical value of the Hebrew word "in-depth" (Iyun). According to this, he explains that the study of the laws of money leads to wisdom because of its in-depth nature and how every set of circumstances requires its very own in-depth investigation and analysis in order for any ruling to be justified. Since a judge of civil law must be so meticulous, the study of civil law in a Torah setting sharpens one's mind. Moreover, Rabbi Yosef Chaim says that the numerical value mammon also equals the Hebrew words for "ladder" (sulam). Accordingly, when one engaged in the study of the laws of money, one is ascending the metaphoric and/or Kabbalistic ladder which leads to a complete wisdom in the study of the living Torah. This explains the tradition, maintained by the mainstream Yeshiva world, in specifically studying Talmudic tractates that deal with monetary rules. In studying such laws, one is not only acquiring an understanding of the legal system as imposed by the Torah, but one is also slowly gaining the mental components used to eventually gain an infinite wisdom in the Holy Torah.

[1] Bava Basra 175b
[2] Tiferes Yisrael to Bava Basra, Chapter 10, §84
[3] Chullin 48b. This example is from Rabbi Pinchas Horowitz (1731-1805) who has a similar discussion in Panim Yafos to Exodus 22:1
[4] Ben Yehoyada to Bava Basra 175b

6 comments:

Josh M. said...

Mazel Tov! May you be zocheh to begin and conclude many more sefarim and masechtos!

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

אמן וכן יה"ר.

Anonymous said...

Mazel Tov!

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

Mazal Tov, I especially appreciate your citation of the Ben Ish Hai.

I personally had understood the value of dine mamonot for sharpening the intellect differently. Unlike most areas of halacha, which deal with material objects and concrete activities, the phenomena dealt with in dinei mamonot are by definition abstract entities - ownership, partnership, kinyan, etc. - and therefore our analysis of these subjects occurs on a more transcendent plane of thought.

This would also explain why dinei tuma v'tahora are considered the entryway to ruah haqodesh - the abstraction they involve is even greater, since the constructs of purity and impurity operate independently of any material base whatsoever, they are purely theoretical.

Reb Chaim HaQoton said...

Interesting view. Although, upon further examination, I realized that most of Torah deals in ideas that are purely theoretical and you cannot physically see any differences if not for the Torah's specified guidelines. For example, just as ownership is not necessarily a physical trait but is a "legal right", so too the difference between produce which belongs to the grower and produce which belongs to the poor/Levites/Kohanim is not physically discernible, the same is true in regard to the difference between a day that happens to be Shabbos or Yom Tov in contrast to a day which is a normal weekday, or the difference between a married or unmarried woman (although in these last two differences, the difference is sometimes superficially manifested in a way that one can easily tell the different, i.e. on Shabbos people wear Shabbos clothes and married women cover their hair while single women do not), the difference between an animal that is consecrated as one Korban over another type of Korban, the difference between something which is ritually pure or impure, etc... I just brought examples from every Order of the Talmud. Rather, if anything, one can say a pshat that is the complete opposite of yours. All other facets of Torah learning deal with theoretical ideas, but those dealing with civil laws seemingly deal with more practical laws (so for example, every argument in Nezikin would seem to be an argument in the reality of the world), therefore, one would think that the learning of civil laws under the Torah's guidelines would not have the same supernatural effect that learning any other topic in the Torah would have. Therefore, the Mishnah had to tell us specifically that even the laws of money have this supernatural effect on one who learns it just like learning any area of Torah. See Einei Shmuel to Bava Basra 175n who says this pshat.

Rabbi Joshua Maroof said...

I see what you are saying but I still tend to disagree with your overall analysis. Most areas of halacha deal with concrete entities, for example, performance of melacha or its absence is what distinguishes Shabbat/Holiday from weekday. Your examples from marriage, teruma and kodashim are begging the question, because they are all forms of "qinyan", making them quite similar to Neziqin in fact.

Thus, I think my point still stands. Both Neziqin and Tuma v'Tahorah deal in entities and categories that exist on a more abstract plane than other areas of halacha.

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