By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 35 – Just a Little Potch?
We’re still in it; that is, the sugyah of mamon u’malkos, and if and how we divide it. One of the points that we’ve seen is not a subject of dispute is choveil ba’chaveiro. If one person physically harms another, he has to pay all the damages and does not get malkos. We saw numerous explanations and/or sources proffered for why that is so, but what is agreed upon by all is that it is indeed so.
Another item that has come up a couple times, and appears again on today’s Daf, is the matter of choveil ba’chaveiro when the physical assault does not incur damages the equivalent of even one prutah.
Back on 33a, Rashi explained how this can be so: “For example, the blow did not cause any decrease in the victim’s value, did not cause him to not be able to work for any amount of time, no medical treatment was necessary, there was no pain involved, and the victim was a shoteh so there was no embarrassment.”
So what is the consequence of such a wimpy wallop? He can’t have any monetary payments levied against him since the total damages are worth not even a single prutah. So what does he get (assuming he was duly forewarned)? Malkos! 39 lashes! Because he violated the lav of lo yosif, which prohibits gratuitously striking a fellow Jew.
That is quite a point to ponder, isn’t it? Here this guy gave a shoteh such a light slap that it caused no damage and no pain, and his punishment – again, assuming he was warned by the witnesses – is 39 (!) lashes! If you’ve ever learned Maseches Makos, you know that each one of those thirty nine is nothing to laugh at. Suffice it to say that one of the halachos of malkos explicated over there is that if the lashes-receiving-offender loses bowel control in the middle of the process as a result of the intense pain, he is patur from receiving the remaining lashes.
Now, of course, this is not a kashya, because it is not the pshat that the offender is getting these lashes as a tit-for-tat of the wallop that he gave; it is a punishment for violating a negative commandment of the Torah. No different than if he ate but one little kezayis of chazer. Nevertheless, we can still very much get a gage of how severely the Ribbono shel Olam relates to this prohibition of needlessly striking a fellow Jew from the potential punishment that one can receive from violating it in even the most minimal manner imaginable.
The fact that it is extremely unlikely for such a scenario to ever actually occur is irrelevant. The barometer of how seriously Hashem views the honor of each and every Jew, even someone who is completely patur from mitzvos because of lack of cognitive ability, is still starkly apparent.
Digesting this fact should arouse within us two facets of awareness. Perhaps the more obvious is how careful each and every one of us ought to be regarding the manner in which we treat others. However, no less important is the fact that each and every one of us is one of those indescribably special people about whom this stern warning has been issued. Consider that for a moment. If someone were to give you a gratuitous slap on your wrist, even if it was such a soft slap that it didn’t cause you any pain (!), that person could potentially be liable to a punishment of thirty nine lashes.
The point of this is definitely not to go around harboring vendettas against anyone and everyone who ever slighted you in even the slightest manner imaginable. That would actually be totally missing the point. What this should do for each and every one of us is to help us realize how incredibly special and precious we are to the Ribbono shel Olam. So chashuv, in fact, that the potential repercussion for someone inflicting against you the slightest slap is enormous!
It can also help us to have a more positive outlook on the “potches” that we do inevitably get from Above from time to time. When Hashem feels compelled, as it were, to give us those potches, it pains Him far, far more than it pains us. Think about it. He put a law in His Torah that if someone were to give you the lightest of slaps, that person is potentially liable for thirty nine very serious lashes! Doesn’t that make it abundantly clear, then, that for a Jew to get even the slightest potch is looked upon by the Ribbono shel Olam as something that is simply horrifying? When He does give it to us then, it must be that there is absolutely no other alternative, it is only because that is what we need for our tikun, and that He does so with the utmost reluctance and deep sense of pain. Considering how indescribably chashuv each one of us is to Hashem and how hard it is for Him, kavayachol, to give us potches, makes it a lot easier to accept it with love when it does happen. And that in of itself is a major part of the tikun that we need.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.