By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 38 – Ups and Downs
We already have the pasuk that says lo sikchu chofer l’nefesh rotzeiach, from which we learn that someone who is subject to the death penalty cannot redeem himself through monetary payment; so why does Rabi Yishmael the son of Rabi Yochanan ben Berokah say that we learn this very halacha from the pasuk that says kol cheirem asher yacharam min ha’adam lo yipadeh?
There was a havah aminah to answer this question as follows: one pasuk is there to teach you this halacha when the murderer killed his victim with an upward swing, and the second pasuk is coming to be mechadeish that this is so even if the murderer killed his victim with a downward swing.
Although there is no difference between an upward or downward movement when it comes to willful murder, there is a huge difference when it comes to unintentional murder. If the person who committed the murder b’shogeig did so through a downward movement, he is chayav galus. He must go into exile until the Kohein Gadol dies. If he killed the guy by accident with an upward movement, though, there is no chiyuv galus. He is not afforded the opportunity for kaparah by going into exile.
Since a downward movement of murder is something that when it is b’shogeig is something for which a kaparah is provided, we may have thought that this category of murder is therefore lighter and that one who committed it willfully can redeem himself through monetary payment. That is why, according to Rabi Yishmael, we need the second pasuk to teach us that even in this case he cannot redeem himself with monetary payment.
Although the Gemara goes on to reject this explanation, that is only because we already know this from yet another pasuk that makes a hekesh between makeh adam and makeh beheimah. Just like by makeh beheimah there is no difference l’halacha between an upward or downward motion, so too when it comes to intentional murder is there no difference.
Either way, we see that there is a need to have a separate derasha to teach us that even a murderer who did so with a downward motion cannot redeem himself through monetary payment.
Now, this is fascinating. Because the Rambam writes (Hilchos Rotzeiach 6:12) that the reason why someone who accidentally killed another with a downward motion is chayav galus is that he should have been more careful. Since gravity naturally pulls things down, when a person is involved with a downward motion, he needs to be particularly careful not to cause any harm. The lack of exercising that extra care is negligent, and that is why he is chayav galus. Which is not the case, though, when it comes to someone who was involved with an upward motion. Since gravity is working against that motion, it is not nearly as likely to cause harm, and the individual is therefore generally not considered negligent. Rather, he is considered shogeig karov l’ones.
So, based on the Rambam, which category of murder would you have classified as being more severe, the upward motion type or the downward motion type? Obviously, the downward motion type. And yet, our Gemara calls the downward motion type of murder “lightweight” (relatively speaking, of course), since in the shogeig thereof a kaparah is afforded to him. This is not to say that it’s an out and out kashya on the Rambam. It is possible to hear that both are true: the rotzeiach b’shogeig who did so with an upward motion is exempt from exile because it generally does not entail gross negligence, and yet, in a certain respect, he is worse off because he does not have a ready kaparah for what he did.
In any event, it is more than worth our while to examine an interesting quirk of human nature in light of this whole discussion.
Have you ever noticed that when you’re driving up a steep road, traffic generally slows down? Then, when you pass the crest and begin descending, all the cars’ speed picks up dramatically. From a rational point of view, this is counterintuitive. When you’re driving up the hill gravity is working against you and it is therefore much safer to drive at a higher speed. In the event that you would need to brake suddenly, the force of gravity would help you to do so and your car could go from sixty miles per hour to a full stop in practically a split second. That is not the case, though, when driving down the hill. Then, in addition to the force being applied to your car by your motor, gravity is also pulling the car down. If you would need to break suddenly, those brakes are going to have to overcome both the force of the inherent inertia-speed of the car at that point in time plus the force of gravity.
That can make a huge difference. It can literally make the difference between a startling, uncomfortable stop, and a terrible crash, R”l. And yet, most of us seem to naturally just go with the flow. We climb the hill slowly, and we speed down it on the other side. So what does this tell us about ourselves?
Well, it may serve as an indication that driver’s education needs a bit of bolstering, but it also illustrates a major difference between our rational, thinking mind and our automatic-pilot nefesh (as in nefesh ha’bahamis). The latter tends to favor the path of least resistance, whereas the former tends to select whatever makes more sense and is the most beneficial in the long term.
This is a very encouraging fact. Because what it means is that we don’t have to look far to find a source of good guidance and direction. We just need to tap into the tremendous resource that we already have. Namely, our seichel.
If you’ve ever gone to a financial management course or read material of that nature, you probably have been exposed to the GREAT SECRET. And that is that the overwhelming majority of marketing strategy is to play off of the impulsive, non-thinking part of the human being. An item is listed at $19.99 because it psychologically comes across differently than $20.00, despite the fact that the rational mind recognizes that there is essentially no difference. An item will be advertised as “NEW”, “CUTTING EDGE”, or “LIMITED TIME OFFER”, to purposely arouse within us knee-jerk reactions of feeling excited, hurried, and pressured. And the list goes on and on.
The key, then, to be a smart consumer is to be aware of the tendency to go on automatic pilot, get to know the intelligent, rational side of yourself, and generate within yourself self-empowerment by ever increasing the amount that you employ the latter koach and ever decreasing the former. Essentially, what you are thereby doing is tapping into that tremendous, inherent koach of seichel that resides within you. Like a dormant powerhouse just waiting to be aroused.
Of course, this approach of self-empowerment through ever increasing the activation of the koach of your seichel is something that is not only beneficial for financial considerations, but for everything in life. Because the more you get to know that part of yourself and put it to good use, the more you will benefit in every aspect and facet of what you do, both in ruchniyus and in gashmiyus.
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.