Bava Kamma Chapter Nine Mishnah Seven

 

Introduction

Our mishnah continues to deal with a subject that we began discussing in mishnah five:  the obligation placed upon the robber to return the value plus one/fifth to the original owner if he swore falsely to him.

 

Mishnah

1)                     If he had paid him the value and had sworn [falsely] to him concerning the [added] fifth, he must pay a fifth on the fifth [and so on] until the value [of the added fifth] becomes less than a perutah’s worth.

2)                     So too with a deposit, as it says:  “In a matter of deposit or a pledge or through robbery, or by defrauding his fellow, or by finding something lost and lying about it” (Leviticus 5:21-22), such a one must pay the value and the [added] fifth and bring a Guilt-offering.

3)                     [If a man said], “Where is my deposit?” and the other said, “It is lost,” [if the one says,] “I adjure thee”, and the other says, “Amen!”, and witnesses testify against him that he consumed it, he need pay [only] the value.

a)                                           But if he confessed it of himself, he must repay the value and the [added] fifth and bring a Guilt-offering.

 

Explanation

Section one deals with a case where a robber returned the value of the original object to the owner but swore to him that he had already returned the added fifth.  If the robber had sworn falsely, the previous fifth now turns into the new contested amount (the value) and in order to atone he must bring another fifth of that value.  This process could continue, if he were to continue swearing falsely on having returned the fifth, until the “value” is worth less than a perutah.  As we learned in mishnah five, less than a perutah is not considered to be worth anything, and therefore one does not swear on it.

Section two brings the related Biblical verse to our halacha in order to emphasize that this process of returning the value, plus the added fifth and bringing a sacrifice is true not just of robbers but of other categories as well.  The category immediately dealt with by our mishnah is a person who received an object from another person to hold and watch, for instance a jug of olive oil.  When the original owner claimed back his jug of olive oil, the guardian denied receiving it.  If the guardian swore falsely and then wished to atone for his transgression, he must return the jug of olive oil, plus an added fifth and bring a sacrifice.

Section three begins discussing the details of this law.  In the situation described the guardian claimed that the deposit was lost.  The original owner had asked the guardian to take an oath that this was true, to which he had.  At this point the guardian is evidently not obligated for anything.  If witnesses were to later come and testify that the guardian had indeed consumed the deposit, he is only obligated to return the original value.  If, however, the guardian were to admit to the crime on his own, he must return the original value, the added fifth and bring the sacrifice.  This distinction emphasized by our mishnah is based on an understanding of Numbers 5:6-7.  There we learn that if a person commits a wrong against another person and then realizes his guilt, then he shall confess the wrong, pay back the value plus an added fifth and bring a sacrifice.  The Rabbis understood that he was obligated for this only if he confessed on his own.  If witnesses testified against him, he is not obligated for the fifth or the sacrifice.

 

Questions for Further Thought:

·                      What is the necessity in teaching the halacha in section one?

·                      Does it make sense that a person who admits to his own crime will be more obligated than a person against whom witnesses testify?

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