Bava Kamma Chapter One Mishnah One



The first mishnah in Bava Kamma serves as an introduction to the first six chapters of the tractate.  As such, if all of the details are unclear now, they will hopefully become clearer as we continue to learn.  The mishnah discusses four primary causes of injury, literary “fathers of injuries”.  These are archetypal causes of injury mentioned in the Torah, from which we will learn many other types of injury and subsets of laws in the following chapters.



1.                     There are four primary causes of injury:  the ox and the pit and the crop-destroying beast and fire. 

2.                     [The distinctive feature of] the ox is not like [that of] the crop-destroying beast, nor is [the distinctive feature of] either of these, which are alive, like [that of] fire, which is not alive; nor is [the distinctive feature of] any of these, whose way it is to go forth and do injury, like [that of] the pit, whose way it is not to go forth and do injury. 

3.                     What they have in common is that it is their way to do injury and that you are responsible for caring over them; and if one of them did injury whoever [is responsible] for the injury must make restitution [to the damaged party] with the best of his land.



The four causes of injury mentioned in the first clause mishnah are all derived from the Torah:  the ox (Exodus 21:35-36), the pit (Exodus 21:33-34), the crop-destroying beast (Exodus 22:4) and fire (Exodus 22:5).  The mishnah then goes raises a question generally asked in midrashic texts (texts that explain the Torah): why does the Torah need to mention all four types of injury?  In other words, why couldn’t the Torah have mentioned one, two or three primary causes of injury, from which we would have learned the rest?  The Rabbis believed that no law in the Torah was superfluous and therefore each must come to teach us something that we could not have learned from the other laws.  The mishnah therefore explains that each “cause of injury” has its unique characteristic and therefore we would not have been able to derive the laws of the other causes of damages without all four examples in the Torah.  Note how the mishnah is both dependent on, yet independent from the Torah.  This is typical of Jewish oral Torah; it explains the Torah yet it can usually be understood on its own.


Questions for further thought:

·                      What type of injury does an ox cause?  What therefore is the difference between an ox and a crop-destroying beast?

·                      The Mishnah tells you things that you are obligated to watch and that if they are yours and they injure you will have to pay the damaged party.  Is there anything you can already imagine for which a person will not be obligated if it causes damage?


(We will learn the answers to these questions as we go on, but it is worthwhile to start thinking of them now).