A story is told of two men in a boat when one suddenly decides to start drilling a hole underneath his seat, the other man protests – “what are you doing, we’re all going to drown”. But the man drilling his hole says “it’s none of your business, I want to drill a hole, I like drilling holes and so I’m drilling a hole on my side of the boat, under my seat, what’s it got to do with you?” When we hear the story we all know that if the man continues drilling his hole both men will suffer. And it’s the same in our lives; we live in relationships with other people and our actions don’t just impact us, but they impact those around us, too.
In this week’s Torah portion, we receive a whole selection of laws to govern our society. At one point, it says in the Torah, when a person opens a pit, or digs a pit and does not cover it and an ox or an ass falls into it, the one responsible for the pit must recompense the owner by paying the price for the animal. And, it says, when a person’s ox injures a neighbour’s ox and it dies they shall sell the live ox and divide its price. If, however, it is known that the ox was in the habit of goring and its owner has failed to guard it, that person must restore ox for ox. In this way, the Torah insures that we have to be aware of how our actions can impact others. If I dig a pit, I’m respon-sible for insuring that it is covered up and similarly if I have an ox that is known to attack others, I have to be responsible for taking care of it.
The Torah is very aware of the fact that it’s easy to be absorbed in our own world, to ignore those around us and to forget that our actions have an impact on other people. And, in this way, these laws in Mishpatim come as a reminder that we do not live in a bubble. Our actions have an impact on the people around us. Not to say too much about politics, but if someone takes a bribe, to give an example, he/she is not just making a deal between some buddies. Instead of getting the best deal for South Africa, it seems to me that only some reap the benefit while the rest suffer. Taking a bribe is no different to digging a pit and not covering it properly.
Mishpatim tells us not to drill a hole in a boat, because everyone is going to suffer as a result of our actions. It also reminds us that when we do cause suffering or damage, we are the ones who have to own it and to make amends. We are the ones who have to make the restitution to the person who has lost and suffered.
Shabbat Shalom – Rabbi Adrian M Schell (Source: Rabbi Danny Burkeman)