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Four Guardians - משפטים

Friday, 1 February, 2019 - 11:21 am

c.jpgFour Guardians

Immediately after the great revelation at Sinai, the Torah proceeds to teach the civil law that governs the interactions between people in day to day life.

One of the topics discussed in this week’s portion is the law of the guardian who  agreed to watch his fellow’s item. The Torah introduces four categories of guardians, each with its own level of liability, in cases when the guardian is unable to return the item which was left in his possession for safekeeping. The degree of liability pertaining to each of the guardians is determined by the division of benefit derived by the owner of the object and the guardian.

The first category is the “unpaid guardian”, who agrees to guard the object without receiving payment. Since the unpaid guardian receives no benefit from watching the item, he is therefore not liable if the object was lost or stolen (unless the guardian was negligent). The next two categories of guardians are the “paid guardian” and the “renter”. Both receive some benefit for guarding the object (payment for guarding the object, or in the case of the renter, the right to use the object) and therefore they have some liability. They are obligated to pay in a case where the object was lost or stolen, yet they are not obligated to pay if the object was destroyed by an event which was completely out of their control. The forth guardian is the “borrower”, who receives all the benefit, as he uses the object without paying for the usage, his liability is therefore the greatest. The borrower is liable to pay even if the object was destroyed by an event outside the borrower’s control.

The monetary laws of the Torah are more than just utilitarian laws which allow for a functioning society. Just like all other parts of the Torah, the monetary laws contain deep psychological and spiritual truths. Thus, the laws of the four guardians, also represent four states of mind in our relationship of G-d,  our soul and the purpose of creation.

A healthy relationship is one in which both parties benefit from the relationship. Yet, a relationship is more than a “win-win” arrangement, where each party is involved in order to receive that which they consider beneficial. While the parties may have entered the relationship for personal gain, in order for the relationship to be more than a transactional business-like arrangement, it must develop from the original cost benefit analysis and mature to include commitment and selfless devotion to the partner in the relationship.

The Torah tells us that G-d created Adam and “placed him in the Garden of Eden to work it and to guard it” (Genesis 2:15). G-d entrusts us with a spiritual soul and places us on this earth with a mission to “work it and guard it”, to preserve and to increase the goodness on this earth. We, the guardians, receive benefit from our work on behalf of G-d, for G-d blesses us and provides us with our material and spiritual needs. Yet, just like in human relationships, there are different levels in the relationship with G-d. On one end of the spectrum is a person who is primarily interested in receiving the “benefits” life has to offer. On the other end of the spectrum is the person who is an “unpaid guardian”. He is in love with G-d to the point of being completely altruistic, his motivation is to serve G-d, and do the right thing for its own sake.

In a wholesome human relationship, we can and should benefit from our relationship  yet we must also experience selfless devotion to our partner. The same is true in our relationship with G-d. At times we will be a “borrower”, motivated primarily by our own needs and desires. But we should always seek those moments when we transcend our own ego and act as an “unpaid guardian”, motivated primarily with the desire to devote ourselves to our beloved.  


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