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Parsha Mitzvot-Mishpatim-Alshich: Mitzvah 48 – Concept 463

“If an ox shall gore a man or woman and he shall die, the ox shall surely be stoned; its flesh may not be eaten and the owner of the ox shall be innocent. But if it was an ox that gores habitually from yesterday and the day before yesterday, and its owners had been warned but did not guard it, and it killed a man or woman, the ox shall be stoned and even its owner shall die. When an atonement payment shall be assessed against him, he shall pay as a redemption for his life whatever shall be assessed against him.” (Exodus 21:28-30) The courts must judge the damages incurred by a goring ox. (Rambam, Hilchot Nizkei Mamon – The Laws of Property Damages)

The Torah does not describe the ox as killing the human being, but as goring him. If, apparently as a result of the goring, the victim dies, it was due to his accumulated sins having caused this, not the mere act of being gored. The ox simply became God’s tool in exacting retribution. Rabbi Moshe Alshich

This mitzvah raises numerous issues. The first, mentioned by the Alshich, is Divine Providence as exacted by a creature without free choice.

The second issue is raised by the way the Rambam presents the Mitzvah: “The courts must judge the damages incurred by a goring ox.” This touches on a fundamental idea in Torah, which is that we must develop our own laws based on the concepts established by the Torah in order to protect and maintain society. I hope to deal with this at greater length when we discuss the Mitzvah/Concept of appointing a king.

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