The Music of Halacha: Rambam on Intention
We began the Music of Halacha series on Shabbat by focusing on the intention of our actions. We find similar concepts in the laws of The Laws of Murderers and the Protection of Life in the Rambam’s Mishna Torah, Chapter 4:
1) A person who intended to kill one person and instead killed another is not liable – neither for execution by the court, nor for financial liability, nor for exile.
The Rambam’s decision is based on the opinion of Rabbi Shimon (Sanhedrin 79a). Rabbi Shimon’s view is contested by the Sages. Nevertheless, the Rambam follows his ruling, because it appears to be accepted by the later Sages. The Ra’avad differs with the Rambam, for generally, when the opinion of one Sage is contested by others, the majority view is followed.
2) Similarly, a killer is not held liable for execution in the following instances: He intended to strike another on his loins, and the utensil was not sufficient to kill if it struck a person on his loins, but instead struck him on his heart and he died. Or, a person intended to strike another on his heart with a blow that was sufficient to kill, but instead struck him on his loins and the person died.
The Derashot HaRan explains that these are the Biblical laws, as applied by the Sages. However, the community, led by the king, is enjoined to develop a legal system that will protect society. They must apply the concepts underlying the Biblical laws as they write a more practical constitution for their society.
The concepts of these laws certainly address the issue of intention and its role in determining an action. We find that an action without the intention for that specific action is considered incomplete, at least in terms of liability. This is exactly what we found in the laws of Shabbat.
I recall studying Tractate Makkot with my father zt”l when I was a boy. A section of the Talmud that dealt with the intention to cause financial damage to another soon applied the laws of changing the color of the water of a Mikvah and the laws of cutting a garment on Shabbat. “Do you realize,” my father asked, “that we began by dealing with the laws of false testimony and now we are discussing Mikvah and Shabbat? All the laws of Torah connect and are consistent. The first lesson you must learn from studying Gemara is that everything is connected and is part of a whole. This is true about everything in Torah: If it applies to damages, it applies to Shabbat, and prayer and Jewish philosophy!”
The laws of intention certainly apply to everything we do. An action without intention is not an action. This is true of prayer, blessings, honoring parents and Torah study. This is why whenever I study Halacha, I intend to hear and then apply its music.