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This article was written amid the lingering shock after the tragic events of Simchas Torah in Israel. Our hearts go out to the dead, the wounded, the captives, and their families. May the Torah of this article be a merit for them, for the safety of the soldiers and all of Klal Yisrael.



Mr. Landau discussed the parsha with his family at the Shabbos seudah.

“In parshas Lech Lecha,” he began, “Avraham Avinu fights against the four kings and rescues Lot from them. Try to imagine this scenario…”

“Lot!” exclaimed a neighbor. “There are marauding armies outside led by Kedarla’omer. You need to escape!”

Lot fled out the back door, but he found the way blocked by his neighbor’s fence. Lot grabbed an ax and quickly hacked down the fence.

Lot hadn’t gone far when he was captured by Kedarla’omer’s forces. He was dragged into captivity with other people from Sodom and Amora.

A survivor of the onslaught reached Avram some days later. “Lot has been captured by Kedarla’omer!” he said. “He’s being taken north!”

“Eliezer, quick!” Avram called out. “Gather our household members! We need to go save Lot!”

Avram and his men began pursuing the forces of Kedarla’omer. They ran after them till the Golan.

“Eliezer, you take one group and I’ll take another!” Avram commanded. “We’ll attack them from two directions and try to save Lot.”

At midnight, Avram and Eliezer attacked Kedarla’omer’s forces. In the darkness of the night, some of Avram’s men trampled the ceramic wares of the local people and shattered them. The forces of Kedarla’omer fled and Avram and Eliezer continued to pursue them until Syria, saving Lot and the people of Sodom.

Mr. Landau finished his dramatic rendition of the War.

“I have a question,” said his son. “You said that Lot broke his neighbor’s fence and that some of Avram’s men trampled the ceramic wares of the local people. When someone damages other people’s property while trying to save lives, is he liable for the financial damage to the property?”

“Good question,” said Mr. Landau. “I’m not sure; we can ask Rabbi Dayan.” At Mincha, they asked:

“Would Lot and Avram’s men be liable for the financial damage?”

“The Gemara (B.K. 60b; 117a) teaches that a person cannot save himself through monetary loss of others,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Tosafos explain that he may damage as necessary to save his life, but is liable to pay afterwards. Nonetheless, when someone rescued another person and caused monetary damage in the course of rescuing, the Sages instituted that the rescuer be exempt from financial liability, so that people should not be discouraged from rescuing others (C.M. 359:4; 380:3).

“There is a dispute between the Achronim if the person intended to save himself along with others. Nesivos (340:6) maintains that if someone borrowed weapons, even without the owner’s permission, to protect lives, and the weapons were taken, he is exempt based on this enactment, even if it included protecting his own life as well.

“Minchas Pittim (340:3) questions this, because the rationale is that people should not be discouraged from saving others, whereas if the person’s own life is also in danger this rationale does not apply. Pnei Yehoshua (B.K. 60b) similarly writes that the enactment is not applicable in this case.

“Furthermore, HaRav Moshe Feinstein, zt”l, writes that the enactment does not exempt one who borrowed money or stole to save lives. Moreover, he maintains that the rescuer is exempt only from damaging items that were in his way when actively pursuing the perpetrator, but from other damage – even if to ultimately save lives (such as burning a field where enemy soldiers are hiding) – he remains liable. Other Achronim do not distinguish between forms of damage (Igros Moshe C.M. 2:63).

“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “Lot would be liable, but not Avram’s men (see Chashukei Chemed Nedarim 22a).”

Verdict: Chazal enacted to exempt a person who damaged in the course of saving others. There is a dispute whether this enactment applies when saving oneself along with others, and whether it applies also to other monetary obligations, such as borrowed items.


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Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to [email protected]. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail [email protected].