Torah Portion: Mishpatim
If a man shall give money or vessels to his fellow to safeguard… (Shemos 22:6).
It is a positive commandment to judge the case of an unpaid custodian, as it is written: If a man shall give money or vessels to his fellow to safeguard… (Shemos 22:6). Our Sages explain that this portion [of Scripture] deals with an unpaid custodian, and for this reason Scripture exempts him in case of theft. The meaning of an “unpaid custodian” is that the person did not receive any compensation for guarding the object entrusted in his care.
The root of the mitzvah is self-evident.
This mitzvah applies in all places and at all times. A court that transgresses this, violates a positive commandment.
If a man shall give his fellow a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any animal
to safeguard… (Shemos 22:9).
It is a positive commandment to judge the case of a paid custodian, and of one who rented (or leases) an item. A “paid custodian” is one who is paid to guard an item entrusted to him; a “renter” is one who leased an animal from his fellow to ride it or do work with it, or he rented movable items. If a disagreement arose between the owner and the renter, or between the owner and the paid guardian — there is a mitzvah upon the beis din (court) to judge between them. It is thus written: If a man shall give his fellow a donkey or an ox or a sheep or any animal to safeguard etc. (Shemos 22:9).
The root purpose of civil law is obvious.
It applies to men who are fit to just, in all places and at all times. If he transgresses this and did not judge, when he was fit to do so, he violates a positive commandment. And although we were commanded in general terms to judge cases involving plaintiffs and defendants, the Torah nevertheless added commandments regarding custodians in particular, because these cases are common among society.