Chazal (Babba Kama 30a) tell us that a person who wants
to conduct himself with midas chassidus should concern himself above all
with avoiding causing damage or harm. The medieval commentators (the
Rishonim) explained that chassidim were especially concerned to prevent
other people from being damaged, even in the public domain. According to
the Rambam (Nizkei Mamon 13:22), they would cover over thorns and
broken glass left by others so that they would not endanger the public. A
chassid is a person who does more than the law requires. Since causing
damage to others is forbidden by law, the chassid was careful not only to
avoid hurting other people, but also to eliminate hazards, even though
they were left by others, that endangered the public safety. The Sefer
Chassidim (44) reports that one chassid even covered any spit he found
in the street so that others would not see it and feel disgusted.
It is forbidden to throw anything into the public
domain that might cause a person to get hurt: stones, glass, peels, etc.
They should be discarded in a place designated for refuse. Parents often
send their children to throw out the garbage. If the child drops garbage
on the floor, the parents are obligated to clean it up, whether it is in
the lobby or stairway of their building or in the street. Someone could
slip or trip on it and get hurt. The Gemara (B. Kamma 50b) tells of a
farmer was rebuked by a chassid for tossing stones from his field onto the
road. The farmer scorned the chassid’s rebuke, but sometime later, he
walked down that road and hurt himself on them. Because of its great
kedusha, it is especially important to avoid littering in Eretz Yisrael.
It is said of the tzaddikim and gaonim of earlier generations in Eretz
Yisrael that they did not throw any kind of garbage on the ground, even in
the public domain, because of its kedusha. In Jerusalem, which has even
more kedusha, they were still more careful.
The chassid is careful not to cause monetary damage to
other people by, for example, leaving garbage where a person might sit
down and dirty his clothes.
Building materials may be piled up on the street while
a building is under construction. But as soon as the building is
completed, they must be removed. Even though they were placed in the
public domain with permission, if someone is hurt, the person who placed
them there must pay damages.
When it’s raining, it is permitted to spill dirty
water into the street, since, in any case, the streets are full of water.
But in the summer, if there is a special drain or sewer for dirty water,
it is forbidden to spill it out into the street. If there isn’t, it is
permitted to spill it into the street if the water runs off immediately.
Nevertheless, if the water causes damage, it must be paid for. This
distinction between the rainy season and the dry season does not apply to
sweeping water out of the house onto the street. This is forbidden at all
times, whether the water is clean or dirty, because it falls onto the
people passing below, damaging their property and causing, sometimes, even
physical harm. If there is no choice, then before sweeping out the water,
a person must check to be sure that no one is passing by. Even then, the
water can be swept out into the street only if it does not leave puddles
or create mud.
It is forbidden to extend a porch or projection of any
kind into the public domain if it creates an obstruction. For this reason,
it is forbidden to park a car on the sidewalk. An obstruction on the
sidewalk that requires pedestrian to walk in the street can cause a
serious accident. It can be very dangerous, for example, for a woman who
is pushing a baby carriage to walk around a parked car into the street.
According to the Gemara (Nida 17a), a person who cuts
his fingernails and tosses them where they may be stepped on and cause
damage is called wicked, a rosho. We see from this that a person
who causes others damage is called a rosho. The Nimukei Yosef writes
that when Chazal tell us that a chassid is careful to avoid causing
damage, they mean any kind of damage—all of the damages that are
examined in the three tractates of the Gemara that deal with damages:
Babba Kama, Babba Metziya and Babba Basra: damage that may be caused by
stealing, by failing to return a lost object, by charging interest, by
fraud, or in any other way. In the time of Rav Yehudah, the learning in
the yeshivos was devoted entirely to the study of damages (Brochos 20a),
for he himself is the one who said that chassidim should concern
themselves above all with avoiding causing damage or harm. When a person
studies the laws of damages, he knows how to avoid causing damage and
becomes more careful.