Latest update: December 11th, 2013
In commemoration of 19 Kislev, the anniversary of the release of the Ba’al HaTanya, the first Lubavitcher Rebbe, from prison in Russia about 150 years ago, a sale of chassidic sefarim took place in Yerushalayim. Sefarim were sold at a flat rate of 4 for 100 NIS. Sefarim were not sold individually for 25 NIS, but only in sets of four. Discs of chassidic music were also sold. People thronged from all over Israel to take advantage of this opportunity.
Menachem was interested in purchasing two discs. “Do you know anyone going to the sefarim sale?” he asked his friend, Mendel.
“I plan to be going,” replied Mendel. “Do you want me to buy something for you?”
“I’d like two discs,” said Menachem. “That should be 50 NIS.”
“That will help me,” said Mendel. “I want nine sefarim. I’ll get one extra sefer and fill in the remaining 50.” Menachem gave Mendel 50 NIS to cover the purchase of the two discs.
That afternoon, Mendel headed to Yerushalayim. He browsed the sefarim and chose ten: eight for his own 200 NIS and two to fill in Menachem’s order. He then went to get the discs for Menachem, and was pleased to see that the two discs counted only as one sefer.
“Great!” Mendel said. “I can get an additional, free sefer for myself.”
He added an eleventh sefer to his cart.
When Mendel returned, he gave the discs to Menachem. “Thank you,” said Menachem. “What sefarim did you buy?”
Mendel showed him the sefarim. “I bought a new nine-volume edition of Sfas Emes, and two other sefarim.”
“That’s eleven sefarim?” asked Menachem, puzzled.
“I turned out that your two discs counted as a single sefer,” replied Mendel, “so I was able to get another one for myself.”
“What do you mean for yourself?” said Menachem. “Give me the 25 NIS change!”
“But we agreed that you were going to pay 50 for the two discs,” said Mendel. “If it turned out less – my gain!”
“Why?” argued Menachem. “I simply made a mistake; they cost only 25.”
“Look, I only agreed to add 50,” countered Mendel. “I don’t know that I would have spent another 75. Anyway, you couldn’t have gotten the discs for 25. They sold only in groups of 100. If not for my other 50, your discs alone would still cost 100!”
“By the same logic, your sefarim would also have cost 100,” retorted Menachem. “They required my discs.”
“I wonder what Rabbi Dayan has to say about this,” said Mendel. “Let’s ask him.”
“You should split the cost of the third sefer,” answered Rabbi Dayan, “but there might have been a better way to deal with the situation.”
“Why shouldn’t I be entitled to the full 25 back?” asked Menachem.
“Had it been possible to purchase the discs alone for 25 NIS, Mendel would have to return the full 25 to you,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “He was simply your agent to purchase the discs. Even though you gave him 50, because you thought that was the cost – if they cost only 25, you’re entitled to the remainder.”
“However, Mendel correctly pointed out that the discs alone could not be purchased for 25 without his sefarim,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “At the same time, the two sefarim that Mendel wanted to buy could also not be purchased for 50, or even 75, without your discs. Between your money for the discs and his money for two sefarim, you were entitled to a fourth sefer.”
“So why split it?” asked Mendel.
“There are two reasons,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “First, the Gemara (Kesuvos 93a-b) discusses the case of two people who were partners in an endeavor and the capital of both was necessary to earn profit. The Gemara rules to split the profit equally. Some explain that this applies even if not equal shares in the capital, especially if the profit is a single item not fit to divide. [C.M. 176:5; Pischei Teshuvah 176:3; Pischei Choshen, Shutfim 3:17.]
“Second, the Gemara (Kesuvos 98b) discusses the case of someone who bought something on behalf of his friend, and was given a bonus by the storeowner. Does the bonus belong to the person whose money it is, or to the agent who came to the store and made the purchase? The Gemara says to split the bonus.” (C.M. 183:6)
“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “since the extra sefer was due to the purchase of both the discs and the other two sefarim, and since Mendel was the agent to buy the discs – you should split the extra sefer. Mendel should return 12.5 NIS.”
“You said there was another, simpler way?” asked Menachem.
“Yes,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Since you were willing to spend 50 for the discs anyway, Mendel could have bought you a sefer with the extra money.”
About the Author: 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 firstname.lastname@example.org. 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@example.com.
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