Too Little, Too Late?
‘Break Down the Door and Enter…’
The Torah says that someone who sells a house in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael may redeem it during the first year after the sale by returning the money to the buyer. If the buyer is unavailable on the last day of that year, can the seller still redeem his house?
All authorities agree that selling a house in a walled city in Eretz Yisrael is a conditional sale. The question is: What is the condition? According to the Ketzos Hachoshen (55:1), the sale is conditional on the seller not canceling it during the first year by returning the money. The Nesivos Hamishpat (ibid.), on the other hand, maintains that the sale is conditional on the seller endorsing it. The seller’s endorsement is expressed by not returning the money to the buyer. Hence, if the seller returns the money, the sale is retroactively not valid. If the seller does nothing, the sale is valid.
This disagreement of Acharonim conforms to a famous disagreement of Rishonim concerning the definition of oneis.
Oneis on the Last Day
What is the din if a person vowed to perform a certain act within a certain amount of time and put off the task until the very last day, at which time he was unavoidably prevented from fulfilling it? On the one hand, we can argue that since he was unable to fulfill his vow to due to an oneis, he should not be considered as having transgressed his vow. On the other hand, we can argue that he is at fault and did transgress his vow since he delayed fulfilling it until the very last day.
The Agudah and the Ran disagreed about this question (see Rema, Y.D. 232:12). According to the Ran, “oneis on the last day” is considered oneis and according to the Agudah, it is not considered oneis. The Agudah cites proof for his opinion from our mishnah. Our mishnah states that people who bought a house in a walled city would hide at the end of the year so that the seller couldn’t find them to return their money and invalidate the sale. When Hillel saw that people were acting in this manner, he ruled that the seller need not return the money to the buyer directly. Rather, he could deposit the money in a certain chamber of the Temple.
What need was there for Hillel’s enactment? After all, the seller sought the buyer but could not find him – an oneis. Why should he lose the house? The Agudah argues that we see from Hillel’s enactment that an oneis on the last day is not considered an oneis. If it were, Hillel’s enactment would be unnecessary.
The Ketzos Hachoshen, though, disputes this proof. He says that oneis is never a valid excuse concerning redeeming houses in a walled city – not on the last day, not on the first day. As we said above, according to the Ketzos Hachoshen, the sale of a house in a walled city is valid provided that the seller doesn’t return the money within the first year. If he didn’t return the money, the sale is valid – oneis or not. Oneis can only exempt a person from obligations or punishments; it cannot, though, serve as a legal fiction to pretend that something that was supposed to happen really did happen. As the Yerushalmi says, “We don’t say that oneis is as though he performed the deed.” The situation is analogous to someone who misses a train due to an oneis. He’s not to blame, but the train (the sale in or case) left, and legalities will not change that fact.
The Agudah, however, maintains that oneis is a valid excuse concerning redeeming houses (with the exception of the last day). And he thinks like the Nesivos that the sale is valid provided that the seller endorses it. If an oneis prevents him from returning the money, he can legitimately claim that he never endorsed the sale.
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