Neighbors To The Rescue
‘He May Tell Others: Come, Save For Yourselves’
In the mishnah on 117b, the Sages, in discussing a fire that broke out on Shabbos, permit the homeowner to save only three meals’ worth of food from the fire. They did not allow him to save all his possessions lest he become frantic in his haste to save everything and extinguish the fire.
The mishnah on 120a permits the homeowner, however, to announce to other people, “Come, save for yourselves.” He may not ask them to save food on his behalf because the Sages limited him to saving only three meals. Explicitly requesting other people to save food on his behalf would be tantamount to appointing them as agents and it would be as if he personally saved more than the maximum three meals. He may only ask them to save food for themselves and afterwards, if they are so inclined, they can return the food to him.
Other People’s Limits
Even though the mishnah does not specify how much food other people may save, the Rambam (Hilchos Shabbos 23:24) and the Mechaber (Orach Chayim 234:9) limit them to only three meals per person. (The Mechaber in his longer commentary to the Tur states that it seems that other people are allowed to save three meals even if they already have sufficient food in their house.)
Tosafos Rid (to the Ran on our daf), however, posits that other people are under no limitations and may save as much as they wish. He offers two reasons why we have no fear that they might, in their haste, extinguish the fire.
Whose Best Interest?
Firstly, they realize it is not in their best interest to extinguish the fire for should the fire go out they will no longer be permitted to seize anything else from the house.
Secondly, only the homeowner is likely to become frantic during the rescue efforts because he alone stands to lose his hard-earned possessions. Other people, on the other hand, who did not work for these possessions, are unlikely to react on impulse.
The Chayyei Adam (cited by the Mishnah Berurah 234:20) draws the following distinction: If other people intend to exercise their legal rights and keep the food for themselves, they are limited to three meals since, in effect, they are saving their own possessions. However, if their intention is to save the food for the homeowner, then there is no limit on how much they may salvage on his behalf. He argues that even the Rambam would agree that the three-meal limit only applies to someone saving food for himself. We are not concerned that a person saving food for his fellow will become that frantic and extinguish the fire.