Shlomo and Kalman planned a trip up north during winter vacation. “We’ll meet at the bus station and board together,” they arranged.
Shlomo arrived at the bus station half an hour early, whereas Kalman got delayed on the way. As departure time approached, Kalman called Shlomo. “I’ll be there in ten minutes,” he said. “Get on the bus meanwhile and save me a seat next to you towards the back.”
Shlomo boarded the bus and settled in. He put his knapsack on the seat next to him, saving it for Kalman.
Someone boarded the bus and asked Shlomo to please remove his knapsack so that he could sit. “I’m saving this seat for my friend,” Shlomo replied politely. “There are other seats available.”
As the minutes wore on, the bus become more and more crowded. Shortly before departure time, Kalman contacted Shlomo again. “I just bought my ticket and am waiting on line,” he said. With relief, Shlomo saw that Kalman was about to board. Before Kalman boarded, though, there were no longer any seats available.
Another young passenger asked Shlomo to move his bag and allow him to sit. “I’m saving the seat for my friend, who’s about to board,” said Shlomo.
“It’s nice of you to look out for your friend,” said the passenger. “However, I’m first and there are no other seats available.”
“But my friend already bought his ticket,” explained Shlomo. “He’s also entitled to a seat, and he asked me to save the seat on his behalf!”
“Who gave you a right to save him a seat?” argued the other passenger. “First come, first served!”
Meanwhile, Kalman boarded the bus. “There’s my friend,” said Shlomo. “He’s coming down the aisle.”
The other passenger, though, removed Shlomo’s knapsack from the seat and sat down.
“What are you doing?” said Shlomo. “You have no right to touch my knapsack.”
“You fellows are rude,” the other passenger said to Shlomo. “You should have been decent enough to remove the knapsack yourself.”
Kalman came over. “I asked you to save me a seat next to you,” he said to Shlomo.
“I did, but all the other seats were taken,” said Shlomo. “This fellow insisted he had a right to the seat.”
When Shlomo and Kalman returned to yeshiva, they asked Rabbi Dayan about the incident. “Did Shlomo have a right to save the seat for me?” asked Kalman.
“The Gemara [B.M. 10a; Kesuvos 84b] teaches that even in cases that a creditor can grab property from his debtor, another person cannot grab on his behalf when there are limited assets and additional creditors who may lose out,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “This is referred to in halacha as ‘tofes l’baal chov bemakom shechav l’achrini.’ The Shulchan Aruch rules that the other person may not do so even if he was an agent of the creditor, who instructed him to grab the property on his behalf.” (C.M. 105:1)
“How does this apply here?” asked Shlomo.
“Each person who buys a bus ticket is entitled, when he pays, to any available seat,” explained Rabbi Dayan. (See C.M. 198:6) “Saving a seat for your friend is like grabbing property on his behalf at the expense of other passengers, who also have a right to that seat. Thus, you are not able to save him the seat if there are no comparable seats available.”
“What if I had bought both tickets?” asked Shlomo. “Does that make a difference?”
“Then it would be permissible to save the seat,” said Rabbi Dayan, “since you are then entitled to utilize two seats. You could even use one seat for the knapsack if you needed.” (See SM”A 105:2)