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Shovel Share

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The first winter snow had arrived. Snowflakes drifted down in swirls, covering the ground with a beautiful blanket of white. As the hours passed the snow slowly accumulated, reaching a depth of six inches. When the snow stopped, Sruli bundled up in boots and gloves and went out to get his shovel from the garage. He discovered, though, that the shovel was broken.

Sruli knocked on the door of his neighbor, Mr. Schein. “Could I borrow your snow shovel for the afternoon?” he asked.

“With pleasure,” said Mr. Schein. “We’ll be heading out soon, though. When you’re finished, leave the shovel outside our garage.”

Sruli was almost finished shoveling the walk in front of his house when his friend from across the street, Asher, came out. “Can I borrow your shovel to do my sidewalk?” Asher asked.

“It’s actually Mr. Schein’s,” said Sruli. “I’ll ask him.”

Sruli knocked on the Schein’s door, but there was no answer. “I guess you can use it,” he said to Asher. “Anyway, I still have to clean the snow off our car. We’ll keep each other company.”

Asher shoveled his sidewalk while Sruli cleaned the snow off his car, which was parked in the street in front of his house. While they were working, Aharon, who lived at the end of the block, came by. “Can I borrow your shovel?” he asked Asher.

“I’m sorry, but the shovel’s not mine,” replied Asher. “I got it from Sruli.”

Aharon asked Sruli if he could use the shovel, but Sruli refused. “I’m sorry, it’s not mine,” he apologized. “I can’t lend it without asking my neighbor.”

Aharon looked at him funny. “I don’t understand,” he said. “You let Asher use the shovel! Why can’t you lend it to me?”

Meanwhile, Sruli’s father heard the discussion. “I’m not sure you were right to let Asher use the shovel,” he said to Sruli. “Mr. Schein loaned it you, not him. Who gave you permission to lend it to Asher?”

“Forget it; I’ll get a shovel from someone else,” Aharon said. “We can ask Rabbi Dayan about this tomorrow in yeshiva.”

The following day, Sruli, Asher, and Aharon stopped off at Rabbi Dayan’s beis medrash. They described what happened with the shovel. “Was I allowed to lend the shovel to Asher?” asked Sruli. “Could I have loaned it to Aharon?”

“You were correct in your instinct,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “You were permitted to lend it to Asher while you were still cleaning the car, but not to lend it to Aharon to take home.”

“What is the difference?” asked Sruli.

“The Gemara [B.M. 29b] states clearly that a person who borrowed an item may not lend it to others, even for purposes of a mitzvah, such as a Sefer Torah,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “The reason is that the lender can say, ‘I don’t want my item in the hands of another person.’ This applies even if the second person is generally viewed as more righteous and reliable than the first borrower.” (C.M. 342:1)

“Then what right did Sruli have to lend the shovel to Asher?” asked Aharon.

“The Rashba in his responsa [I:1053,1145] explains that the primary concern is that the other person may steal the item,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Based on this, the Rashba rules that a person may sublet a house or boat that he rented or borrowed. Since these items cannot be hidden away, the borrower is permitted to transfer his usage right to another.” (Rama 342:1)

“What does this have to do with us?” asked Asher.

“In the same way,” answered Rabbi Dayan, “if the initial borrower will remain present the entire time, he is allowed to lend the borrowed item to others. So long as Sruli is present to supervise the shovel, the presumption is that Mr. Schein would not mind if Asher also uses it. The same is true if the owner regularly lends the other person items of similar value, indicating that he considers him trustworthy.” (See Nesivos 72:17; Pischei Choshen, Pikadon 9:24,26; Shach 342:1)

“The second borrower may only use the item in a manner comparable to what the first person borrowed it for, though,” qualified Rabbi Dayan. “For example, if Sruli borrowed the shovel to remove soft snow, he may not lend it to Asher after the snow hardened and began to ice. Perhaps the owner was only willing to lend the shovel for soft snow.” (Shulchan Aruch Harav, She’elah 4)

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 subscribe@businesshalacha.com. 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 ask@businesshalacha.com.


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