“I’m going to visit Mr. Morris in the hospital,” Mr. Goodman called upstairs to his wife.
Mr. Morris was an elderly neighbor who lived alone. A week before Pesach, he fell and broke his hip.
When Mr. Goodman arrived, he greeted the old man. “How are you feeling?”
“Somewhat better,” Mr. Morris replied. “They did hip replacement surgery.”
“How long will you be in the hospital?” Mr. Goodman asked.
“About a week,” Mr. Morris answered. “I’ll have to spend the Seder here.”
“It’s not pleasant,” Mr. Goodman empathized. “But right now it’s important that you recuperate.”
After a nice chat, Mr. Goodman wished Mr. Morris a “refuah sheleimah” and headed home. On the way, he stopped off in shul to sell his chametz through Rabbi Dayan.
“What about Mr. Morris?” he suddenly thought. “He doesn’t even have a phone and won’t be able to sell his chametz.”
In shul, Mr. Goodman met his friend Leo Katz. “I just visited Mr. Morris in the hospital,” he said. “I wonder if there’s any way I can sell his chametz also?”
“I don’t see how you can sell someone else’s chametz without his authorization,” Leo said. “Can you sell his house or car without his authorization?”
“Obviously not,” replied Mr. Goodman. “But it’s not the same. There he would be losing his house or car, even if he gets paid. But here, he has everything to gain and nothing to lose. Selling the chametz saves him from the prohibition of maintaining chametz over Pesach and spares the chametz from becoming prohibited. The chametz is also purchased back afterward.”
“But who gave you the right to act on his behalf?” Leo countered.
“No one,” acknowledged Mr. Goodman. “But Rabbi Dayan recently taught me the concept ‘zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav,’ it is possible to acquire on behalf of someone not in his presence. Perhaps it’s also possible to sell on behalf of someone when it’s clearly for his benefit.”
It was soon Mr. Goodman’s turn. He authorized Rabbi Dayan to sell his chametz, and then asked: “I was just visiting Mr. Morris, who will be in the hospital over Pesach. Can I sell his chametz also?”
Rabbi Dayan replied: “If it is not possible to contact Mr. Morris, selling his chametz is valid according to many authorities based on the rule of zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav, since it is an absolute benefit to have the chametz sold.”
Rabbi Dayan then explained: “The Gemara (Pesachim 13a) teaches that if you were entrusted with chametz and the owner does not collect it before Pesach, you are supposed to sell it for him. [Orach Chayim 443:2] In that case, however, you were entrusted with the chametz. Therefore, selling the chametz before it becomes prohibited is part of your responsibility, just as you are responsible to prevent it from becoming spoiled or ruined. “(Choshen Mishpat 292:16; SM”A 292:40)
“There is a dispute among the authorities, though,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “over whether it is possible to sell another person’s chametz without his instruction when you are not responsible for it. Most authorities validate the sale on the basis of zachin, if the person would be interested in having it sold.” (Pischei Teshuvah Y.D. 320:6)
“What is the basis of the dispute?” asked Mr. Goodman.
“It relates to the nature of zachin,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Tosfos (Kesubos 11a) explains that zachin is rooted in the law of shlichus, or agency. Since this action is for the other person’s clear benefit, you are considered a ‘self-appointed’ agent. Therefore, the same way you can be an agent to acquire for someone’s benefit [C.M. 243:1], you can also serve as a ‘self-appointed’ agent to sell for the owner’s benefit. The Rama rules, on this basis, that a Jewish maid can separate challah from the dough if the lady of the house is not available.” (Y.D. 328:3)
“However, Rabbi Dayan added, “Ketzos Hachoshen [243:7-8] maintains that a person cannot be considered an agent unless appointed by the owner. He understands zachin as a separate law that relates only to acquiring on behalf of someone, but not to other legal transactions. This is colloquially referred to as zachin l’adam, acquiring for a person, not zachin mei’adam, acquiring from a person. [See Mirkeves Hamishneh, Hil. Gerushin 6:3]
“Most authorities rule, though, that whenever there is an unequivocal benefit for the owner, who is interested in the transaction, it is possible to act on his behalf when he not accessible. Therefore, if Mr. Morris cannot arrange the sale himself, it is possible to sell on his behalf.” (Piskei Teshuvos O.C. 448:21)Rabbi Meir Orlian