Reb Daniel Yaffee, the wealthiest man in Berlin, made a foolish bargain in his youth, whereby he promised to give his friend, David, all the money he would ever make in the future over 10,000 marks. Then David gave him a penknife as a token. His friend, a pauper, has now returned after many years to seek money for his daughter’s wedding and Reb Daniel remembers the bargain. He rushes to the great Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levin to seek some solution.
Reb Daniel finished telling his story to Rav Tzvi Hirsch who looked at the shaken man who stood before him, and said: “Reb Daniel, the Almighty knows how hard you worked for your money and how honestly you obtained it. What you worked for remains yours and your friend David has no claim on it.”
Reb Daniel looked at the rav of Berlin and exclaimed in surprise: “What do you mean? It is true that David has not asked me for the money, but I am obligated to keep my word that I gave in a business deal.”
Rav Tzvi Hirsch explained, “I tell you that, according to law, you are not obligated to give anything. There is a clear law in the Talmud that states that a man cannot sell a future interest in a thing that has not yet come into being. And even the minority that holds it is possible to do so, say that it is possible only when the object has a definite chance of coming into existence, such as selling the future crop from a tree.
“In your case, however, and in any far-fetched future transaction, the law holds that the buying party never took the bargain seriously or considered it a real transaction.
“David obviously never considered your becoming wealthy as being possible, and when he gave you the penknife, he did it as a friend and it remained only a present.
“If you want to, you can certainly give David as much money as you wish, but legally you owe him nothing.”
Reb Daniel Happy
When Reb Daniel heard these words, it was as if a stone was lifted from his heart. The sun seemed to shine brighter as he left the rav. He emptied his pockets of all his money as he rode home, giving it to the numerous poor people who stopped him along the way.
Running into his house, he told the good news to his wife and then sat down to say Tehillim in praise to the Almighty.
Then he hurried to his store and took 1,000 ducats from the safe. It was a very great sum, far in excess of the money that David had needed for his daughter’s wedding.
As Reb Daniel was seated at his afternoon meal, his friend David returned.
“Welcome, David, sit down and join me at my meal.”
“Thank you, Daniel. I am very happy that you feel better. Your color has returned to your face.”
“It was nothing, really,” said Reb Daniel. “Listen David, I have been thinking about what you asked me and I have decided not to give you 1,000 marks for your daughter’s wedding.”
David’s face fell as he heard these words, and he said, “Is there anyone else to whom I can turn for the money I so desperately need?”
Reb Daniel smiled. “You didn’t let me finish, David. I have decided to give you not 1,000 marks, but 1,000 ducats. From it, use 1,000 marks for your daughter’s dowry, 500 for wedding expenses, and the rest for a business to support yourself in your old age.”Rabbi Sholom Klass