Photo Credit: Jewish Press

Too Little, Too Late?
‘And Break Down the Door and Enter…’
(Arachin 31b)



A person who sells a house in a walled city in Eretz Israel may redeem it, thus undoing the sale, by returning the money to the purchaser within the first year after the sale. What if the seller, though, wants to redeem the land on the last day of the year and the buyer is nowhere to be found?

Conditional Sale

Everyone agrees that the sale of a house in a walled city in Eretz Israel is conditional. Acharonim, though, disagree about the nature of the condition. According to the Ketzos Hachoshen (see his sefer, 55:1), the sale is valid unless the seller cancels it during the first year. The Nesivos Hamishpat, however, maintains that the sale does not take effect unless the seller endorses it – a step he implicitly takes by not returning the sale money to the purchaser within the first year. At that point, the purchase at the beginning of the year is validated. If he does return the money, however, the sale was never valid.

This disagreement is tied to another one – a machlokes Rishonim – regarding ones (force majeure, an unavoidable situation).


Ones on the Last Day

Is an ones on the last day an ones? For example, suppose a person vowed to perform a certain act within a certain amount of time and procrastinated until the last day at which point he unavoidably couldn’t fulfill his vow. On the one hand, forces beyond his control prevented him from fulfilling his vow on the last day. On the other hand, he didn’t have to wait until the last day to try to fulfill his vow.

According to the Ran, ones on the last day is considered an ones; according to the Agudah, it isn’t (see Rema, Yoreh De’ah 232:12). The Agudah cites our mishnah as proof for his position. The mishnah states that people who bought a house in a walled city would hide at the end of the year so the seller couldn’t find them. Hillel, therefore, decreed that the seller could deposit the sale money in a certain lishkah (chamber) in the Temple instead of returning it to the purchaser directly.

Now, if ones on the last day is really an ones, what need was there for Hillel to make this enactment? The seller could just say he tried to return the money to the buyer but was prevented from doing so due to factors beyond his control. Evidently, then, ones on the last day is not considered an ones.


The Ketzos Hachoshen Responds

The Ketzos Hachoshen rejects this proof. He argues that normally, ones on the last day is an ones. It isn’t, though, when trying to redeem houses in a walled city. In such cases, a claim of ones is never accepted no matter when the claim is made. Why? Because according to Ketzos Hachoshen, the sale is automatically valid unless it is canceled within the first year.

A claim of ones can only exempt a person from punishments he should endure for not performing a certain action. It cannot replace an act he failed to perform or create something from nothing. (As the Yerushalmi says, “We don’t say that ones is like he performed the deed”). Not returning the money is like missing a train due to an ones. The person may not be to blame, but that doesn’t make the train magically reappear in the station.

The Agudah thought Hillel’s enactment was a good proof, however, because he agrees with the Nesivos Hamishpat that the sale is not valid unless the seller endorses it. And if the seller is prevented by forces beyond his control from returning the money, he can legitimately claim he never endorsed the sale.