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You Are That Man!
A Poor Man Looking For A Griddlecake…’
(Kiddushin 59a)



Our daf relates an incident where a sage, R. Giddal, was negotiating the purchase of a parcel of land. While the negotiations were going on, R. Abba came to that same field and purchased it. Since R. Abba was a student of R. Yitzhak Nappacha, R. Giddal’s complaint was brought to the latter.

R. Yitzhak Nappacha confronted R. Abba and asked him the following: “What would we think of a man who snatched a griddlecake from an indigent man who was looking for it? R. Abba replied, “We would consider him a wicked man.”

When the real situation was revealed to him, R. Abba explained that he had had no idea that R. Giddal was negotiating the purchase of that parcel, and therefore he was faultless.


A Sliding Scale

Rashi (s.v. “Ani ha’mehapech becharara”) explains that it is forbidden to snatch away an abandoned item that an indigent fellow is seeking to acquire, for by doing so a poor man is deprived of his sustenance. Ran (ad loc.) clarifies the matter further by noting that this rule applies only to an indigent individual. However, a man of wealth seeking to acquire an ownerless item is treated differently. One may snatch such an item from him, provided it is not yet in his possession.

The reason is simple: The wealthy person has no need for the item, in this case the griddlecake. If he is hungry, he can afford to buy a cake and does not have to resort to seeking out abandoned products.



However, when it comes to the purchase of a [specific] parcel of land that cannot be purchased elsewhere, then even if the individual wishing to acquire it is a person of means, encroaching on his opportunity to acquire that land is considered wicked.

Tosafos (s.v. “Ani ha’mehapech becharara…”) disagree and maintain that it is forbidden to interfere in another’s dealings only if the item is readily available elsewhere. However, if the item is scarce, namely, it cannot be obtained elsewhere, this halacha does not apply.


Effort Expended

Tosafos concede that if effort was expended by an individual, such as a fisherman who cast bait in a section of the sea to attract fish, another fisherman may not fish in that area.

Based on this halacha, Tosafos conclude that it is unethical for a teacher to apply for a position that is already filled by another teacher.

Atzmos Yosef (ad loc.) asks why Tosafos emphasize that a second teacher may not apply for the job if another teacher is already on the job. Even if the first teacher was just negotiating for the position, that should be reason enough for the second teacher to seek employment elsewhere.

Maharit (ad loc.) explains that teaching positions with decent wages are difficult to obtain, and thus even Tosafos would agree that a second teacher may apply for that position even while another is in the midst of negotiations.

We must assume that just as in the case of the fisherman cited by Tosafos, a teacher already filling the position has put much effort into training the children. Therefore, it should clearly be prohibited to snatch the position from him.


Passing a Sentence

Speaking at an Agudath Israel convention several years ago, Rabbi Avraham Pam, zt”l, Rosh Yeshiva of Yeshiva Torah Vodaath, cited the famous incident of King David and Batsheba (II Samuel chap. 11-12), when the prophet Nathan confronted the king, telling him the parable about an individual who was so poor that he had but one sheep and a rich man snatched the sheep from him. King David was so angered that he judged that person to deserve death. Nathan pointed to the king and said, “You are that man.” [The Talmud (Shabbat 56a) informs us that from a strict halachic point of view David’s behavior was permitted but was not ethical.]

Rabbi Pam noted that it is imperative to strive that our behavior, from the ethical point of view, go beyond that which is merely acceptable to that which is morally and ethically beyond question.


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.