Chava Pomerantz was living her dream. Married and settled in Yerushalayim, she was able to breathe in the intoxicating air as she traipsed the streets bearing the names of her holy ancestors and Jewish heroes – Yirmiyahu, Yeshayahu, Shmuel Hanavi, Shivtei Yisrael, and Devora Ha’neviah. Her life was a perfect masterpiece painted in vibrant colors and set in a masterfully crafted frame.
Well, almost perfect. One small insect had recently begun burrowing its way in and was slowly making destructive inroads.
Most people in Yerushalayim live in apartment buildings – some larger, some smaller. Chava was truly grateful that she had found an apartment in a smaller building, with only seven apartments. Due to the smaller number of tenants, there was a closeness among them more akin to family than neighbors.
Wanting to help with the maintenance of the building, Chava agreed to be in charge of collecting funds once a year for the upkeep of the roof. Winter’s deposit of leaves, twigs, and stray matter was cleaned out, and any faults in the eaves were dealt with in the dry summer months. With only seven members of the building – and she was one of them – it was not usually a very taxing task.
A month ago, Chava approached one of the neighbors, a talmid chacham who had lived in the building for years, and asked for the money for the upkeep of the roof. “Good morning, Rabbi S. I am collecting the money for the upkeep of the roof. When would it be convenient for me to stop by and pick up the money?”
“I am not going to give money for the upkeep of the roof,” he responded.
Chava stood speechless. This was not the answer she was anticipating. Too shocked to say anything, she walked away. Perhaps Rabbi S. was in some financial difficulty. But the amount of money being collected was a paltry sum and it did not seem, from anything else that Chava saw, that money was an issue.
The rigors of routine relegated the incident to a quiet chamber in Chava’s consciousness. Then, one day, she had plans to visit her grandchildren out of town, and was already chuckling to herself about their antics as she made her way out of the building. Suddenly, Chava bumped into Rabbi S.
His demeanor was friendly as usual and Chava was reminded of their last conversation. Why had he said what he had said? This was the first time he had refused to participate in the building’s maintenance. And he had not given any reason.
Racing to the bus stop, Chava chewed over the incident once again. If Rabbi S. refused to participate, the other tenants would have to pay more. And then they would want to know why. And once they found out why, they might also balk at paying. This could really turn into a big mess. It all began with Rabbi S. It was his doing!
As the bus rambled along the road, Chava’s thoughts were creating an ongoing loop of repetition – “It is all Rabbi S.’s doing. He is to blame.” Chava’s internal scale of justice had been unbalanced. Here was a talmid chacham who was behaving in a decidedly unjust manner. Something had to be done to put things right. And she knew the person to do it.
A downstairs neighbor, Rabbi J., sat on a bais din. Chava would approach him with the situation and perhaps he would be willing to speak to Rabbi S. about the injustice of not bearing his share of the burden.
The next evening, Chava called Rabbi J. and asked when she could come to discuss a matter of halacha. Rabbi J. was available then, and minutes later she was standing in his study. “Rabbi J., as you know, each year all the families pay towards the upkeep of the roof. You have already paid your dues as have most of the other tenants. There is one family, though, that has stated that they will not pay. In previous years there was never an issue. Would you be able to speak to the person about the halachic aspect of his refusal?”
“Mrs. Pomerantz, I am sorry to tell you that Rabbi S. is fully within his halachic rights to refuse to pay.”
Chava was more than dumbfounded. How did Rabbi J. know that she was referring to Rabbi S.? She had carefully left the identity of the non-paying tenant unknown, not wanting to get involved with lashon hara. Trying to see that justice was done, she had been careful not to use Rabbi S.’s name until she could be sure that Rav J. was willing to speak to Rav S.
“Rabbi J., as a resident of our building, Rabbi S. needs to share the burden of the communal portions of the building. Each year we bring in someone to clean the drains and make sure that before winter comes, the roof is in good shape. Why would Rabbi S. be exempt from paying his fair share? And how did you know that it was Rabbi S. that I was referring to?”
“I knew who it was because Rabbi S. had come to me to discuss the issue before he told you he wasn’t participating. Rabbi S. had been doing some investigating about making changes in his apartment. He went to the municipality to check the records of our building, and found out that you and your neighbor are the legal owners of the rooftop. If you wish to build on it, it is yours to do so. Therefore, it is your responsibility, together with your across-the-hall neighbor, to deal with the maintenance. Rabbi S. has no halachic responsibility to maintain someone else’s property.”
Chava left the study a wiser and wealthier woman than when she had entered. “Yesh din v’yesh dayan! – There is a judgment and there is a Judge!”