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Thought for the Day: Being Careful With Your Friends' Money, Sensibly

One is not only permitted to protect his well-being; the Torah actually command him to do so: u'shmartem es nafshoseichem/y'all shall protect your lives.  Chazel discuss a situation where one is fleeing from unlawful seizure by an unfriendly (goyish) government (Bava Kama 116).  Our fugitive comes to a river and the only way across is a ferry.  Suppose the fare is $5.00; surely someone running for his life is willing to shell out that kind of money.  The ferry captain, however, is lazy and doesn't want to take just one passenger across; he'll wait for a full boat and ferry across once.  Our fugitive is nervous to wait that long, so he blurts out, "I'll pay you $100.00 to take me across right now!"  That gets the ferry captain's attention and the boat is dispatched forthwith.  At the other side, the fugitive, thanking the captain profusely, pays the standard fare of $5.00.  When the red-faced captain finishes screaming that's not what he was promised, the fugitive (tipping his hat, to be sure) says, "Oh, I just did that to trick you." and high tails it out of there.

Our fugitive, it turns out, is well within his rights; Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 264:7.  He is, after all, running for his life.  Suppose, though, there is no ferry, but there is a fishing trawler.  In that case, the fugitive it going to have to ante up.  When the fisherman reels in his lines and hauls up the nets, he is foregoing his parnassa.  Halacha does not allow you to save yourself with someone else's money.  Note well that the fugitive is not actually costing the fisherman money, rather he is preventing him from realizing and expected profit.  Failure to realize a profit is not deemed important enough to allow one to work on chol ha'mo'ed, by they way; but it seems to be more than ample reason to hold the fugitive accountable.  In this case religion and business coincide.

The gemara (Bava Kama 117b) has a few more examples of saving one's life using other peoples' money.  Take, for example, the case of rude commuter who pushed his way onto a ferry with his donkey in front of everyone else.  The donkey was not a good traveler and threatened to capsize the small boat.  One of the other passengers, fearing for his life, pushed the donkey into the drink.  When the case came before Rava, he exonerated the pusher.  In such a case, reasoned Rava, the rude donkey owner had the status of a pursuer (rodef).  The Torah allows one to save himself from a pursuer, even to kill him, if need be.  Drowning the donkey, therefore, is certainly allowed, to save his life.  (I know there is an obvious and slightly rude pun here.  I am not going there. but I suppose I am pointing you in the right direction...)

That also has limits, though.  While the would-be victim may damage and/or destroy his pursuer's property (even kill him, actually), the intended victim may not, however, damage anyone else's property.  If he grabs your vase to smash over the head of the pursuer, he will have to reimburse you.  On the other hand (I know, I know... lots of hands today), if someone else grabs the vase to smash over the head of the pursuer to save you, that doer of good deeds will not be held accountable for cost of the vase.

Chazal comment on that last case that it's not a halacha based on logic.  Logically, if Belle herself is responsible for damage caused to someone else's property while saving herself from Snidely Whiplash, surely Dudley Do-Right should be responsible for the broken vase.  Not logical, say Chazal, but practical.  If you held would-be do-gooders responsible for any could-happen damage, they are much less likely to get involved.

My mother often had  distressingly accurate perceptions of my character traits.  One of her most accurate (and oft repeated) perceptions was that as smart (ie, "book smart") as I may be, my common sense left much to be desired.  As much as my mother, she should rest in peace, did not appreciate everything I was doing with my life, she certainly would have liked that Chazal were also trying to teach me common sense.


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