Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Kofin Al Midas S'dom -- Forcing Good Behavior

The city of S'dom (Sodom, if you will) is enshrined in our Western weltanschauung as the epitome of evil.  What was "root cause" of all the evil?  You might think this is merely a philosophical question, but it is actually a very practical "halacha l'ma'aseh" principle known as "kofin al midas s'dom"/forcing behavior to eradicate the character trait that epitomizes S'dom.  This character trait most clearly reveals itself when one party (we'll call him Benny, the beneficiary) could benefit from another party (we'll call him Lewis, who suffers no loss), and the second party suffers no loss as a result; known in halacha as "ze ne'he'ne v'zeh lo chahser"/this one benefits and this one doesn't lose.  In S'dom, it was forbidden for Lewis to help Benny without charging him.  We combat that with the full force of beis din/Jewish court, who can force Lewis to do the right thing.

Pretty straightforward, but here's a ma'aseh with an interesting twist.  Shimon was driving with his family one day when the car stalled on train tracks.  Shimon tried and tried, but the car would not start.  After a few minutes of trying, Shimon became nervous that a train might come, so he and has family abandoned the car and kept away a safe distance while they figured out what to do.  Along comes Ruvein out of the blue, who knows something about cars.  Ruvein is able to get the car off the tracks (whether he got it started or pushed if off, I don't know).  Barely another few minutes went by and a train came roaring passed on the tracks just recently cleared of Shimon's car.

Shimon is ecstatic and enthusiastically thanks Ruvein for saving his car.  Ruvein is equally enthusiastic in thanking Shimon for helping him get such a nice car.  Shimon's smile fades and he asks Ruvein what he means.  Ruvein explains that since Shimon abandoned the car, it was hefker/ownerless and since Ruvein was the first one to grab it, the car belongs to him.  Shimon is nonplussed and points out that he and his whole family were right there, crying and screaming for help.

Ruvein tells Shimon that he should have paid more attention in Shulchan Aruch shiur.  In the Choshen Mishpat section, 259:7, the m'chaber paskens that someone who saves sheep from a lion, tiger, bear (oh my!) and the like, owns the sheep.  That is so even if, continues the m'chaber, the (erstwhile) owner is standing there crying and screaming. The Rema on that syef does add, though, that it is certainly appropriate (tov v'yashar) for the rescuer to return the sheep to the original owner; Ruvein says he wants the car more than he wants to be tov v'yashar.  Shimon demands a din torah; one is called; that's the halacha; Reuvein is the owner of the car in the eyes of the Torah.

Shimon, also a frum Jew, accepts the decision.  One problem: Shimon owns the title on the car.  Moreover, Shimon declares that since he can't drive the car, he is immediately canceling the insurance.  Now no one can drive the car.  "Ahhh...", Ruvein says with a twinkle in his eye, "Shimon loses nothing signing over the title of the car, since he doesn't own it anyway.  I, on the other hand, benefit -- a classic case of ze ne'he'ne v'zeh lo chahser!  I can therefore have beis din force Shimon to sign over the title to me because of kofin al midas s'dom!"

The beis din, however, tells Ruvein that he should have paid more attention in mussar/ethics shiur.  In a case where the Shulchan Aruch paskens that it is tov v'yashar for Ruvein to give back the car, and yet Ruvein ignores that counsel and decides to stick to the strict letter of the law, beis din is not obligate to force the other party to help him.

Back to stalemate, right?  Not quite... now that Ruvein loses nothing by giving the car back -- since he can't drive it anyway -- and Shimon benefits... Yep; beis din can force Ruvein to return the car because of kofin al midas s'dom!  A nice turn of ironic justice.

Just to clean up: Ruvein can still charge Shimon whatever the going rate is for getting a car off train tracks.  Justice is justice, after all.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Sometimes a Food Loses Its Identity When It Loses Its Bracha; Sometimes It Doesn't

Let's start with a question: Why are We Allowed to Drink Coffee and Whiskey Made by Non-Jews?  Before you ask,"Why would I think that I shouldn't be able to drink whiskey and coffee made by non-Jews?", I'll tell you. Simple, we all know that Chazal made a decree -- known as בישול עכו''ם/bishul akim -- that particular foods cooked by non-Jews are forbidden.  There are basically two criteria that determines if a dish falls into this category:
Is not consumed raw.Fit for a royal banquet. Cooked carrots, therefore, are not a problem since they can be eaten raw (I actually prefer them that way).  Baked beans are find because the are not prestigious enough.  (For great synopsis of the laws, see the article on the Star-K site, FOOD FIT FOR A KING, by Rabbi Moshe Heinemann, shlita.)  There are lots of cool questions and details (baked potatoes are prestigious, does that make even potato chips and issue?) which are for another time.  Clearly, though, both coffee an…

Thought for the Day: Coming Into This World for Torah, Avodah, and Acts of Loving Kindness

This TftD is so self-serving that I should be embarrassed.  But I am not... talking about grandchildren is always off budget.  I have, bli ayin hara, a beautiful new grandson; born at 6:11 PM CDT last Friday night.  The secular (aka -- by me, anyway -- slave) date is October 20, 2017 CE.  The Hebrew (aka Real) date is certainly Rosh Chodesh חשון/Cheshvan and certainly in the year 5778 since Creation.  The date, you ask... good question!

Sundown on Friday night was 6:01 PM CDT, which means he was born either at the end of the last day of תשרי or the beginning of the first day of Cheshvan; a period know as בין השמשות/twilight.  What's the big deal, you ask... I am so glad you asked.  We all deal quite handily with בין השמשות every week and every holiday; we're just stringent.  We start Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov before בין השמשות; that is, before sundown.  Likewise, we end Shabbos and the first day of Yom Tov after בין השמשות; some 42, 50, 60, or 72 minutes after sundo…