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Thought for the Day: What You Have In Mind vs What People Have In Mind

Just to let you know, I really want to talk about an interesting connection between honoring death bed wishes and returning a crockpot to the heat on Shabbos.  I can't help it if even things like this are politicized ad absurdum nowadays.

Each and every moment of life is precious.  The first second, any of the middle seconds, and even the very last second.  Which are the "important" moments in your life?  Only HaShem knows.  I don't mean that as an expression -- gawrsh... heaven only knows! -- I mean that as the reality.  In halacha, therefore, hastening someone's death by even a second is murder; plain and simple.  Suicide, in fact, is also murder; as you don't own your life.  The flip side is that extending a life by even a second is an act of heroism.  One of the ways Chazal expressed this concept in halacha is that the handling of gifts given by someone on their deathbed.

A person on his deathbed can become distraught about what will be with his friends and family.  He may very feel that as his last act on earth, he would like to give out his belongs to those he feels will most benefit -- even (especially) if his wishes are not in alignment with the normative (read: Torah) rules of inheritance.  Because Chazal knew that agitation can hasten the death of someone so weak, they permitted him to give his property to whomever he chose, and those gifts would be halachically binding even without the normal (read: Torah) requirements to effect a legal transfer of property and goods.  Moreover, if he actually recovers, then all of his gifts are nullified and he essentially (re)acquires all his property and goods.  In fact, even if he had written a legally binding contract to give away his property, that contract would also be null and void.

There is, however, an important caveat: he has to give everything away.  If he saves anything back for himself, we see that he didn't really expect to die; he was just really, really nervous.  That is, if he give away absolutely everything then there is an אוּמְדָּנָא (Chazal determined what he really meant) that he only meant to give away his property if he really died; but if he would recover he would want to retain his property.

On the other hand, suppose someone gets a job offer in a new city.  He tells all his friends about the new job, they make a nice farewell kiddush for him in shul, and he sells his house.  Then the job offer falls through and he wants his house back.  Sorry; דברים שבלב אינם דברים/his internal motivations are irrelevant.  The sale is a good sale; meaning that the buyer cannot be forced to accept a return of his money and give the house back to the seller.  (Unless, of course, the seller made that a stipulation of the sale.  All of this assumes that not explicit conditions were made.)

Tosofos look for a criteria to distinguish when we say אוּמְדָּנָא/we know what you really meant, and when we say דברים שבלב אינם דברים/your internal motivations are irrelevant.  As I understand it, the Tosafos haRihd answers that the difference is between "what motivates a person" and "what motivated you in this case".  No (normal) person would ever give away all of his possessions unless he expected to have no more need for worldly goods; ie, he expects to die.  In that case, we apply אוּמְדָּנָא to carry out his wishes after succumbing to the disease, or to return his property if he recovers.  When it comes to selling a house, though; people do that for lots of reasons.  You happen to have gotten a new job.  Good for you, but that doesn't mean it was your only reason for selling.  It may not even be your main reason for selling.  Maybe it is; but there is no way for anyone -- even you, yourself -- to know with certainty.  (Who knows what evil lurks in the hearts of men?  Besides The Shadow, of course.)

We can also understand this from the receiver's end.  When someone buys (or receives as a gift) something, he can't be expected to know what might or might not be motivating the current owner.  Therefore, the sale/gift acquisition proceeds according to what is openly observable.  The receiver is, however, expected and even required to take into account the normal working of a person's mind.

What does this have to do with Shabbos?  Suppose you have two pots on the blech Friday night; one for late night cholent with the boys, one for the next day's main meal.  Unless you have explicit intent, once you take the Friday night cholent off the heat and set it down to serve, then you cannot return it to the blech.  Even if everyone says they are too full and they'd rather eat it in an hour.  You took if off the heat, you set it down, you are done.  You say now, "... but, but... of course if I'd known no one wanted to eat, I wouldn't have take it off the fire!"  Sorry, דברים שבלב אינם דברים.  On the other hand, if you accidentally remove the Shabbos day cholent and only realize your mistake after you have set it down, then you can return it.  (Assuming it is fully cooked, the fire is covered, etc.)  Since the pot was set up for Shabbos day, there is an אוּמְדָּנָא that no one would take it off and set it down Friday night without specific intent to return it for Shabbos lunch.

This also fits in nicely with Chazal's concern for human life.... your wife will kill you if she finds out you ruined Shabbos lunch just to share some cholent with your friends Friday night!


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