A Stamping Ground

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

Boruch: Mazel tov on finishing Seder Nashim and half of Shas with daf yomi! Shimon: Thank you. Our continued learning should be a tremendous source of merit for the salvation of klal Yisrael. Boruch: Amen. In honor of your siyum, I want to show you this Israeli stamp I just bought. It is misprinted with an upside down Shas. Shimon takes the stamp from Boruch and admires it. He unfortunately accidentally tears it. Boruch: It’s a good thing you just started Bava Kama which deals with the laws of damages. You know you owe me $1000 for damaging my stamp. It is virtually worthless now. Shimon gasps and says: But the face value of the stamp is only ten shekel! I understand that to you, it’s worth more. However, I remember someone damaged my neighbor’s metal candlestick, and the posek said the amount of damages that had to be paid was rather small. A used metal candlestick isn’t worth that much even though it had much sentimental value. Boruch: That is totally different. There, a used candlestick practically has no market value. With regards to my misprinted stamp, there are many stamp collectors interested in my stamp. Shimon: But I tore it by accident! Boruch: The very first Mishna in Bava Kama lists “man” as one category of damager.

I’m sure you know the phrase “Adam muad l’olam.” A man is always liable for the damage he causes even if it is completely accidental. Shimon: Wait a second! I distinctly remember now that you told me you bought the same stamp a year ago. Boruch: Yes. There were only two in existence. Before you ripped it, I owned both. But now, sadly, there’s only one left. Shimon: I’m sure your remaining misprinted stamp shot up in value. It’s now unique and worth at least $2,000. Boruch: Yes. I’m sure it did. But you still damaged my stamp. Shimon: Yes, I did damage the stamp. But I did not cause you any loss of money. Your net worth probably increased because of my inadvertent action. The Gemara (Bava Kama 78b) discusses a case where someone stole an expensive ox that was set aside for a voluntary sacrifice. The Gemara rules that the thief only has to pay monetary restitution to cover the cost of an inexpensive lamb. This is because the owner can fulfill his obligation to bring a volunteer offering with a cheap lamb. The Shiltei Giborim concludes from here that we take a complete look at the entire situation. Although the ox the thief stole was expensive, the real loss to the individual was relatively small.

Here, too, I technically caused you a loss of your stamp, but taking the entirety of circumstances into account, you lost nothing. You profited! Boruch: The Shaar HaMishpat disagrees. No proof can be brought from the case of the sacrifices. There, “hekdesh” is really suffering the loss. Originally, an expensive sacrifice would have been brought. Now a cheap one will be brought. The rules of damaging hekdesh are different. Let’s discuss a different case. Levi lent his thousand-dollar video projector to Yehuda. A thief stole the projector from Yehuda and destroyed it. Yehuda apologized to Levi. Levi only asked Yehuda for one hundred dollars in restitution. The thief must still pay one thousand dollars to Yehuda. This is true despite the fact that if we examine the totality of the situation, Yehuda only lost one hundred dollars. Yet, the thief must still pay the actual value of the borrowed item that he stole from Yehuda.

The thief must pay a thousand dollars! Shimon: Well, the Shiltei Giborim likewise discusses that exact scenario. He says that the thief would only have to pay one hundred dollars in that situation which is the value of the actual loss. Here you have no actual loss! I hold like the Shiltei Giborim! Boruch: Even the Shiltei Giborim would possibly agree in this situation that you have to pay me for the stamp. There are two reasons why we obligate a person to pay restitution: 1) He caused the victim a loss; 2) He destroyed an item belonging to the victim. In the case of the projector, the victim only suffered a small loss. Moreover, the victim didn’t have his personal object taken. The projector did not belong to the victim, it was borrowed! Here, while it is true I suffered no loss, you definitely destroyed a stamp that I owned! Shimon: Good point! I think I will ask Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein, shlit”a, to rule on this this. Boruch: Great, I will accept his psak. A little later, Boruch sees Shimon. Borcuh: Nu, what did Rav Zilberstein pasken? Shimon: To be honest, he wasn’t sure. I guess we will have to work out a compromise.  

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow is a rebbe at Yeshiva Ateres Shimon in Far Rockaway. In addition, Rabbi Sebrow leads a daf yomi chaburah at Eitz Chayim of Dogwood Park in West Hempstead, NY. He can be contacted at ASebrow@gmail.com.

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