Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow
The following article is based on Gittin (11b-12a) and Chashukei Chemed on Bava Metzia (10a). The article is intended to engender discussion and not to provide halachic guidance. Please see the sources for practical rulings.
Boruch was waiting at an Egged bus stop. There were throngs of people there. Worse still, he was in the back of the crowd. He thought to himself that there was no way that he was going to get a seat on the bus. All of a sudden, an idea hit him! His chavrusa was already on the bus. He had gotten on at the previous stop. Boruch called Shimon and asked him to reserve a seat for his dear chavrusa. Shimon: Am I allowed to reserve a seat for you on the bus at the expense of others who will be forced to stand? Boruch: Sure! Rav Nachman discussed a scenario where a debtor only has enough money to pay off a few of his creditors. Rav Nachman permitted someone to grab some of the debtor’s money on behalf of one of the creditors. This is true, even though his actions are to the detriment of the other remaining creditors. There are not enough seats for everyone who will board the bus. You may reserve a seat for me, even though it is at everyone else’s expense. Shimon: We don’t pasken like Rav Nachman! We pasken like Rebbe Yochanon. One person may not grab some of the debtor’s money on behalf of one particular creditor, precisely because everyone else will suffer. He has no right to grab for one party over another. Boruch: True. However, Rashi says that Rebbe Yochanon would agree that if one party specifically designated the grabber as his agent beforehand, then he may seize some assets on behalf of that party. Likewise, I am specifically appointing you as my agent to reserve a seat. So even Rebbe Yochanon would agree that you may reserve a seat for me even at the expense of others. Shimon: I’m sorry, but Tosfos and the vast majority of the Rishonim do not accept Rashi’s view. Boruch: True, but the Shach rules that even Tosfos would agree that if one paid the agent, then it’s different.
An employee may grab assets on behalf of his employer. So I will Quickpay you money now, thereby making you my employee. You will then be able to reserve a seat for me. Shimon: Your understanding of the Shach is accurate, but the Tumim disagrees. He holds that even an employee may not grab assets on behalf of his employer if it comes at the expense of others. Moreover, I just realized that I certainly cannot reserve a seat for you. You are not entitled to a seat at all. You didn’t even pay for a seat. Even you, yourself, would not be allowed to reserve a seat now since you didn’t pay the fare yet. Boruch: Good point! I will add the fare to the Quickpay. Please pay my fare so that I’m entitled to a seat. Since you didn’t like my idea of following the Shach, I could still use a Tosfos to aid me. Tosfos says that even Rebbe Yochanon would agree that one creditor may grab assets on behalf of another creditor. The logic is that since a creditor may certainly grab assets for himself, he can seize assets for his friend as well. (Up until now, we were discussing a non-creditor seizing assets on behalf of a creditor.) Since you are certainly entitled to take a seat on the bus for yourself, you may reserve a seat for me as well. Shimon: But I’m no longer entitled to take a seat; I already took one! Boruch: When you stand up to pay my fare, you will have relinquished your rights to the particular seat. When you sit down again, please take two seats, one for me and one for you. Shimon: Your logic allows me to reserve the seat that I would have taken for myself and save it for you. However, now I would be taking two seats. Suppose a creditor was owed one million dollars. Would Tosfos’s logic allow a creditor to seize two million dollars, one million for himself and a million for his fellow creditor? (Even if it is to the detriment of the remaining creditors?) Boruch: Yes, the Beis Yosef says he can.
Therefore, you may save two seats, one for me and one for you. Shimon: But the Nesivos and Sm”a disagree with the Beis Yosef. They rule that a creditor may not grab more than he is owed. Therefore, I’m sorry, but I may only take one seat for myself. Boruch: Shimon, you are my chavrusa. We can study together during the bus ride if we have seats next to each other. Therefore, when you save the two seats, that have both been paid for, you are really saving both seats for yourself. You yourself gain by having my seat next to yours. Rav Zilberstein compares this situation to a family member reserving seats for the entire family. The family member wants to sit together with the rest of his family. Therefore, when he reserves seats for the entire family, he is really acting for himself. One is allowed to reserve something for which he is entitled and which he himself will gain from, even to the detriment of others. Boruch: Yes, I do want to study with you on the bus ride! I will pay for your seat and then sit down and reserve the seat next to me. Boruch then pays Shimon’s fare and sits down. Stranger: Excuse me, sir, is that seat open next to you? Boruch: No, I’m sorry, I reserved it for my chavrusa. Stranger: How did you reserve it? Did you pick up the seat? Did you pull it? It seems to me that you just decided in your head that it is reserved. That has no halachic significance. The stranger then sits down next to Boruch. Boruch calls Shimon: You’re not going to believe it! Someone took the seat that I reserved for you. Maybe I’ll switch seats and put a sign on the seat next to me saying, “Broken. Do not sit here” Didn’t Rav Zilberstein suggest something similar? Shimon: Rav Zilberstein suggested that idea when people were not saving a seat for an exceptional scholar. That is something that everyone is obligated to do. Therefore, we may trick people into believing the seat is broken. No such leniency exists in this case. No one is obligated to save a seat for me. Don’t worry. It is of no worry – while talking to you, I missed the bus.
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.