Sweet and Salty

Rabbi Avrohom Sebrow

The following is based on a true story. Chaim the Customer: Shaya, do you have any sugar in stock? Shaya the Shopkeeper: Sure, and it’s on sale today! Chaim: Sweet! I’d like 5 pounds, please. Shaya measures the sugar, pours it into a bag, and hands it to Chaim. Chaim returns home, fills all his sugar shakers, and begins to prepare an elaborate array of desserts. That Shabbos, during the Kiddush, guests begin to gag and cough. “Oh! What’s wrong with this cake?” Many guests echo the sentiment. Chaim tries a dessert and gags, too. The desserts are extremely salty. Realizing that the shopkeeper sold him salt instead of sugar, his blood begins to boil into caramel. Livid, Chaim returns to the store on Sunday. “Shaya, it wasn’t sugar that you sold me, it was ‘assault’! I’m liable to be sued by my guests.” Shaya: Please forgive me. Even though I’m usually above the salt, mistakes happen. Here is a 5-pound bag of sugar. Keep the salt; it’s on the house. Chaim: That’s not enough. I will take you to a rabbinical court, which will force you to pay for all of my ruined food. Shaya: You don’t even have the sense to pound salt. I didn’t actively ruin your food. At most, the damage caused by my mistake is indirect, a grama. A rabbinical court will not obligate a person to pay for indirect damage. Chaim: I hate to pour salt on your game, but even if it is a grama, you still have an obligation to pay for the damage. It is just that beis din won’t enforce it. Shaya: Let me spice up your Torah knowledge with this bit of information: The obligation to pay for indirect damage is only when one intended to cause damage. As you know, my mix-up was an honest mistake. Chaim: This seems to be a serious question.

Let’s ask this question about the salt and sugar mix-up to a posek who is a mover and a shaker. Shaya: OK. We’ll ask Rav Shlomo; he is the salt of the earth. Rav Shlomo: Shaya did not directly cause the damage. Shaya: I knew I was right! Rav Shlomo: However, the Gemara says that one is responsible for damage caused by a pit he dug in the street. In that case, the digger did not directly cause the damage, yet the digger of the pit is responsible. Chaim: I knew I was right! Shaya: I would still take that ruling with a grain of salt. In the case of the pit, the damage was caused in the location where he dug the pit. The damage to Chaim’s food did not happen in my store. Furthermore, mined salt is not exactly a pit. Rav Shlomo: Actually, a “pit” is just a name for a category of damage. Any object capable of causing damage could potentially be qualified as a halachic “pit.” Furthermore, the Gemara discusses the case of someone who left a rock in the street. It was subsequently kicked by others and caused damage. The person who put the rock in the street is liable for the damage his rock eventually causes. The case in the Gemara is called bor ha’megalgel, otherwise known as “rolling stones.” Chaim: That’s music to my ears. Shaya: Chaim, of course it would sound good to you–you’re a stoner. Rav Shlomo, even if my salt was deemed to be a halachic pit, it is well known that one is not liable for damage caused by a pit if the damaged item was a utensil. Even if the salt qualifies as a pit, I should be exempt. Chaim: And I’m the stoner? I’m asking to be compensated for damage caused to my food, not to my utensils! Shaya: You think you have this subject hung up and salted? Tosfos say that anything that is not alive is categorized as a utensil, even food items. I sure hope your food was not alive. Rav Shlomo: Shaya, you are right, of “coarse.” This might become too technical, but we can argue that the damage falls under the category of “fire.” When one lights a fire, one is even liable for the damage caused when the fire becomes windblown. So, too, your salt was moved to a damaging location, namely Chaim’s kitchen, by an unsuspecting Chaim, who can be considered like the wind. Chaim: I knew that Shaya was liable, sure as the wind blows. Rav Shlomo: Chaim, I’m sorry to knock the wind out of your sails, but one could argue that the damage in this case to your food is not recognizable. Since Shaya did not intend to cause the damage, he would be exempt. Chaim: So what is your final ruling? Rav Shlomo: I don’t want to throw caution to the wind by issuing an erroneous ruling. Why don’t you both agree to settle? Chaim and Shaya settle, and Chaim resolves, henceforth, to use agave nectar in place of sugar.

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.

Share this article: