Seats for Kids is a great program run by the Edmonton Oilers Community Foundation. Let’s say you have season hockey passes, but you can’t make it to every game. Instead of throwing out the unused ticket and having your seat remain empty for the game, you can donate your seats to an underprivileged family. Why would you waste the tickets when they could go to a good cause?
Two laws must be introduced: Firstly, when a man dies childless, the Torah obligates his brother to marry the widow and maintain the family name. This tradition is call yibum – the levirate marriage. If they choose not to proceed, they perform a ritual called chalitzah, which annuls the union. If there are two wives, he may perform yibum or chalitzah with either and the other one is automatically exempted.
Secondly, a cohen (member of the priestly family) may marry a previously-unmarried woman or a widow. He may not marry a divorcee or one who has undergone chalitzah.
The Mishnah states: If the deceased brother left two widows, one who is kosher and one who is invalid for marriage, if he wants to do chalitzah, he should do so with the invalid widow. And if he wants to do yibum, he should do so with the kosher widow.
The Gemara asks: What does kosher and invalid mean? If kosher means kosher to the world (i.e. she could marry anyone, even a cohen) and invalid means invalid to the world (for example, she was previously a divorcee and therefore invalid to a cohen), why should it mean that – if she’s okay to marry him, what difference does it make who else she could marry?
Rabbi Joseph answers: Here Rebbe (Rabbi Judah the Prince) is teaching a lesson, “A person should not spill out his well-water if others could use it.” Rashi explains: Since he could do chalitzah with the widow who would be invalid to the cohen (the divorcee) and exempt the ‘kosher’ widow, that’s what he should do. He should not do chalitzah with kosher widow, because that would thereby invalidate her from marriage to a cohen (and now they would both be invalid).
There are many opportunities in life to do someone else a favour with something we weren’t going to use anyway. Maybe it’s your hockey tickets. Maybe it’s your gently-worn clothing. Don’t spill out that well-water! Other people could put it to good use!
There are two reasons why people spill out their well-water: Either they’re just not thinking about others or they’re thinking maliciously. ‘If I’m not going to get the benefit, nobody should get the benefit.’ I knew a fellow once who had a parking stall at work. But he didn’t have a car. He was asked repeatedly by colleagues if they could park in his spot, but each time he flatly refused. That makes no sense! And yet we are driven by a feeling that if I can’t have it, nobody can.
Rebbe teaches us that life isn’t about relative gains. It’s about absolute gains. Stop looking over your fence to see how your neighbour’s yard is doing. Instead, take the extra ten minutes to mow their lawn! It won’t hurt you and it will certainly benefit them. The more you start thinking about absolute gains for all as opposed to your relative gain, the better the world will be!