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Sunday, 8 May 2016

Stealing an Opportunity

Daf Yomi Kiddushin 59

My friend Yitzy is an excellent baal koreh (Torah reader).  When we were in yeshiva in Melbourne, he used to layn (read) at a shul called Elsternwick Synagogue.  They loved him there; his layning was the highlight of the service!  But for years following Yitzy’s year in yeshiva in Melbourne he was bothered.  Were his gains ill-gotten?

You see, Yitzy got the layning job when the previous baal koreh, Levi, took ill.  Levi had been the baal koreh at the shul for six months prior, when he was suddenly hit with mono.  For three months he was out of commission.  When he was finally ready to return, the shul decided that they wanted to keep Yitzy.  And Yitzy, needing the money, happily obliged. 

Should Yitzy have refused the job and given it back to Levi?  Certainly he wasn’t physically stealing anything from Levi, but what was his ethical responsibility?

One time, Rav Giddal was negotiating over a field, when Rabbi Abba went and bought it. Thereupon Rav Giddal went and complained about him to Rabbi Zera, who went in turn and complained to Rabbi Yitzchak Nafcha.
“Wait until he comes up to us for the Festival,” said he to him.  
When he came up he met and asked him, “If a poor man is examining a cake and another comes and takes it away from him, what then?”
“He is called a wicked man,” was his answer.
“Then why did you, Sir, act so?” he questioned him.
“I did not know that he was negotiating over it,” he rejoined.
“Then let him have it now,” he suggested.
“I will not sell it to him,” he replied, “because it is the first field which I have ever bought, and it is not a good omen to sell one’s first field.  But if he wants it as a gift, let him take it.”
 Now, Rav Giddal would not take possession, because it is written, “He that hates gifts shall live.”  Nor would Rabbi Abba keep it, because Rav Giddal had been negotiating over it.  And so neither took possession, and it was henceforth called ‘The Rabbis’ field’.

Often in our dealings in life we take action without thinking about the consequences to other potential parties to the deal.  We convince ourselves that since we didn’t actually physically steal anything from anyone, we are completely innocent.  There might have been other players; but you snooze, you lose, right?

Listen to the high ethical standards of our Sages!   Once Rabbi Abba realized that he had swooped in and purchased a piece of property that Rav Giddal had his eye on, he withdrew his hand from the property, effectively leaving it ownerless!  He couldn’t imagine benefitting from an item that in any way, shape or form smacked of an improper acquisition! 

Stealing isn’t merely about taking something tangible away from somebody else.  It’s about the feeling of loss we cause them even by taking away something they felt due to them.  If you realize that Hashem is the ultimate provider, you never feel the need to take anything that someone else already feels is theirs.  Hashem will find another source to bless you!

Whenever I am asked to perform a wedding, one of the first questions I ask the kallah and chatan (bride and groom) is whether perhaps there’s another rabbi that they are close to who might be expecting the request to officiate.  If yes, I gladly pass on the honour.   Because although technically I might not be stealing anything, if the other rabbi would feel he deserves the honour, why would I want to even take that away from him?

The good news with my friend Yitzy, the baal koreh, was that twenty years later he bumped into Levi at a wedding and told him how awful he had been feeling for the previous two decades.
“I’m so sorry.  I don’t know how I could have accepted the job.  I should have given it back to you.  You must be really upset at me.”
“Don’t be silly!” Levi told him.  “Honestly, I was bothered at first, but I immediately forgave you!”

In life, not everyone is going to be as forgiving as Levi.  Whenever you grab an opportunity, make sure you’re not grabbing it away from someone else.  May the Almighty bless you with an abundance of opportunities without ever needing to take them away from any other person!