Tuesday, August 11, 2009

Taking Care of Other People's Property

A certain grocer in Yerushalayim was in an absolute quandary. One Friday, well after midday, he discovered a large bag filled with grapes in his store. Since grapes were costly and these would surely spoil in the hot weather, he was unsure what to do.
He decided to go to Rav Eliyashiv, shlit”a, to ask if he could sell them and repay the owner when he was found. But Rav Eliyashiv explained that this was forbidden. “You may not sell them since you must keep them for the owner.”
“But they will be spoiled by tomorrow,” protested the grocer.
“Put them in a refrigerator,” Rav Eliyashiv replied.
“But so late on erev Shabbos, people do not have much space in their refrigerators…”
The gadol was clearly unimpressed. “Distribute them in several, then.”
As the grocer was walking home a certain man stopped him and asked if he had any delicacies to sell. “We just had a boy and I must make a shalom zachor this very night,” he explained.
The grocer decided to ignore Rav Eliyashiv and sell the grapes. After all, wasn’t this a clear sign from heaven—especially since the father was a very wealthy man and could afford to pay an exorbitant price for the grapes?
The grocer took five times the value of the fruit and reasoned that the owner would certainly be pleased.
That night the grocer heard a knock at his door. It was the shamash of the Rebbe of Toldos Aharon. He explained that he had finally recalled leaving the grapes that he had purchased for the rebbe in the grocery and had come to pick them up. The matter was urgent, since he needed them for his health.
The foolish grocer had tremendous anguish as he explained his error.
When this story was recounted to Rav Eliyashiv, he said, “There is no doubt that he had no right to sell the grapes. In Bava Metzia 38 we find a machlokes regarding leaving a deposit of fruit with a fellow Jew. The machlokes, however, only concerns a situation if the fruit will certainly spoil. If one can keep them without spoiling, everyone admits that they may not be sold.
He concluded, “Even for five times their value, they may not be sold!”

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