May the learning of these words of Torah serve as a merit le’iluy nishmat Menachem Mendel ben Harav Yoel David Balk a”h.
May a Father Change His Mind and Use the New Tefillin?
It is a common practice for a father to purchase a new set of tefillin for his son in honor of his son’s bar mitzvah. The child usually eagerly anticipates the gift. He is typically excited to receive a beautiful, new and special set of tefillin which he will wear virtually every day of his life. A father once asked Rav Yitzchok Zilberstein the following question: He had told his son that he would purchase for him a new set of tefillin. He had gone to the sofer and ordered the highest quality pair. When he went to the scribe to pick up his purchase he was taken with the beauty of the new tefillin. He now desired to use the tefillin himself. He asked, “May I repaint my tefillin so that they will look new and give them to my son, while I take the new tefillin for myself?”
Rav Zilberstein responded that Kiddushin 58 taught that it would be wrong to do so. The Mishnah taught that if Reuven asks Shimon to betroth a particular woman to him, if Shimon went and betrothed her to himself, she would be married to Shimon. The Gemara explains that while the marriage would take effect between the emissary and the bride, the emissary acted as a trickster. A representative of the court would announce in shul that he was a crook. Since Reuven was assuming that Shimon would betroth the woman to Reuven, when Shimon stepped in and betrothed her to himself, it was deceptive and wrong. A bar mitzvah boy assumes that his father will purchase a new pair of tefillin for himself. If the father decides to change his mind and to gift an old pair to the boy, he is being deceptive and acting like a trickster. (Chashukei Chemed)
The Gemara related a story about Rabbi Gidel and Rabbi Abba. Rabbi Gidel was trying to buy a particular field. Rabbi Abba then went ahead and purchased that field for himself. Rabbi Gidel complained about Rabbi Abba’s actions to Rabbi Zeira. Rabbi Zeira conveyed the complaint to Rav Yitzchok Nafcha. Rav Yitzchok Nafcha said, “Let us wait until the holiday. When Rabbi Abba comes to visit me then I will ask him about his actions.” When Rabbi Abba came, Rav Yitzchok Nafcha asked him a theoretical question. “If a poor man was trying to acquire a loaf of bread (that was ownerless) and someone else jumped in and grabbed it for himself, what would you say?” Rabbi Abba responded, “Such a person is to be publicly called a rasha.” Rav Yitzchok then asked, “So why did you behave in this way? Rav Gidel wanted to buy a field and you jumped ahead and purchased it for yourself instead.” Rabbi Abba responded that he did not know Rabbi Gidel had an interest in that field, and that he was willing to give the field as a gift to Rabbi Gidel. A lesson from this Gemara is that if one person is pursuing a particular item, it is not right for someone else to jump in and take the item for himself.
There is a dispute among the Rishonim how to define this law. According to Rashi, if a man is pursuing an item that is hefker, or trying to purchase a particular object, anyone else who jumps in to acquire the object for himself gets called a rasha. According to Rabbeinu Tam, this rule only applies if the object is easily available elsewhere. If I can get such a field easily from a different source, it is not right for me to jump in and get this field when someone else is currently trying to purchase it. However, if the object is not available from another source, one is allowed to jump in and pursue an object even though someone else already had his eye on that same item and was attempting to acquire it. Rama rules like Rabbeinu Tam.
Meorot Daf Hayomi related a story in which this halacha was invoked. In the city of Konigsberg in Prussia there were two communities that existed side by side. One was made of Jews from Germany. The other was populated with Jews of Polish origin. There was a financial downturn. The two communities were facing a money shortage. They decided to merge the two groups and thereby eliminate some of the paid communal positions. The German Jews had one man who was both the chazan and the shochet. The Polish Jews had two people. One was the chazan, the other was the shochet. As the communities were being merged, the chazan of the Polish Jews realized that he was about to lose his livelihood. He quickly went out and completed a course of study in the laws of ritual slaughter. He passed his exams and presented himself as a candidate for the position of chazan-shochet of the combined community. There were those who sought to disqualify him. They argued that the chazan-shochet of the German Jews was pursuing the same position in the joint community; for the chazan of the Polish community to now throw his name in the mix should be viewed like a man who tried to take the cake a poor man was pursuing—he should be considered a rasha and be disqualified. The Sridei Eish ruled that the man was not to be disqualified. Halacha follows the ruling of Rabbeinu Tam. The rule that ani hamehapeich bechararah uba acheir venatlah heimenu does not apply when it is hard to find an alternative. There was no easy alternative source of livelihood for the chazan of the Polish Jews, therefore he was entitled to compete with the chazan of the German Jews for the chazan-shochet position even though the chazan of the German Jews had been the first to pursue that opportunity. (Meorot Daf Hayomi)
By Rabbi Zev Reichman