Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Buying and Selling
To dedicate this lesson
At the Shabbat Table

Meating Halfway


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Tishrei 30 5781
Yossi wiped his hands on his apron and let out a contented sigh. Yes, being a butcher was a lot of work, but it gave him such pleasure when he thought of families gathered at the Shabbat table, enjoying tasty, nutritious meat and chicken.
Yossi looked up, as the bell at the entrance to the store rang. The approaching customer was someone Yossi recognized, from around the neighborhood. Yossi strained to think of the young man’s name. Mordechai Eliyahu. That was it. Yossi was pretty sure that this man was married, with children. So how could it be that his entire Shabbat order, every week consisted of only…
"One quarter of a chicken, please." The customer’s polite request strengthened Yossi’s resolve. It was time to get to the bottom of this.
"Of course," Yossi responded, turning as if to fill the order. "Just wondering, how many people live in your house?"
The young man smiled broadly at the question. "Thank G-d, my wife and I are blessed with two children."
Yossi couldn’t contain himself at this point. "How could a quarter of a chicken possibly be enough for a family of your size?! It sounds like you need two whole chickens!"
The young customer’s lack of reply spoke volumes. It was clear that the added expense was simply not within his budget.
"Of course, I understand if you can’t pay me right now." Yossi hurried to fill the silence. "Just take the chickens now, and don’t worry about paying me back."
Sensing the young man’s hesitation, Yossi continued with his sales pitch. "Think how happy it will make your wife and children! Think of the honor for the Shabbat that you’ll bring to your table. You know, what makes my Shabbat food taste so much better is when I think of all the happy customers of mine, all around the neighborhood, sitting at their tables and eating the food from my shop. It will add so much to my Shabbat meal if you take these chickens!"
The customer finally agreed to the deal, and so a tradition began. Every Friday, he would come in to the butcher shop, and take two chickens. Of course, he would carefully note exactly how much he owנed the butcher.
The young Rabbi Eliyahu grew in his scholarship, and after a number of years, he was appointed as a rabbinical court judge. The added income was much needed to support his growing family, but when Rabbi Eliyahu received his first paycheck, he was overjoyed for a different reason. Now he would finally be able to repay the generous butcher!
Rabbi Eliyahu hurried to the butcher shop, and found Yossi. "I’m happy to tell you that I can finally repay what I owe you!" Rabbi Eliyahu announced.
Yossi’s face beamed, as he responded "I’m thrilled about your new position, but I wouldn’t dream of taking any money from you."
"But… but I bought so many chickens from you on credit!" stammered Rabbi Eliyahu. "How could I not pay you back?!"
"The chickens that I’ve given you are a gift. I never intended that you would pay me back for them!" Yossi explained. "It’s an honor to have provided Shabbat food for a Torah scholar’s family, for all this time. Why should I lose out on that merit?"
"But I never intended to receive those chickens as a gift!" Rabbi Eliyahu replied.
And so it was that the unusual case was brought before Rabbi Tzadka, zt"l. Rabbi Tzadka listened to both sides, as Rabbi Eliyahu insisted that he wanted to pay for the chickens, and Yossi insisted that he wouldn’t take any payment. Who do you think won?

Answer of Rabbi Tzadka, zt"l:
Rabbi Eliyahu should be allowed to pay half the value of the chickens. This way, Yossi will have given half the intended amount of charity, and Rabbi Eliyahu will have payed for the chickens, albeit at a very discounted price.
Both men accepted Rabbi Tzadka’s ruling. Rabbi Eliyahu payed half the value of the chickens to Yossi. Yossi then took the 250 lira payment, and handed it back to Rabbi Eliyahu. Yossi smiled as he explained "This is a gift that I’m giving you, in honor of your appointment as a rabbinical judge!"

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