Beit Midrash

  • Family and Society
  • Buying and Selling
To dedicate this lesson

Baffled Raffle

Yossi Swapped his raffle ticket with Shimmy's and Shimmy won the first prize. who owns that prize?


Rabbi Daniel Kirsch

Sivan 26 5781
The neon-on-black color scheme did an excellent job of drawing Yossi’s gaze, as he walked down the school hallway. The blinding yellow and orange letters read "Donate to the building campaign of Yeshivat Ashrei Yoshvei Vaytecha! Every $20 donated will earn you a raffle ticket, with a grand prize of a new bike! Hurry and buy your ticket. The drawing will take place one week from today."
"I sure could use a new bike!" Yossi mumbled to himself. "And, of course, the yeshiva building fund is a worthy cause."
At the next break, Yossi found the grade representative. It wasn’t hard to locate him, because he was accompanied by a gaggle of boys, standing with $20 bills in their hands. When Yossi’s turn came, he fished a crumpled bill out of his pocket, and handed it to the boy in charge. As Yossi took the raffle ticket in his hand, he was overcome with the feeling that in just one week’s time, he could be the owner of a new bike!
It was then that he saw Shimmy. Could it be?! No!! Shimmy was also going to buy a raffle ticket! Shimmy was just too… too good! Shimmy always davened and learned and talked nicely to people. What chance did Yossi have of winning, if Shimmy would daven that his own ticket would win?
It was then that the idea came to Yossi. If Shimmy would pray for his own ticket to win, all that Yossi needed to do was to switch tickets with Shimmy. Shimmy would pray for his own ticket to be drawn, and Yossi would, in fact, be in possession of the winning ticket!
Yossi eyed Shimmy carefully, as Shimmy stuffed his raffle ticket into his backpack, and walked down the hall. Yossi followed Shimmy stealthily. As casually as he could, Yossi sauntered up to Shimmy, and asked "Shimmy, uh, I don’t know if I really understood the last passuk that we just learned in Chumash class. Do you mind explaining it to me? I think I see a Chumash over there!" Yossi extended his finger in the direction of the far side of the room.
Shimmy shrugged his shoulder, and walked over to get the Chumash. Yossi swiftly pulled Shimmy’s raffle ticket out of his bag, replaced it with Yossi’s own ticket, and stuffed the purloined ticket into his pocket.
A week went by, and the day of the raffle arrived. The boys assembled in the school auditorium, many of them with raffle tickets in hand. The principal made his way up to the stage, shared some thoughts on the importance of the campaign, and dug his hand into the raffle box. As he called out the numbers, Yossi eagerly scanned his ticket, waiting to see if his scheme had worked. As the principal called out the final number, a voice in the crowd called "I have it!"
Yossi, along with the rest of the boys in the school, turned in the direction of the voice, only to see… Shimmy! Shimmy had won? That meant that the winning ticket was actually… Yossi’s!
As Shimmy walked toward the stage, ticket in hand, Yossi felt he was about to faint. How had this happened? "Wait a second!" Yossi called out. "If Shimmy’s ticket won, that means I won!"
A sea of eyes turned to look at Yossi in wonder. "I took Shimmy’s ticket, and gave him mine instead!" Yossi explained. "That means that the winning ticket was really mine all along!"
As the students and faculty attempted to digest this strange outburst, the principal pondered the halachic ramifications. If the ticket was really Yossi’s, did that mean that Yossi had really won the raffle? Or, perhaps, Shimmy was the winner, because he, ultimately, was in possession of the winning ticket.
What do you think?

A similar question was presented to the Ohr Sameach, Rabbi Meir Simcha of Dvinsk, zt"l, and he ruled as follows:
It is not the ticket that wins a raffle. Rather, it is a person who wins a raffle.
Hashem determines exactly what will be given to every person. If a person is worthy of something, Hashem will, at times, even send a lowly thief to be the vehicle by which the person gets what they are supposed to have.

Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita, offered the following elaboration:
I have not seen this ruling written in the name of the Ohr Sameach. It seems to be a statement stemming from mussar (ethics), rather than an actual halachic ruling. While it is unethical for Yossi to claim ownership of a raffle ticket which he unjustly switched, according to Torah law, the basis for receipt of the bike is based on who actually owns the winning ticket. The halachic ruling, in this case, is as follows:
Yossi caused Shimmy to acquire Yossi’s raffle ticket. Shimmy had no idea that the raffle ticket was being forcefully given to him, and never agreed to receive it. Nonetheless, by switching tickets, Yossi gave up his right to the ticket that was originally his, and cannot take it back.
In summary: Both according to ethical reasoning, as well as strict legal reasoning, the bike belongs to Shimmy, and not Yossi

(This story, and the answer of the Ohr Sameach, are based on a story from the book Nisim Misaprim al Atzmam.)
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