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Hilchos Choshen Mishpat

Volume I : Number 39

Coveting Another Person's Property


Question:

In the Aseres HaDibros (Ten Commandments, which we read in this weeks Parsha), we are instructed (Shemos 20:14) "Lo Sachmode" - You Shall Not Covet, and (Devarim 5:18) "Lo Sisaveh" - You Shall Not Desire Your Friend's Property. If a person sees an item in his friend's possession and is interested in purchasing it from him, does he transgress these two Torah prohibitions?


Answer:

  1. A person who notices a desirable item owned by his friend that is not for sale, such as a home, car, Esrog, or anything else, and thinks to himself, "How can I convince my friend to sell this item to me?", transgresses the prohibition of Lo Sisaveh, even if he intends to pay the full value of the item. Even if his attempts to purchase it are unsuccessful, he has committed a transgression of a negative commandment (Lo Taaseh) in the Torah.

  2. If the owner of the item sold the item only after being persistently requested to do so by the purchaser, the prohibition of Lo Sachmode has also been transgressed. However, if the friend readily agreed to sell the item, this Lo Taaseh has not been transgressed.

  3. There is no prohibition for a person to bargain with a merchant, to try to get him to sell an item for a lower price that he is asking. However, it is not proper to persistently bargain with him to get him to sell the item in a manner in which he will make no profit at all from the sale.

  4. It is improper for a person who is respected in his community to request that someone sell or give him an item as a present, if it is possible that the person will only do so because he is embarrassed to say no to him, and is not giving it to him wholeheartedly.

    Similarly, in a dormitory situation, where a student has received a "care" package from home, it is forbidden for his friends to ask that he share it with them if it is possible that he will only do so because he is too uncomfortable to refuse them.


Sources:

The Rambam states in Hilchos Gezeilah (Ch. 3) that anyone who desires an item or house that belongs to his friend (and is not for sale), and tries to think of ways to convince the owner to sell it to him willingly, transgresses the prohibition in the Torah of "Lo Sisaveh". If he actually buys it after pestering the owner to sell it, even if he has paid the entire value of the item, he transgresses the prohibition of "Lo Sachmode". The Rava"d there differs, however, and states that both of these prohibitions only apply if he tries to think of ways to take the item from the owner involuntarily (Lo Sisaveh) and actually does so (Lo Sachmode), even if he fully compensates the owner for the item. (See the Hagaos Maimonios [6] there).

The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 359:9-12) quotes the words of the Rambam as the Halacha, and the Rema agrees with him. The Rabbeinu Yona in Shaarei Teshuva (Shaar 3:43) writes that according to the Rambam, the same would apply if the person desiring the item is respected and in a position of power, to the extent that it is difficult to refuse anything he requests when asked, it is not permitted for him to request this item unless he is absolutely certain that the owner is giving him the item gladly and willingly.

Since the Rambam, the Rabbeinu Yonah, the Sefer HaChinuch (Mitzvah 416, who is even more stringent than the Rambam), the Shulchan Oruch, and the Rema all agree that these prohibitions apply even when the buyer only tries to convince the owner to part with the item willingly, one must take this opinion to be the authoritative one, especially since this is a Torah, not Rabbinic, prohibition.

All of the above only applies when the owner has no interest in selling the item. If it is for sale, but the prospective buyer is trying to get a lower price for the item, he is obviously permitted to do so. However, a person must refrain from trying to convince the seller to sell it at a price that he gains no benefit from, if it is possible that he is only doing so because he can not withstand the pressure from the buyer, or because he is afraid to refuse the request because of the buyer's standing in the community. In this case, this is considered as if the item is not for sale, and the above stated prohibitions (Lo Sisaveh and Lo Sachmode) apply.

Additionally, these prohibitions only apply if the buyer desires his friend's item, and wants to buy it from him. However, if he noticed the item in a store and decided to purchase it because it is something that he wants or needs, and then sees this item in his friend's home and decides that he would like to purchase it from his friend rather than the store, according to the above mentioned Rishonim (except for the Minchas Chinuch) none of these prohibitions apply.

Feedback is appreciated! It can be sent toatendler@torah.org.


This week's class is based on a column by Rabbi Tzvi Shpitz, who is an Av Bais Din and Rosh Kollel in the Ramot neighborhood of Jerusalem. His Column originally appears in Hebrew in Toda'ah, a weekly publication in Jerusalem. It has been translated and reprinted here with his permission and approval.

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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!

 






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