Reuven decided to enter a contest offered by a company in which anyone who answers certain questions correctly is entered into a drawing to win $5000. Since he was well known in his community, Reuven was not interested in attracting attention to himself if he would be the winner, so he decided to use Shimon’s name on the entry, without Shimon’s knowledge. Sure enough, Shimon was very pleasantly surprised to receive notification from the company that he had won $5000 in a contest that he hadn’t even known that he had entered!
Reuven is now claiming the prize from Shimon, arguing that he had only used Shimon’s name as a means of entering the contest, but had never intended to relinquish the prize to him. He had been the one to come up with the correct answers to the question, and the prize should be entirely his.
Shimon is arguing that he should be able to keep at least part of the prize money. His Mazel (heavenly good fortune) must have also been a contributing factor in this win. There had been others who had answered the questions correctly but had not won the drawing!
Who is correct?
- A. In the situation described above, it seems that Reuven is correct and has a right to claim the entire amount from Shimon.
- If Reuven would have sent in two entries, one under his own name and one under Shimon’s name, and Shimon’s entry was the winning one, He would be obligated to split the winning prize with Shimon.
- If the terms of the contest would be that any contestant that sends in the correct answer receives a prize, Reuven would clearly be entitled to the prize, no matter whose name he sent the entry in under.
- If Shimon had also entered the contest on his own, and now it is not clear whether the entry that won was the one that Reuven had sent in with Shimon’s name on it, or Shimon’s own entry, Reuven has no right at all to demand any of the prize money, unless he can actually prove that it was his entry that had won.
The Shulchan Oruch (Choshen Mishpat 183:6) teaches us the following Halacha: If someone gives money to a friend and asks him to purchase an item for him, and the friend succeeds in purchasing the item for less than the purchaser would have had to pay for it, either because of his persuasive powers or because of his close relationship to the seller, our Rabbis have decreed that the buyer and the messenger should split the money saved equally. This is because the sender and the messenger have both contributed to this “profit”, the buyer by providing the money for the purchase, and the messenger by doing the “work” of convincing the seller to sell it at a lower price, and they should therefore both be considered partners in it.
However, the Hagaos Ashri (Kesubos 98b), and the Ketzos HaChoshen (183:8) give a more esoteric reason as to why the Rabbis decreed that the profit be split. Even without the argument that both buyer and messenger are actual partners because of what each contributed to earning the profit, the Mazel of both buyer and messenger played a role in earning the profit, therefore it follows that the money should be divided among them.
According to the Hagaos Ashri and the Ketzos, one might argue that in our case too, the prize money should be split. Although Shimon was unaware that his name had been entered into the contest, he can argue that evidently it was decreed in heaven that the win come through him. Just look, there are others who sent in the correct answers, but their names were not chosen in the drawing! Consequently, although Reuven should receive part of the money because he was the one who actually made the effort of answering the questions and submitting them, Shimon should also be entitled to part of the money, since his Mazel was also a contributing factor.
However, this analogy is not all that clear. In the case of the Shulchan Oruch, both buyer and messenger clearly played active roles in earning the profit, and therefore it can be argued that the Mazel of both participants was involved. However, in the case of our question, although Reuven was clearly an active participant in the process, what role can Shimon claim to have? Perhaps his Mazel was not involved in the win at all, he may have only become a participant because the company did not have Reuven’s true name and address, and the way to get the money to Reuven was only by sending it to Shimon! In other words, Shimon’s Mazel may not have contributed to the win at all, his only contribution was that his mail box was used to get Reuven the money that is rightfully his.
Therefore, since on the one hand it is clear that Reuven was a contributing factor to the win, and on the other hand it is not at all clear that Shimon contributed anything at all, we can not force Reuven to share his prize with Shimon in the case of our question. However, if Reuven had sent in an entry under his own name and another with Shimon’s name, he would be obligated to split the prize money with Shimon. He can not argue that Shimon’s Mazel may have played no role, because if Reuven was destined to be the sole winner based on his own Mazel, then the entry under his own name should have been the winning one! It would be totally unnecessary that Shimon’s mailbox be used as a means of getting the prize money to Reuven!
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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!