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A Loaded Question

Written by הרב דניאל קירש, 31/1/2019

 “If you come across the ox of your enemy, or his donkey, wandering, you must return it to him.” (Shmot 23:4)

A Loaded Question

Yossi was excited that Purim was coming up. Admittedly, Yossi hadn’t put a great deal of thought into the significance of the day. He primarily thought of Purim as a great time to use explosives. It somehow escaped Yossi that the focus of Purim is actually the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people from the threat of total annihilation, and using explosive devices in the vicinity of other people doesn’t seem to be in line with that value.

Naturally, Yossi made sure to purchase the finest explosives he could buy. Granted, it would use up several weeks’ worth of his allowance, but Yossi was sure it was worth it. In fact, Yossi’s only regret, as he embarked on this project, was that he was legally only able to buy cap guns, and not actual firecrackers.

The weeks leading up to Purim found Yossi engaging in what he deemed activities promoting the holiday spirit, and everyone around him deemed senseless, offensive stunts, meant to frighten little children. Yossi would hide behind a tree, a bus shelter, a park bench, or whatever other object suited him, and wait until a child younger than Yossi walked by. With precisely timed movements, Yossi would shoot the explosive in the child’s direction, and would watch with delight as his victim jumped, screamed, or even burst into tears.

One day, Yitzchak, a boy who lived in the neighborhood, rushed into his house, with an excited look on his face. “Look Mommy! Look what I found outside!” Yitzchak exclaimed. “Yossi dropped his bag of explosives, so I picked it up and took it home. Now he won’t be able to bother everyone!”

“That’s great, Yitzchak.” His mother paused. “But what about hashavat aveida (the obligation to return lost property to its owner)? Maybe you have to give it back to Yossi!”

“But Mommy, he’s going to use it to do bad things,” responded Yitzchak. “Why should I give it back to him?”

Who is correct? Should Yitzchak keep the explosives, or return them to Yossi?

Answer of Rabbi Yaakov Ariel, shlita:

Yitzchak is not obligated to return the explosives. This is because Yitzchak knows Yossi, and knows that he will use them for forbidden acts, which cause pain to other people. This is similar to the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch, which states that there is no mitzva of hashavat aveida, regarding a dangerous cat, who harms others.

Additionally, it is possible that it is not only not obligatory, but even forbidden for Yitzchak to return the explosives. This is because of the prohibition of lifnei iver lo titen michshol (do not place a stumbling block before a blind person), which includes the prohibition against enabling another Jew to sin. However, if there is a possibility that Yossi will not use the explosives in a forbidden way, then it would not be a problem of lifnei iver. (See Masechet Shvi’it, 5, 8, which states that it is permitted to sell a cow which is intended to be used for plowing, before the shmita year, because it is possible that the buyer will slaughter the cow for meat, rather than using it to work the field.)

[i]In summary: Yitzchak is not obligated to return the explosives. If it is certain that Yossi will use the explosives for forbidden activity, it seems that it is even forbidden to return the explosives to him.

[i] It is important to note that the above discussion relates to objects such as explosives, which, in our case, were being used exclusively for a forbidden activity. This line of reasoning would not apply in the case of a lost cellphone, for example, even though one might argue that the owner could potentially use the phone to speak lashon hara. This is because, even if the phone is used for forbidden talk, this is not the primary usage of the phone.


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