Ethics

For the week ending 14 February 2009 / 20 Shevat 5769

Who Gets the Prize?

by Rabbi Mendel Weinbach zt'l
The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Question: The fellow standing in line at a checkout counter in a shopping center was coughing away, spraying the people around him. The man behind him suggested he step aside in order to avoid harming others with his germs. He did indeed leave the line, allowing the one who made the suggestion to take his place. When that one finally reached the cash register he was greeted by the center manager with an envelope containing 10,000 shekels worth of shopping coupons because he was the millionth customer of the shopping center. The fellow who left the line at his suggestion thereupon claimed that this prize belonged to him. What is the right thing to do?

Answer: The ruling of the rabbanim in Bnei Brak was that the coupons belonged to the man who got them. First of all, the fellow who did the coughing was halachically obligated to leave the line because he presented a danger to others. Aside from this there was no reason for him to assume that he would have won the prize had he remained in line since Heaven had determined that the other fellow should be the winner. One of the rabbanim cited a story told by the Chafetz Chaim about a host who secretly switched his lottery ticket with that of his Torah scholar guest who he felt had a better chance to win. When it turned out that it was his original ticket that won the big prize, he learned the lesson that tickets don't win prizes, people do.

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