“And he shall give it to him whom he has wronged”
We all know that bread is the staff of life. In today’s Daf Yomi it becomes an important currency in the world of lending. I imagine bread bonds, which are securitized to back the lending of an entire village during the time of the Talmud. These bonds, backed by loaves of bread collected by the village treasurer and stored in a cool room somewhere, could allow for the construction of bathhouses and study halls. The bonds could be post-dated so that it is clear the bread is not in the one’s possession during the Passover holiday. Of course, there is the danger that the bonds could default if the bread turns moldy. If that is the case, you now have the quintessential junk bond.
The text today dissects what it calls “the question of retroactive acquisition.” It is important to note when the creditor takes possession of the collateral – in this case the bread – in order to understand the long running discussion on deriving benefit from prohibited leaven on Passover. The text considers the scenario when a non-Jew lends a Jew money and is given leavened bread as collateral during Passover. When the holiday is over, the creditor seizes the collateral in lieu of payment. In this instance, we are told that one can gain benefit from the collateral – the loaf of bread. The benefit that is gained is the cancellation of one’s debt.
What is key in determining if one can derive benefit from the leaven is when it was deposited in the non-Jew creditor’s home. If it was handed over to the creditor before Passover, then it is permissible to gain benefit from it. But if it was in the possession of the Jew during the holiday, it is forbidden. The reasoning in this instance is logical – if the bread was in the possession of the creditor during the holiday, then it is was not owned by the Jewish debtor at this time.
If the roles are reversed and the Jew is the creditor, then there is some dispute over what is allowable. If it is determined that the Jew had possession of the collateral during Passover, then he has committed a transgression. The lesson learned through all this disposition, is that the loan needs to be carefully constructed and the date when ownership of the collateral takes effect clearly articulated.
If there is meaning in all this, it is to carefully construct contracts and to honor one’s commitments. I have heard stories from friends and family who entered into real estate contracts right before the onset of COVID-19 on New York City properties. The contracts were signed, and the down payment collected. When the city was experiencing the worst days of the pandemic, there were people who moved to void the contracts. This created a great deal of hardship for the sellers of the properties who found themselves with no outlet to contest the attempted cancelling of the contracts with the city courts shut down.
A contract is a contract. You sign it and you honor it, and you accept what comes. The real estate market might tank before your closing, or it might continue to increase in value as was the case with New York City real estate before the pandemic, but you have signed your name and are obligated to honor your commitment. But contracts were broken during the dark days of the spring, and sellers were forced to return down payments in order to free the properties so that they can find new buyers (and often at a great loss.)
Many people who broke their contracts and benefited from the pandemic went on to buy properties outside the city because they gave up on living here during the worst of times. I wonder if when they fall asleep at night to the suburban quietness and solitude that surrounds them, if it crosses their minds what has been lost.