By Rabbi Yehoshua Berman
Kesubos 91 – What’s the Price?
What’s it worth to you? That’s basically the name of the game in this scenario. By rights, the creditor should be able to collect both houses. On the market, each one is worth 500 zuz and he has a total lien of 1,000. The guy who bought these houses, though, doesn’t want to part with them. He tells the creditor, “Listen, either you accept the one house that you already took at a value of 1,000 zuz, or take this 1,000 zuz in cash from me and leave both of them.”
Rava holds that the purchaser’s stance stands. Since, as Tosafos explains, Rava holds that in general a purchaser can deflect a creditor with cash payment, he has the upper hand to be able to insist on such a thing. In this case, the creditor accepted the house in lieu of the 1,000 zuz. He also really wanted it.
When it comes to the document, though, that Beis Din is going to write out for the purchaser that one of his houses was seized as payment of a debt that the seller owed, the value thereof will be registered as 500 zuz. This, explains the Rosh, is for the simple reason that 500 zuz is its true market value. It would not sell for 1,000 zuz to just anyone for whom this property carries no particular specialness.
The fact that it happened that both the purchaser and the debt collector in this story found this house to be something special does not meant that it objectively is. Property, in general, whether of the movable or real estate variety, almost always has an objective, real-market value. But then there is the subjective value that cannot necessarily be given a clear-cut price tag. For example, perhaps that house was of particular value to the purchaser because it was located right next door to his father. Maybe the debt collector found it particularly attractive because of a vintage construction style that is very difficult to find lately, and he has a particular liking for it.
There can be a hundred and one reasons why an individual may, in his own mind, assign much higher value to a particular piece of property than what it is worth on the market. The idea that an item is only worth however much it can sell for is true, but only to an extent.
A young man who was living as a single father to many children – under very unhappy circumstances – received a phone call a few weeks before Sukkos. It was a kind offer from one of his neighbors to come over and build his Sukkah for him. That was a big relief. He was so in over his head already between work and caring for his children, that he really had no idea if he would manage to find time to build a Sukkah. After the job was finished, though, and the young father came out to see the job well done, the volunteers were shocked to see a very dismayed look on the man’s face. “What did you do with the things that were here?” he asked in a desperate tone of voice. “Oh, you mean those piles of old junk? We figured we would help you by just getting rid of them. We threw them out for you.”
Well, if they thought that they had done a good deed, boy were they in for a surprise. It turned out that those “piles of junk” were extremely valuable to this father. Why, they could not fathom. It just looked like some old bike tires, a couple of boxes of old magazines, and some other unidentifiable odds and ends. Whatever the reason, though, those things were clearly very valuable to that father because he immediately took off for the dumpster to sift through all the garbage and retrieve those items that were so beloved to him.
Now, could it be that his already compromised predicament led him to being overly sentimental about things? Perhaps. But that doesn’t change the fact that we see that human beings possess within them the capacity to become awfully attached to their things. It gives a new meaning to the old adage, “One man’s trash is another man’s treasure,” doesn’t it?
In vogue these days is the negative side of this coin. People store all types of stuff in their house. Modern psychology has it that if you do a purge on your stuff, not only will you gain in organization and space, you’re also effecting a psychological purge of unwanted baggage in your mind. It would seem that there’s a lot of truth to that. Being able to let go of our sometimes irrational attachment to physical objects can help us to let of go of unfavorable emotional dead-weight as well.
That being said, it would be inaccurate to not acknowledge the upside of this human phenomenon. Our attachment to material possessions can also have a positive effect.
For example, an old, beaten-up Kiddush cup that may sell for no more than a few dollars on the market, might very well be something that generates an inestimably valuable influence on its owners to persevere as frum Jews despite difficult challenges. You see, that cup belonged to a grandfather who grew up in the US during the early part of the twentieth century, and it represents his unimaginable mesiras nefesh to remain a frum Yid against all the odds. When so many of his peers where succumbing to the financial pressures and casting off their observance, he steadfastly made Kiddush every Shabbos with that cup. No matter what, he would not let go.
Even a much more mundane type of connection can have a positive impact. Chazal tell us that a nice dwelling can help one to have expanded consciousness. When a person feels well-settled and a positive attachment to his place of dwelling, it can influence everything in his life for the better.
The upshot of all this, as with just about anything, is that it is all about striking the right balance. Hashem gave us a world to live in, a major part of which is the reality of material possession. While we most definitely would be well advised to divest ourselves of unhealthy attachments to things, we can also utilize positive attachments to our advantage. It’s all about the right balance.
Rabbi Yehoshua Berman serves as the Rosh Kollel of Kollel Reshet HaDaf in Ramat Beit Shemesh, Israel. In addition to having authored Reflections on the Parsha, Rabbi Berman regularly delivers shiurim on Halacha and Hashkafa, writes comprehensive chazara questions (in Hebrew) for the advanced Daf Yomi learner, and weekly words of inspiration from the Parsha. Rabbi Berman can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.