Shabbat Parashat Kedoshim | 5768
May One Share a Monthly Bus Pass
Ask the Rabbi
Question: I was on a bus the other day and saw two young men share a chofshi chodshi (monthly pass), which Egged clearly forbids. Was I required to say something to the boys? If they would not listen, was I required to tell the driver? Is it a problem of lashon hara?
Answer: We will explore three halachic issues, starting with lashon hara. If one sees Reuven wronging Shimon monetarily, he may take steps to protect Shimon’s rights at the expense of defaming Reuven if seven conditions are met (Chafetz Chayim, Lashon Hara 10). In your case, if you were sure of what you saw, the only questionable condition is the need to rebuke the culprit in a soft manner before causing him embarrassment in order to give him the opportunity to rectify the matter without embarrassment (ibid. based on Rambam, De’ot 6:8). If that had proved ineffective, you would not have had to worry about lashon hara when alerting the driver to rectify the situation.
The next question is whether it is permitted or required to take such steps. In general, there is a mitzva from the Torah to rebuke for a sin (Vayikra 19:17). It makes little difference whether one rebukes in order to encourage possible rectification or to cause remorse and a decision not to repeat the sin (like the steps of teshuva we know of from our preparations for Yom Kippur). This mitzva is strongly related to the responsibility of afrushei mei’isura, to distance our counterpart from sin. In your case, the youngsters were in the midst of illegally make use of the bus apparently with no intention to pay. Yet, if one thinks about it, we have ample opportunities to rebuke people on the bus, and, for better or for worse, we rarely do so. For example, if we someone eating without a beracha or telling lashon hara, we have an, at least theoretical, obligation to rebuke him and/or prevent the continuation of the sin. Our general working assumption is that since our generation is not proficient at rebuking and receiving rebuke, respectively, we have more to lose than to gain by doing so. One could argue that a clear man-to-man sin such as sneaking onto a bus is one that everyone would admit is inexcusable and the rebuke would work. However, many, likely including the youngsters you saw, are able to rationalize away such activity or don’t care if it is wrong.
The final issue is hashavat aveida (returning something lost). Although the most famous discussions of hashavat aveida refer to physical objects, the mitzva refers to a variety of actions that need to be taken to prevent loss to our friend. For example, if one sees that his friend’s property is in danger of being damaged, he must protect it (Bava Metzia 31a). Furthermore, it appears that according to at least most poskim, one is required to take steps to enable his friend to receive the money he is owed. One example is that, in addition to the specific mitzva to testify on a friend’s behalf, several poskim say that the general mitzva of hashavat aveida also mandates testimony (Netivot Hamishpat 28:1; Sha’ar Mishpat 28:2; see Pitchei Choshen, Aveida 1:(63-65)). No matter how we classify the aveira of getting on a bus without paying (stealing for using property without permission, withholding fees due, etc.; analysis is beyond our present scope), Egged deserves to be paid and your action could have ostensibly enabled them to receive payment.
However, it is likely that you were still not required to do so. First of all, it is likely that even if the driver would have decided to confront the cheats, they would have gotten off the bus rather than pay, and thus the money would not have been gained. More fundamentally, though, one is not required to put himself in a situation of significant embarrassment in order to do hashavat aveida (Berachot 19b). Since asking the offender to pay and/or going to the bus driver to “snitch” would likely have caused a very upsetting experience, you were likely exempt from doing it.
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This edition of Hemdat Yamim is dedicated in loving memory of
R ' Meir ben Yechezkel Shraga Brachfeld
Hemdat Yamim is endowed by Les & Ethel Sutker of
Max and Mary Sutker
and Louis and Lillian Klein, z”l.