“Hi, Tzviky, how was school today? I just finished making latkes to serve after candle lighting tonight, but I can give you one just to taste,” Mrs. Roth greeted her son as she wiped her hands on her apron.
“Is she here yet, Ma?” Tzviky asked with single-mindedness that even a hot latke could not overcome.
“No, Tzviky. You’ll have to wait a little bit longer to meet Aunt Annie,” Mrs. Roth answered. “She called after she landed in Newark to tell us that she is going to do some shopping before she comes. She said she’ll be here at four o’clock.”
“I bet you she went shopping to buy presents for us,” Tzviky declared with the bravado of a seven-year-old boy.
“Well, Tzviky, you might be right,” Mrs. Roth said. “I haven’t seen my aunt since I was a kid, but I do remember her to be quite generous. Once she came to visit and she took my two older sisters and me to a fancy boutique and outfitted us from head to toe!”
“Wow! How did she have so much money?” Tzviky asked with wonder.
“Well, when you’re a corporate executive, you make a lot of money,” Mrs. Roth answered, surprised by her own candor.
* * * *
Annie Berger handed a large, beautifully gift-wrapped box to Mr. Roth. It was the last present of many that Aunt Annie had handed out.
“Aunt Annie, you really didn’t need to buy all these presents. Staying with us for the whole week of Chanukah is the only present we want,” Mr. Roth said with all sincerity.
“That is very kind of you, Meir. I have to admit that rearranging my busy schedule wasn’t easy,” Aunt Annie confided. “You know, for over a year I’ve been learning on the phone with a very nice religious lady. One of my clients introduced me to her. She’s taught me a lot about Judaism. A few months ago I mentioned to her in passing that I have a religious niece who’s married and lives in New York. Ever since then she’s been pushing me to visit you. Well, she finally convinced me. So, voila! Here I am! And I wouldn’t dream of coming empty-handed. So, open your present. I’m sure you’ll like it.”
Meir tore off the wrapping. On the box were printed the words ‘Old World Silver Shoppe’ in big swirly letters. Meir paused a moment, giving the words their proper respect, and then opened the box. Inside, lay a stunning silver menorah.
“Wow! It’s beautiful!” Mrs. Roth said.
“It sure is. Thank you, Aunt Annie. I don’t know what to say,” said Mr. Roth.
“Can we use it tonight, Ta?” asked Tzviky excitedly.
“Of course, Tzviky. I’ll set it up right now, but I’ll have to hurry. Candle lighting is in fifteen minutes,” answered Mr. Roth with a hint of excitement in his voice.
“Oh! I didn’t realize that we have so little time until we light the menorah,” Aunt Annie interrupted. “Please excuse me. I need to make a very important call. If I don’t hurry I’ll miss seeing your menorah being lit for the first time.”
As Aunt Annie went to her room to make her call, Meir lifted the menorah out of the box. He slowly turned it around in his hands and gazed at it. Suddenly, he brought it close to his eyes and took off his glasses.
“What’s wrong, Meir?” asked Mrs. Roth.
“I’m not sure but I think the menorah has a crack in it. Right here,” Mr. Roth said, pointing to where one of the arms connects to the center shaft.
“It can’t be. Let me see,” Mrs. Roth said as she reached for the menorah.
Mrs. Roth looked at the menorah carefully. “Meir, you’re right. What are we going to do? Aunt Annie will be so upset if she finds out. I know candle lighting won’t be the same for her if we don’t use her menorah. Can’t we use the menorah until after Chanukah and then give it back? It’s not our fault that it has a crack. The store might not like it but they’ll understand.”
“Well, I don’t think so,” Mr. Roth replied. “I remember listening to a shiur about returning faulty merchandise. I seem to recall that once you decide to give a faulty item back to the store, the sale of that item becomes null and void. In fact, the Torah considers the sale to be as if it never happened. That means we don’t own the menorah anymore and using it now would be tantamount to stealing. Sorry, but unless we know for sure that the store would not mind, we can’t use it.”
“Quickly then, let’s call the store and ask if it’s okay with them if we use it until after Chanukah. Their number is on the box,” blurted Mrs. Roth who at this point was getting a bit frantic.
Mr. Roth quickly called the number on the box.
“What did he say, Meir?” asked Mrs. Roth as soon as Mr. Roth had put down the phone.
Mr. Roth frowned and said, “The manager said that he is very sorry about the difficult situation that we are in. However, he insists that if we want to return the menorah, we must not use it. He said that the store would want to fix the crack by soldering it and then would sell the menorah at a discount. If we use the menorah for all of Chanukah the crack might get worse and it would be harder to fix. He also said that if we used it, a professional cleaning and polishing would be required which would be a bother for them even if we would pay for it.”
“So, what are we going to do, Meir,” asked Mrs. Roth.
“The manager suggested that we keep the menorah and use it, and that after Chanukah we should bring it into the store to get it fixed. He said it won’t look perfect but it will do the job. I told him that under the circumstances we had no other option and we left it at that. I just hope Aunt Annie doesn’t notice the crack,” replied Mr. Roth.
* * * *
“I can’t believe how time flies! It’s already the eighth night of Chanukah. Just look how beautiful the menorah looks with all the candles lit!” Aunt Annie exclaimed.
“Yeah! It sure looks nice!” Tzviky said in agreement. “And baruch Hashem, the crack in the menorah didn’t get any bigger! Uh Oh!”
Both Mr. and Mrs. Roth quickly shot looks at Tzviky that could have frozen the flame off a Chanukah candle.
“What did you say, Tzviky?” asked Aunt Annie.
Tzviky, realizing he was in big trouble ran out of the room. Aunt Annie bent down to examine the Chanukah menorah. After a moment of tense silence, she announced, “Now I know what Tzviky was talking about. This menorah has a crack in it. I’m taking it back to the store!”
Meir tried his best to mollify Aunt Annie, but to no avail. Finally, he had to tell her the whole story.
“I am so touched that you decided to keep this damaged menorah in order not to upset me, but I insist on returning it to the store. I wanted to give you a perfect menorah. I did not want to give you a cracked one! You may have waived your rights to return it, but I haven’t. And I am the one who paid for it. This is between me and the store,” argued Aunt Annie.
Meir thought for a moment and then suggested, “Aunt Annie, I think that this would be a good opportunity for you to learn about how Orthodox Jews take care of monetary disputes. You and the store manager should go together to discuss this with Rabbi Weiss who is an expert in Jewish monetary law. He will tell you what the Torah says about your case. Go to him and you’ll find out what is the right thing to do.”
“I think that is a great idea. You know, I like the way you people do things,” Aunt Annie said with a smile.
* * * *
“So, what does the Torah say, Rabbi Weiss? Am I right?” Aunt Annie asked as she concluded arguing her side of the story to Rabbi Weiss.
Rabbi Weiss thought for a few long moments and then spoke, “I think that you are correct, Mrs. Berger. The halacha states in Choshen Mishpat 232:3-4 that a buyer has the right to void the sale of a defective item and receive a full refund. In our case, Annie, the buyer, gave away the defective item to the Roths before she voided the sale. However, I do not see why this fact should stop her from being able to void the sale when she becomes aware of the defect. No authoritative halachic source says that she transferred her rights over to the Roths or in any way forfeited them. Furthermore, it is valid for Annie to be concerned about the defect in the menorah even though she no longer owns it because giving a defective item as a gift does not create the same good will as does a gift that is without defect.”
A few days later, Aunt Annie wrote a thank you note to the Roths. In it she wrote …”In my career I have met some honest people (and many dishonest ones) but I have never met people who deal with money issues like you do. Are all Orthodox Jews like that?”