Pesach was fast approaching, and the Levins were trying to use up their chametz. The cookies and cakes they had received from mishloach manos didn't help the situation.
"Gadi, take these packages to yeshiva and give them out to your friends," Mrs. Levin told her teenage son. "I'm sure they'll be able to finish them."
"No problem," said Gadi. "They'll be gone in a wink!"
Gadi stuffed the cookies and cakes into a shopping bag and took them with him to yeshiva. He met his friend, Yisrael, and asked: "Would you like a cake or box of cookies?"
"Sure," said Yisrael. "What's the occasion?
"We're trying to finsih the chametz before Pesach and have loads left over from mishloach manos," Gadi explained.
"I'm glad to help," Yisrael smiled.
Gadi gave him a cake, and gave out the remaining packages to other classmates who were present. "Almost finished," he announced. "One box left."
"Can I have it for my brother?" Yisrael asked.
"No problem," Gadi said. He reached in the bag and handed Yisrael the box of cookies. "Here, take this for your brother," he said.
Just then, Gadi's best friend, Ari, entered the room. He saw the packages of cookies and cakes all around. "What's going on here?" he asked. "Someone making a party?"
"We're trying to get rid of the chametz," Gadi explained. "My mom told me to give out the extra cookies and cakes from mishloach manos."
"I'm starving," laughed Ari. "I could really use a package of cookies now!"
"Sorry," said Gadi, "but I just gave the last box to Yisrael for his brother."
"For his brother?" questioned Ari. "Where's his brother?"
"He's home," said Yisrael. "I'll bring it home with me tonight."
"Would you mind giving it to Ari?" Gadi asked Yisrael. "Ari's my best friend and he's here now. Your brother won't even know he missed anything."
"I already took the cookies for my brother," said Yisrael. "I can't give them away without his permission."
"But they're not his yet," said Gadi. "The cookies are still mine until your brother receives them, so you can give them to Ari."
"I'm not convinced that they're still yours," replied Yisrael.
Just then Rabbi Tzedek walked in. "Let's ask Rabbi Tzedek," suggested Ari.
The three boys approached Rabbi Tzedek. "I gave Yisrael a box of cookies to take for his brother," said Gadi. "I would like him to give it now to Ari, though. Can Yisrael give it to Ari or does it already belong to his brother?"
Rabbi Tzedek ruled: "Yisrael already acquired the cookies for his brother and he has no right to give it to Ari without his brother's permission."
Rabbi Tzedek then explained: "This case is an example of the halachic concept, zachin l'adam shelo b'fanav – it is possible to acquire on behalf of a person not in his presence. When a person accepts a gift on behalf of someone else, the recipient of the gift acquires it immediately. The one who gave it can no longer back out nor give it to someone else." (Choshen Mishpat 243:1)
"What is the basis of zachin l'adam?" Yisrael asked.
"The Gemara (Kiddushin 42a) derives this concept from the division of the Land of Israel, in which the leaders of each tribe received a portion on behalf of the entire tribe," explained Rabbi Tzedek. "Tosfos explains further that zachin l'adam is an extension of the law of shelichus, agency. The person accepting the gift serves as an agent to receive the gift on behalf of the recipient. (Kesubos 11a; see, however, Ketzos Hachoshen 105:1)
"What if Yisrael's brother is not interested in the cookies?" asked Ari.
"A person cannot be forced to accept something against his will," replied Rabbi Tzedek. "Therefore, the recipient has the 'upper hand' and can choose either to uphold the gift retroactively or to refuse it."
"Does that mean that every time I ask you to bring something to a friend it becomes his already?" asked Gadi.
"The application of zachin l'adam depends on the language used," Rabbi Tzedek concluded. "The language must indicate that the person was meant to acquire the item immediately on behalf of the recipient, such as: 'acquire, take, or accept, for so-and-so' (zechei). However, if Gadi had said to Yisrael, 'deliver, or bring, the cookies to your brother' (holeich) the language does not indicate immediate acquisition on behalf of the recipient. In that case, Yisrael's brother would not acquire the cookies until he received them. The term 'give to so-and-so' (tein) is questionable, and subject to dispute." (C.M. 243:2-3; 125:6-7)
The boys thanked Rabbi Tzedek. Yisrael pulled out his cake and handed it to Ari. "Here," he said. "You can eat this and I'll ask my brother to share his cookies with me."