Fire Breaking out on Shabbos
2. [When a fire breaks out on Shabbos] one may tell others: "Come and save
for yourselves." Each individual is allowed to save the amount of food he
needs for that day (1), or one container that holds a large amount of
food. [The food which was rescued] belongs to the person who rescued it,
since the owner renounced his ownership (2), and thus the person who saved
it is considered to have acquired owner-less property ("Hefker").
If the person who saved the food is G-d-fearing and returns it to the owner
because he realizes that the owner did not willingly renounce ownership, he
is allowed to receive payment for the effort involved in saving it. This
is not considered payment for working on Shabbos (3), since, legally, he
owns everything [that he saved] (4). Nevertheless, it is considered
"Middas Chassidus" (going beyond the letter of the law) (5) not to take
payment for saving an article on the Shabbos, because a "Chassid" (one who
generally goes beyond the letter of the law) should give up money which is
legally his, in situations where there is the slightest hint of
(1) According to the Chayei Odom, this limit imposed on others only applies
if they are saving food for themselves. If, however, they are saving the
food for the owner, there is no limit (Mishna Berura 334:20).
(2) The owner renounces ownership by saying "save for yourselves." Had he
said: "save for me" the property would not be considered owner-less.
(3) It is prohibited to receive money for an activity one does on Shabbos
(except in certain circumstances).
(4) It is as if the rescuer is selling that which is his, rather than
receiving a fee for performing a service on Shabbos. Furthermore, he didn't
save the food with the intent to receive payment for his efforts.
(5) It is considered praiseworthy to strive to go beyond the letter of the law.
(6) That is, it looks like payment for an activity performed on Shabbos.