I am a managing attorney at a small boutique law firm of nine lawyers. While the firm has a good group of clients, close to ninety percent of my income is from one large Fortune 100 corporate client. As the relationship with this client grew, and as they started giving the firm more work, we moved from a traditional hourly fee to an alternative fee. This arrangement provided the client with steep discounted rates, but also encouraged the client to give us more and more work. With the increase in work, my income also increased.
When I started working with this client, my family and I were living in a very small three-bedroom apartment. As my income grew, we decided to move to a larger house in an orthodox neighborhood outside the city. In order to check out the neighborhood, we began by renting the main floor of a large ranch house.
There was a bachur already renting the basement of this house, which was as large as the main floor. When we moved in, I was very careful about the mitzvah of mezuzah, and I put them up in all the areas of the house that were ours. I didn't touch the mezuzos that were in the bachur's area of the house, nor the side entrance of the house. We all used the side entrance, but technically, it was really an entrance into the bachur's residence.
After some time, my family agreed that we liked the neighborhood and the shuls close by, so we purchased the house. While our legal relationship to the house changed, nothing else did. The bachur continued to live downstairs in his half, and we lived upstairs in our half.
Several months later, the bachur moved out and left many belongings in the basement, saying that he would come back for them. Since we never used the basement anyway, we allowed him to do so.
About nine months later, in early Autumn, there was a heavy snowstorm. Since the leaves were still on the trees, the weight of the snow pulled down thousands of branches onto the area's power lines. We lost electricity for about six days. During these days it was also freezing cold. While the temperature in the main floor of the house dropped into the thirties and forties, the basement remained a 'toasty' 63 degrees.
We decided to move into the basement to sleep, and also to keep warm there during the day, until the power came back on. In order to do this, I moved the bachur's belongings into an alcove. We carried down some of our bedding, arranged a table and chairs, and soon made the space our own. Thankfully, the power came back on just before Shabbos, so we quickly moved our stuff back upstairs and put the ordeal out of our minds. The kids continued to use the basement as a playroom from time to time.
Shortly after these events, my main client called me into a meeting. As a response to recessionary pressures in 2011, they were cutting their legal budget. They especially wanted to cut their cost with respect to local legal services---fifty percent of those being my services. They proposed to bring me in-house. Generally, a move in-house is a good thing, and I was happy that they wanted me. However, I was stunned that the salary they were offering me was about half of what I was making.
I have always been careful about calculating and giving maaser and tzedakah. I had just had my tefilin checked during the month of Elul. What did Hashem want from me in this situation?
I started calling several Rabbanim with whom I am close. I also began to discuss the situation with my contacts in the client's office, quietly lobbying for a higher salary. In the meantime, one of my Rabbis suggested that I check my mezuzos. 'But how could that be the problem,' I thought, 'I have always been careful with my mezuzos. When we moved into our house, we put up only the best.' It was then that I realized I had never checked the mezuzos in the basement.
I pulled down all the bachur's mezuzos and arranged for them to be checked. Several were completely pasul, the rest were questionable, and some of them had not been installed correctly. 'Oy!' I cried, 'How could I have been so foolish?' As soon as I could arrange it, our sofer wrote several new mezuzos and corrected the ones that could be corrected. I installed the new ones in the basement and then had the ones on the main floor checked, including their manner of installation.
By this time, my negotiations for a higher salary were failing---the client was unwilling to raise his offer. I considered turning him down and turning my efforts toward getting other clients. A short time later, however, in the month of Adar, I heard in a roundabout way that the company had instituted a hiring freeze. Unexpectedly, the arrangement with my law firm would stay the same, at least until they had another round of budget cuts. I was able to stay at the income that allowed us to purchase the house.
In retrospect, it's not surprising that they wanted to cut my income by fifty percent, when half of my house didn't have proper mezuzos. What's really amazing, though, is that the lack of proper mezuzos in the basement didn't have any effect on me when we bought the house, or even when the bachur moved out. It only had an effect on us when we used the basement in a manner that effectuates 'taking possession', according to halachah.
Halachic Note: The tenant is obligated to affix his or her mezuzos and to regularly check them; it is not the responsibility of the landlord or property manager. Also, if one moves out, and he knows that another Jewish tenant is moving in, he may not remove his mezuzos.
From the forthcoming book by Rabbi Aaron L. Raskin.
Last updated: Monday, Jun 18 2012 2:18pm