In Shabbos 120a, the Mishna (first Mishna there) is quoted as saying that after Shabbat, the people who save things from a fire (which become hefker, ownerless) can make up their payment with the owner. The gemara asks what kind of people these are, that they would want payment for their work on Shabbat.

My question is, why didn't the gemara interpret the mishna as saying that the owner buys back the things, and this way, they are paid for their troubles, in a way that is entirely halachic (not even a hint of being wrong).

  • I'll dispute your understanding of the mechanics for the hefker for the following reason: if the "fire" is making the objects hefker, why would the owner CARE whether or not other people took the objects to say "ba'u vihitzilu?" This is implying that A) the owner is the one being mafkir and 2) is taking a calculated risk that others are doing so in good faith. This is the contrast between the reisha (lachem) and the seifa (imi). – Isaac Kotlicky Jul 17 '15 at 10:26

The Mishna says that if they are wise they would make a deal with the owner after Shabbat.

If it's theirs, then why can't they keep it? As Rashi says ואם פקחים הם יעכבו הכל הוה ליה למיתני.

The Gemara also says: חשבון מאי עבידתיה מהפקירא קזכו

IOW: The gemara is asking "why discuss what happens after Shabbat?". It's theirs. Why are you "wise" if you sell your own [extra] property?

So the Gemara wants to come up with something better than saying that it means "they sell it back".

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