A Jewish merchant in 19th century Ukraine had reached an understanding with a wealthy, non-Jewish landowner to buy a section of his forest for lumbering.
No contract was written, and when the price of lumber fell, the merchant wished to renegotiate the deal, claiming that he was not legally bound by the verbal agreement.
The landowner knew that according to civil law, the merchant was right, so he suggested instead that they take their dispute to the famous Rebbe of Tolna for a decision according to Jewish Law.
The Rebbe listened to both sides, then ruled that although there was no legal contract, the Talmud pronounces a severe curse upon one who breaks a verbal agreement, and that certainly the merchant would not wish to subject himself to this.
The Rebbe therefore found in favor of the landowner.
The landowner was pleased with the decision, but he had a question. ''In our courts there is a much longer process, and if a litigant is displeased with the court's decision, he can appeal to a higher court. And there are several levels of appeals beyond that. Suppose the merchant wished to appeal your decision. What recourse does he have?''
The Rebbe smiled and said, ''One time a wolf attacked a flock of sheep, and the animals dispersed. The wolf pursued one of them, but before he had a chance to seize it, a lion emerged and pounced on the sheep. The wolf protested that the prey was his, because he had caused the sheep to leave the flock, but the lion said that he had as much right to the sheep as the wolf, since neither had paid for it. They agreed to take their dispute before the fox, who was the wisest of all the animals.
"The fox ruled that the sheep should be divided equally between the two, and proceeded to cut the sheep in half. He noted, however, that one portion was larger than the other, so he nibbled away a bit. Then, seeing that the new portion was smaller, he nibbled away a bit of the other. This 'equalization' process continued until the fox had left nothing but the bones for the wolf and lion.
''In your courts,'' the Rebbe continued, ''there are indeed many appeals, with the result that the lawyers on each side nibble on the disputed assets. By the time a final decision is reached, all that is left for the litigants are the bones. We may not have an appeals process, but both litigants are likely to benefit from our judgment.''
Adapted from the wonderful book, Not Just Stories: The Chassidic Spirit Through Its Classic Stories by Rabbi Abraham Twerski M.D. (see http://amzn.to/1KQUKoj