Story LineMoney StolenRabbi Meir Orlean
Aharon was visiting from abroad for the summer and traveling alone cross-country. He dozed off on the train one Friday afternoon and realized upon awakening that someone had walked off with his travel bag! In it were his wallet, money and credit cards, his phone, documents and clothes.
Aharon got off the train and approached the first Jewish person he stumbled upon. “I’m visiting from another country,” he said in broken English. “I lost my bag. With my wallet and my phone. I have no money. I need $100 to buy food and travel to where I’m staying for Shabbos. Is there a tzedakah fund here?”
“The gabbai tzedakah is Mr. Rabinowitz,” said the man. “He lives on the next block.”
The man took Aharon to Mr. Rabinowitz. “I’m traveling around the States; my bag with my wallet and phone was stolen,” Aharon told him. “I need $100 tzedakah for food and travel until I can get money.”
“You can use my phone to call your family,” said Mr. Rabinowitz. “Maybe they can help.”
“It’s already Shabbos where they live,” said Aharon. “I can’t speak with them until Sunday. I have no family here.”
“I see,” said Mr. Rabinowitz. “Do you want to borrow money or receive tzedakah?”
“I don’t know if I’ll be able to pay back the money,” said Aharon. “I don’t have any checks that I can give you, but I might be able to mail you money when I get some next week.”
“I could give you money as tzedakah, but I don’t know if it’s fair to the poor people of the town,” said Mr. Rabinowitz. “Let me ask my Rabbi Dayan.”
“A trekker lost his knapsack with his wallet and phone, and needs money,” said Mr. Rabinowitz. “Can I give him tzedakah from the shul’s fund?”
“The Mishnah (Pe’ah 5:4) addresses a similar case,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “A self-sufficient person was traveling and had no more money with him. He is allowed to take tzedakah – leket, shikchah, pe’ah and ma’aser ani.”
“Must he repay it when he returns home?” asked Mr. Rabinowitz.
“Rav Eliezer requires him to repay, whereas according to the Sages he does not have to, since he was poor at that time,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “Halachah is in accordance with the Sages; he is like a poor person who later became rich. Nonetheless, Rambam writes in his commentary to the Mishnah that it is righteous (middas chassidus) to repay. Similarly, the Shulchan Aruch writes that he is ‘not required’ to pay, which could indicate that it is nevertheless proper to do so” (Y.D. 253:4; Tosafos Rabi Akiva Eiger, Pe’ah 5:4)
“Whom should he repay?” asked Mr. Rabinowitz.
“Tiferes Yisrael writes that, according to Rav Eliezer, he can repay the poor of his own town, and does not have to repay the place where he received,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, Tosafos Anshei Shem writes that, according to Rav Eliezer, he must repay the city from which he took. Even he concedes, though, that for the middas chassidus of the Sages he can repay charity wherever he wants.”
“How much can he have?” asked Mr. Rabinowitz.
“A truly poor person can receive a large amount of charity at once, even beyond his needs,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, in this case, the traveler should only take what he needs for his sustenance” (Tzedakah U’mishpat 2:15).
“What if he can borrow?” asked Mr. Rabinowitz.
“Some write that if the traveler can borrow, he is not allowed to accept tzedakah,” said Rabbi Dayan. “In that case, he is not considered poor at that time” (Chut Hameshulash 1:17; Aruch Hashulchan, Y.D. 253:11).
“Thus,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “if Aharon can take a loan, he should do so. If not, he may take tzedakah, and it is a middas chassidus to repay later to the charity of his choice. If he takes with the understanding that he will repay, then he is required to do so.”
From the BHI HotlinePrepay or Payoff?
Q. Reuven found out that his friend Shimon is in such severe financial straits that even the grocery store was refusing to extend his credit any further. Out of a deep sense of compassion, he approached the grocer and negotiated with him to forgive part of Shimon’s debt, provided that the other portion would be paid that same day.
Reuven excitedly phoned Shimon to inform him of this development, but could not reach him. Concerned that the day would pass and the deal would be retracted, he rushed to the grocery and laid out the money to the grocer to cancel the entire debt.
When he told Shimon what he had done, Shimon said that since in halachah, he is not required to repay this “loan” at all, because he hadn’t asked Reuven to pay off his debt, he would repay him when he came into some more money in the future.
Is Shimon correct in his assertion?
And if he is, can Reuven demand that the grocer return the amount he laid out for Shimon, on the grounds that he made this payment under the erroneous assumption that he would be entitled to immediate reimbursement from Shimon?
A. The halachah is that if Levi borrowed money from Yehuda, and Yissachar pays off Levi’s debt without consulting him, and then asks Levi to repay him, Levi is not required to pay (Shulchan Aruch, Choshen Mishpat 128:1 with Shach 5; Shu”t Ksav Sofer Choshen Mishpat 18).
There are divergent reasons given for this halachah, however, and the answer to our question depends on which logic we apply.
Some explain that since Yissachar undertook to pay off the loan without consulting with Levi beforehand, we can assume that he gifted the money to Levi, for the sake of the mitzvah alone (Shach 8). Based on this logic, some rule that if Levi wasn’t around, and Yehudah offered to forego a portion of the loan if the remainder was paid immediately, and that spurred Yissachar to take action without consulting with Levi first, Levi is required to pay. Since our assumption that Yissachar paid off the loan for the sake of the mitzvah was predicated on the fact that he did not discuss the matter with Levi first, that logic would not apply if Levi was not available for such a discussion (Pnei Yehoshua, Bava Kamma 58a; Erech Shai 265).
In our case, since Reuven could not reach Shimon before he paid down the debt in order to avoid losing the negotiated settlement, we have no proof that he wanted to gift the money to Shimon, and Shimon is required to pay.
Others explain that the reason Levi is not required to reimburse Yissachar is that he is not considered to have benefited directly from Yissachar. Rather, we view Yissachar’s involvement as akin to someone who has chased away a lion (mavriach ari) from another person’s flock, thereby preventing damage. In such a case, the owner of the flock is not required to pay the lion-chaser because he has not received any tangible benefit. Similarly, Yissachar is considered to have “chased away” Yehudah, but his actions did not bring Levi any new benefit that he didn’t already have when he initially received the loan and had the funds at his disposal. The fact that Yehudah is no longer demanding payment is not considered a direct benefit (Nedarim 33a; see Shach ibid. 6). Furthermore, when a borrower owes money, repaying that loan is not considered a financial loss, but rather an absolution of an obligation that rested on his shoulders as long as he owed the debt (Tosafos Bava Kamma 58a s.v. Iy Nami). Moreover, Levi can claim that he might have convinced Yehudah to forgive the loan, and even if Yehudah is prodding him for payment, it’s possible that some of Levi’s friends would have paid it for him (Shulchan Aruch ibid.; Shach 4).
According to the latter approaches, there is no absolute obligation for Levi to pay, although we do have to consider whether he should pay latzeis yedei Shomayim (to avoid retribution in Heaven). Radvaz (Shu”t 4:250) writes that according to the approach that Yissachar gifted the money to Levi, he has no obligation to pay even latzeis yedei Shomayim, but it seems that according to the other approaches it might be appropriate to go beyond the letter of the law and reimburse him (see Chiddushim Ubi’urim, Kesubos 108a).
Returning to our case, there are no grounds to obligate Shimon to reimburse Reuven immediately, since, as we have seen, he might not be required to pay him back altogether.
Regarding whether the grocer would be required to return the money to Reuven on the grounds that he made the payment under the mistaken impression that he would be able to recoup the money from Shimon, unless Reuven clearly stipulated that he was making the payment only on condition that Shimon would pay him back immediately, the poskim rule that the grocer is not required to return the money (see Knesses Hagedolah 128; Mahadurah Basrah Hagohos HaTur 6; Divrei Geonim 62:18; Erech Shai 128:1).
Money mattersUnsolicited Broker/Shadchan#470
Q: A neighbor connected me with a potential buyer for my house, and we concluded the deal. Is the neighbor entitled to a brokerage fee?
A: There is halachic basis to entitle him, but this depends on the common practice (Knesses Hagedolah, Tur, C.M. 185:6).
The obligation to pay a broker who was not solicited or hired is on account of the benefit that you receive from his services (yored lisdei chaveiro, neheneh). Therefore, he is entitled to payment for his efforts only if he brought the issue to fruition and your benefit (Gra, C.M. 87:117; 185:13).
Since zeh neheneh v’zeh lo chaser is exempt, the neighbor can demand a brokerage fee only if he had some loss, including loss of time. Thus, a casual mention of the potential buyer during a neighborly conversation would not warrant brokerage payment, unless the practice is so, as is common with shidduchim (C.M. 375:4, 363:10; Gra 363:31).
Conversely, if the practice is to pay only a certified or contracted broker, the neighbor would not be entitled.