By the Bais Hora'ah
Reuven needed $5,000 immediately. Shimon agreed to lend him the money, but he lives in another city and could not wire the money immediately. Reuven approached Levi and asked him to advance him the money, and when Shimon’s check arrived, Reuven would give it to Levi. Levi agreed but stipulated that Shimon give the $5,000 check to Yehudah, Levi’s friend who lives in Shimon’s city. Levi instructed Yehudah to call him as soon as he received Shimon’s check and when Yehudah would call him, he would then give Reuven $5,000.
Yehudah called Levi when he received the check; Levi then gave Reuven $5,000.
Q: What is the halachah if:
(A) Shimon cancels the check?
(B) Yehudah is irresponsible (poshei’a) and loses Shimon’s check?
(C) Yehudah didn’t look at the check carefully and it was written for $500, not $5,000?
(A) Shimon is not permitted to cancel the check, and if he does, he is obligated to replace it. Levi gave Reuven $5,000 relying on Shimon’s check. Therefore, Shimon is responsible as an arev (a guarantor). If Shimon cancels the check, Yehudah is not responsible. Yehudah was instructed to take the check from Shimon and then call Levi. Since he performed his task, he is not liable if Shimon subsequently cancels the check. If Levi wanted an assurance that Shimon would not cancel the check, he should have demanded a money order or something comparable.
(B) If Yehudah negligently loses the check, technically, he cannot be held liable. The Torah exempts a custodian of financial documents (shtaros) (C.M. 66:39-40 and 301:1). The Torah excluded from custodial liability objects that have no intrinsic value (ein gufo mammon) and merely represent debts or rights. However, there is a dispute whether negligence triggers liability (ibid.) and since there are authorities who contend that he is exempt, a custodian cannot be compelled to pay (kim li) (Pischei Teshuvah 301:4; Erech Shai 66).
Although a negligent custodian cannot be compelled to pay, some authorities contend that a negligent custodian has a moral obligation to repay the damaged party (Imrei Binah, Hilchos Pesach 5). Others assert that the Torah’s exemption from custodial responsibility includes any moral obligation to make restitution (Erech Shai, C.M. 95:4, see Maharsham 2:138; Chazon Ish, B.K. 2:7; cf. Birkas Shmuel, B.K. 2; Chiddushei Harim, B.K. 56a).
(C) Whether Yehudah bears any responsibility if he did not examine the amount of the check depends on whether he was expected to do so. If his assignment was simply to take the check from Shimon, he is not responsible. On the other hand, if Levi advanced the money because he assumed that Yehudah properly confirmed the amount of the check and Yehudah negligently did not, Yehudah is liable. This is similar to a money changer who assured a customer that his money was valid currency but was mistaken. In both cases the liability is due to the principle of garmi (indirect damage that borders on direct; see C.M. 306:6 and Divrei Chaim, Nizkei Mammon 8:2). [See C.M. 129:2, Sma 7 and Shach 7 for another example of this principle.]
Yehudah cannot claim exemption from liability for not examining the check since Shimon could have canceled the check even if Yehudah had properly examined it. The reason this claim is rejected is that if Levi had possession of a check with the correct sum, he would have strong evidence of his claim to the original, agreed-upon amount (see Knesses Hagedolah 386:85 and C.M. 69:2; 386:2).