Rabbi Meir Orlian
“Yossi is getting married next week,” Moshe said to Yehuda. “He mentioned that if a few friends wanted to chip in, he would be happy to receive a microwave as a wedding gift.”
“How much will it come to?” asked Moshe.
“$100-150 a person, depending on how many people chip in,” replied Moshe.
“That’s fine,” said Yehuda. “Put me down.”
A few days later, Yehuda’s wife showed him an embroidered challah cover.
“I planned ahead and ordered it for the new couple,” she said.
“That’s great,” Yehuda replied, “but a few of us chipped in for a microwave.”
“The challah cover has their name embroidered on it already,” she said. “We can’t return it.”
Yehuda called Moshe, but there was no answer. “This is Yehuda,” was the voice message he left. “We got our own gift for Yossi and do not want to participate in the purchase of the microwave.”
Meanwhile, that same day, Moshe bought the microwave. When he came home, he checked his voicemail.
Moshe called Yehuda back. “I didn’t get your message until after I bought the microwave,” he said. “So it’s too late; you’ll have to pay. It comes to $120 for each of five people.”
“What’s too late?” asked Moshe. “You were buying it anyway; just divide the cost into four instead of five.”
“But you were on the list when I made the purchase,” said Moshe. “It’s not fair to make the others pay more.”
“I called to cancel beforehand,” pointed out Yehuda, “but you didn’t answer.”
“The truth is,” said Moshe, “by the time you called, I may have bought the microwave already.”
“Even so, I’m going to give another gift,” reasoned Yehuda. “I won’t benefit from the microwave.”
“Whether you give another gift or not is your own issue,” said Moshe flatly. “I bought the microwave for you, as well, so you have to pay!”
“Not unless Rabbi Dayan says I have to!” said Yehuda.
The two went to Rabbi Dayan’s beis horaah. Moshe explained what happened and asked, “Does Yehuda have to pay his share in the microwave, or can he back out?”
“You have to check the message and see what time Yehuda called to cancel,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Once you bought the gift on behalf of those who signed up, they cannot retract.”
“Why is that?” asked Yehuda.
“When people signed up, they became partners in the purchase, and Moshe was their agent to buy the microwave,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Shelucho shel adam k’moso — a person’s agent is like him (Kiddushin 41b). Thus, when Moshe purchased the microwave, he did so on behalf of all those who had signed up, so you were already a partner/owner in the gift (C.M. 182:1; 200:12).”
“What about the fact that Moshe used his own credit card to buy the microwave?” argued Yehuda. “Isn’t it like he bought it, and we’re now buying it from him?”
“That’s irrelevant,” said Rabbi Dayan. “Even when an agent uses his own money to purchase something, the transaction is credited to the owner. Moreover, any halachic kinyan (act of acquisition) done by the agent — whether hagbahah, meshichah, chalifin, etc. — is binding on behalf of the owner (C.M. 183:4).”
“What if it turns out that I called to cancel before Moshe completed the purchase?” asked Yehuda.
“Then you would not have to pay,” continued Rabbi Dayan, “since Moshe was no longer your agent.”
“Even though I didn’t know that he canceled?!” asked Moshe.
“It would seem so,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In principle, a person can cancel an agent even when not in his presence. However, when this causes a loss, e.g. it is not possible to return the item, the owner usually remains liable for the loss, since he undertook responsibility for the purchase (arev).
“Here, there was no loss, since Moshe was going to buy the microwave for the group regardless. Thus, if Yehuda called before Moshe finalized the purchase, he would not have to share in the payment (see Nesivos 182:3).”