Avrumi spent the afternoon visiting his friend, Itzik. “I have to leave now,” he said. “I told my parents I’d be home for dinner.”
“It was nice having you,” said Itzik. “Can I ask you for a favor?”
“Anything for a friend,” replied Avrumi. “What do you need?”
“I owe your brother, Jake, $300,” said Itzik. “Can I send the money with you?”
“I’m happy to take the money,” answered Avrumi. “Do I get a percentage?” They laughed.
Itzik put $300 in an envelope and gave it to Avrumi. “Please bring this to Jake,” he said.
Avrumi got into his car and headed home. On the way Itzik texted him: “I just realized that I need the money for something else. Please don’t give it to Jake.”
Avrumi pulled over and called Itzik. “You’ve owed Jake the money for a while,” he said. “Once you gave it to me, I’m not going to give it back. It’s not fair to my brother!”
“But it’s my money until it gets to Jake’s hands,” said Itzik. “You have no right to withhold it!”
“I can’t discuss this now; I’ve got to get home,” Avrumi said. “We’ll talk tomorrow.”
When Avrumi got home, he was accosted as he got out of the car. Thieves grabbed the envelope with the money and sped off on motorcycles.
Avrumi informed Itzik that the money had ben stolen. “Well, in that case,” said Itzik, “just tell Jake that I paid back the money and it was stolen.
“But you said it was still your money,” said Avrumi. “Now you’re saying it’s Jake’s loss?”
“But you said you’re not giving it back!” replied Avrumi. “I sent the money. I suggest we take this up with Rabbi Dayan.”
“Avrumi was right not to give the money back, but it’s still Itzik’s loss,” ruled Rabbi Dayan. “The Gemara (Gittin 14a) teaches that if the borrower gives someone money and says, ‘Bring it to the lender,’ he remains liable, but cannot retract and demand the money back.” (C.M. 125:1)
“How can this be?” asked Itzik. “Either it’s considered repaid or not!”
“There is a concept, ‘zachin l’adam shelo b’fanav – we benefit a person in his absence,’ ” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Thus, once the person received the money from the borrower on behalf of the lender, he acquires it for him insofar as it’s a benefit. Therefore, he cannot give the money back. However, if the money is lost, it’s no longer a benefit; the lender can choose to refuse the ‘favor.’ The borrower remains liable, since the lender never authorized the person as his agent to receive the loan.”
“This ruling depends partially on the language of the borrower,” added Rabbi Dayan. “If he said ‘zechei,’ it clearly means ‘acquire.’ Even if he said ‘bring’ (holeich), or ‘give’ (tein) the same halacha applies. However, if he said, ‘hachzer‘ (return), according to many authorities this is not understood as instruction to acquire on behalf of the lender.” (See Shach 125:9)
“What if the person gave the back money to the borrower?” asked Avrumi.
“Since he already received the money on behalf of the lender, it is tantamount to giving away someone else’s money,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “The person would now be liable to the lender if payment is not received promptly from the borrower.”
“This can get touchy,” commented Jake. “What if the borrower threatens the person?”
“This depends on the nature of the threat,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In many situations the person would be exempt if he was threatened to return the money.” (See Sma 125:9; Shach 125:10)