“We’re flying to Israel tonight for a month to visit our children who live there,” Mr. Hirsch told his neighbor, Mr. Feiner.
“My son, Shmuli, is also learning there for the year,” replied Mr. Feiner. “Would you mind taking an envelope with money for him?”
“I’d be happy to,” said Mr. Hirsch. “You can drop it off any time this afternoon.”
When Mr. Feiner came, he wished Mr. Hirsch a safe flight and gave him a sealed envelope. Mr. Hirsch packed it away carefully.
When Mr. Hirsch arrived in Israel, he called Shmuli to have him pick up the money. “I can meet you on Friday afternoon,” Shmuli said. “Is that OK with you?”
“We’ll be all around town on Friday, so I don’t know where I’ll be,” said Mr. Hirsch. “I can take the envelope with me, though, and you’ll give me a call when you’re ready.”
“That’s fine with me,” said Shmuli. “I’ll meet you wherever you are.”
On Friday morning, Mr. Hirsch put the envelope in his coat and headed out. As the day wore on, the sun shone strongly and it became warm, so he slung the coat over his arm. There were a lot of errands to take care of and he moved around from place to place.
At 12 o’clock, Shmuli called. “Hello, this is Shmuli Feiner,” he said. “I’m ready to head out. Where can I meet you?”
Mr. Hirsch suddenly realized he no longer had his coat. He had left it somewhere along the way.
“I… I… put the envelope in my coat this morning, but left it somewhere along the way,” he apologized to Shmuli. “Do you know how much was in the envelope?”
“I spoke with my father yesterday, and he said $200 or $300,” replied Shmuli. “He didn’t remember, exactly, though.”
“If you can wait on the money, let me see if I can find the coat,” said Mr. Hirsch. “We’re here another three weeks.”
“I’m OK meanwhile,” said Shmuli. “Let me know what happens.”
Mr. Hirsch tried retracing his steps, but with no success.
Two weeks went by, with no news of the missing coat and envelope. Mr. Hirsch abandoned hope of retrieving his jacket. “It seems that the coat and envelope are gone,” he said to his wife. “I’ll have to buy a new coat when we get home.”
A few days later, Mr. Hirsch received a phone call. “Shalom, this is Amram speaking,” the caller said. “I just found a blue coat that had papers with your name and number on them.”
“Wow! I lost that coat two weeks ago and gave up hope of finding it,” exclaimed Mr. Hirsch. “Where did you find it?”
“I found it in one of the parks in our neighborhood,” said Amram. “It was sitting on a bench in the corner.”
“Oh, right,” said Mr. Hirsch. “I forgot that I stopped in that park to have a drink.”
“Was there an envelope in the coat?” asked Mr. Hirsch hopefully.
“No,” said the caller, “just the papers with your name and number on them.”
“Thank you for notifying me,” said Mr. Hirsch. “I can’t come to get the coat now, but I’ll be in touch with you later in the afternoon.”
Mr. Hirsch picked up the phone and called Rabbi Dayan. He related the story and asked: “Am I liable for the missing money?”
“Since the money was in a sealed envelope, you have the status of a shomer chinam, an unpaid guardian, on the money” replied Rabbi Dayan. (C.M. 292:7) “As such, you are liable for negligence, but not for theft or loss. However, loss does not include such a case, where the guardian does not know where he left the item; that is considered negligence. Therefore, you are liable for the money. Even though it seems to have been stolen subsequently, you remain liable.” (C.M. 291:6-7)
“How much am I liable for?” asked Mr. Hirsch. “We do not know how much was in the envelope”
“If Mr. Feiner were certain he had put $300 in the envelope, you would have to pay that amount,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “However, because he also is unsure how much he put in the envelope, $200 or $300, you only have to pay the $200 he is sure of.” (C.M. 298:2; 90:10; Shach 90:16)
“One final question,” added Mr. Hirsch. “I had already abandoned hope (yeiush) of retrieving the coat. Does Amram still have to return it to me?”
“Amram is not legally required to return the coat if he found it after yeiush,” Rabbi Dayan responded. “Nonetheless, he should certainly go beyond the letter of the law (lifnim mishuras hadin) and return it, even after yeiush, unless he is needy and the loser wealthy.” (C.M. 262:5; 259:5)
About the Author: Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, a noted dayan. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e-mail email@example.com.
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