“There’s a problem with the showerhead,” Mrs. Lerner said to her husband. “It’s leaking terribly.”
Mr. Lerner checked and saw the showerhead had cracked. “The showerhead has to be replaced,” he said to his wife. “It’s not a big deal.”
Mr. Lerner got a wrench and tried to loosen the showerhead. However, it was stuck on very tightly. He applied some force, and the showerhead broke off with a small piece of pipe, which had corroded.
“The pipe cracked,” Mr. Lerner said to his wife. “I’m going to have to call Yossi the plumber.”
“The pipe holding the showerhead broke and has to be fixed,” Mr. Lerner said to Yossi. “Would you be able to come by?”
“I can come by tomorrow morning,” Yossi replied. “Will somebody be home?”
“I’ll be at work, but the kids should be home,” said Mr. Lerner. “I’ll tell them to expect you.”
When Mr. Lerner left the following morning, he instructed his son David: “Ask Yossi how much it is, and please pay him.”
When Yossi finished, David asked him: “How much is the job?”
“Thank you for asking,” said Yossi. “I’ll settle with your father later.”
Yossi sent an e-mail to Mr. Lerner: “The shower is fixed. It comes to $100 when you have a chance.”
Mr. Lerner replied: “Thank you. B”H, will bring the money over later.”
Mr. Lerner returned home in the late afternoon. He looked at his watch. “What time is sunset?” he asked his children.
David checked the shul bulletin. “It’s in half an hour,” said David. “Why do you ask?”
“There is a mitzvah to pay the worker on that day,” answered Mr. Lerner.
“Yossi didn’t sound like he needed the money immediately,” David noted.
“That’s true,” replied Mr. Lerner. “He even wrote to me, ‘When you have a chance,’ but I wonder if there is a mitzvah regardless.”
“Maybe ask Rabbi Dayan?” suggested David.
Mr. Lerner called Rabbi Dayan. “A plumber fixed my shower today,” he said. “Is there a mitzvah to pay him before sunset if he said, ‘When you have a chance?'”
“There is both a positive command to pay a worker on time and a prohibition to delay his wages,” replied Rabbi Dayan “The Torah states: ‘On that day you shall pay his wages; the sun should not set upon him.’ [Devarim 24:15] However, the Mishnah [B.M. 111a] lists certain situations in which one does not violate the prohibition.”
“What, for example?” asked Mr. Lerner.
“The employer does not violate the prohibition unless the worker requested his wages,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Most authorities maintain that if he did not request the wages, the employer also is not neglectful of the positive command.” (C.M. 339:10; Pischei Choshen, Sechirus, 9:35)
“When the worker explicitly allowed you to pay later, presumably everyone would agree that there is no requirement to pay that day,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “Furthermore, the employer is not required to bring the money to the worker, but to make it available. Nonetheless, if you do make the effort to pay that day, you merit fulfilling a mitzvah. The Zohar [3:85a] in particular encourages this.” (Ahavas Chesed 9:31; Shulchan Aruch HaRav, Sechirus §18)
“I don’t have any cash on hand,” said Mr. Lerner. “What about paying by check? Would that fulfill the mitzvah?”
“A check that can be deposited that day is like cash, and the employer fulfills the mitzvah,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “If the worker agrees to accept a postdated check, the employer does not violate the prohibition, but it is questionable whether he fulfills the mitzvah.” (P.C., Sechirus 9:36).