Harry called Sholom’s Car Service. “I’ve got a flight tonight at 11:30 p.m.,” he said to Sholom. “Can you take me to the airport?”
“Yes,” said Sholom. “When should I pick you up?”
“Eight-thirty should be fine,” Harry said. “The drive is under an hour, and figure two hours before the flight.”
“Let’s make it eight to leave extra time,” suggested Sholom.
“Fine,” agreed Harry.
At 8 p.m. Sholom arrived. Harry loaded his suitcases, wished his family, “Good bye,” and got in the car.
As Sholom headed toward the airport, he listened to the traffic report. “No particular problems,” he said to Harry.
On the entrance ramp for the bridge, however, traffic suddenly came to a total standstill.
“You spoke too soon,” said Harry. “What happened?”
Sholom turned the news on. “The bridge was just closed due to a fatal accident involving four cars,” the reporter announced.
“It’s good we built in extra time,” Harry said to Sholom.
It took a full hour before traffic started moving. Even so, traffic crawled slowly through one lane. Harry looked at his watch nervously. “I hope I can still make the flight,” he said.
It took almost another hour until they passed the accident and traffic began flowing smoothly. Sholom raced to the airport and got there at 10:45. “There’s still a chance I can catch the flight,” Harry said.
Sholom helped Harry unload his luggage. “I’ll wait here half-an-hour,” he said. “If you missed the flight, call me and I’ll drive you home.”
Harry went made his way to the departures area. He located his flight, but the check-in desk was already closed.
“I’m scheduled for the 11:30 flight,” he told one of the security personnel. “Is there a way to get inside?”
“I’m sorry,” he replied, “but they closed check-in fifteen ago,” he replied.
Harry tried speaking to one of the airline representatives. “I’m sorry,” she said. “Boarding is underway, and the flight was already filled. You’ll have to reschedule.”
Harry called Sholom. “I missed the flight,” he said. “I’ll have to head home with you.” “I’ll be back around in two minutes,” Sholom said.
Sholom pulled up. He loaded the bags back into the car and drove back. When they arrived, Sholom said: “That will be another fifty dollars for the return drive.”
Harry looked up, surprised. “You didn’t tell me that this would also cost.”
“You paid me just for the drive there, which took much longer than expected,” Sholom said. “Wouldn’t you have to pay for a taxi home?”
“But you had to return anyway,” said Harry irately. “If anything, you should refund the money for the ride to the airport; you didn’t get me there in time for the flight!”
“It’s not my fault that the bridge got closed,” said Sholom. “I picked you up on time and drove as best I could.”
“Well, it’s not my fault either,” said Harry. “I’m not paying another penny without consulting Rabbi Dayan about both rides tomorrow.”
The following day, Harry and Sholom went to Rabbi Dayan and asked about payment for the rides.
“When someone completes his job faithfully you must pay him fully, even if no benefit comes from the work,” Rabbi Dayan said. “For example, if a person ordered a delivery of medicine for a critically ill patient, and the person died or recovered meanwhile, the driver must be paid. Therefore, Harry must pay for the ride to the airport even though he missed the flight.” (C.M. 335:3)
“What about payment for the return ride?” asked Harry. “Sholom offered to drive me back and never said he would charge me. I assumed he meant to drive me as a courtesy.”
“When a person, especially a professional, offers his services to another we do not assume he meant to do it for free, unless circumstances clearly indicate so,” said Rabbi Dayan. (Rama 264:4) “Therefore, if Sholom did not indicate that he intended to drive you as a courtesy, he can charge you for the return trip.”
“But Sholom had to return anyway; it cost him nothing,” argued Harry. “Isn’t this a case of zeh neheneh v’zeh lo cha’ser (this one gained and the other didn’t lose), for which one is exempt?”
“The exemption of zeh neheneh v’zeh lo cha’ser doesn’t apply here for a few reasons,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “First of all, Sholom drove you with the intention of getting paid. Second, he could have picked up another passenger on the way home, were you not with him. Third, he had to wait for half-an-hour and also drove you to your door; if there is even a small additional loss or cost, you have to pay the full amount for the benefit you received.” (363:6-7)
Harry took out $50 and gave it to Shalom.
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 email@example.com. 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.