Benjy and Yehuda arranged to go boating in the park. “I have a good camera that’s waterproof,” said Benjy. “We’ll be able to take pictures on the water.”
After some ballplaying and lunch, the boys headed to the water and rented kayaks. They put on life vests, tucked their bags into the boats, and set out.
“I’ll race you to that buoy over there and back,” said Benjy. “One, two three. Go!” The kayaks surged forward, rolling with the waves.
The two reached the buoy together. “Let’s go, sharp turn!” shouted Yehuda. As they leaned over to make the turn, a strong wave rolled across…
“Splash!” The kayaks capsized, tossing the two of them into the water.
After a few attempts, Yehuda managed to right his kayak and mount it. He came to help Benjy, who said, “You’d better get the bags before they sink. I can wait a few more minutes.”
The bags had floated off in opposite directions and were already filling with water. Yehuda paddled away to pick up his bag.
“My camera!” Benjy suddenly cried out. “You’ve got to rescue my bag first!”
“My bag looks like it’s about to sink,” Yehuda called back. “If I get yours, mine might sink already!”
“I can’t afford to lose that camera,” yelled Benjy. “It cost almost $400! Please go get it.”
Yehuda thought quickly. In his bag were a change of clothing, old shoes, and a wallet with some cash, worth about $100 altogether. “If you’ll pay $100 to cover my bag, I’ll go rescue yours.”
“Deal!” said Benjy.
Yehuda set off after Benjy’s bag, with strong, swift strokes. He was within ten feet when the final air seeped out and the bag sank. Yehuda dove after it, but to no avail. The bag was gone.
Yehuda returned defeated. Meanwhile, his own bag was also gone. He helped Benjy right his kayak, and they set back to shore.
“What about the $100 you promised me?” Yehuda asked.
Benjy was startled. “Why should I pay? You didn’t save my bag.”
“So what,” responded Yehuda. “You knew that I might not be able to rescue it, and I gave up mine trying to save yours.”
“I agreed to compensate you if you would save mine, but you didn’t save it,” argued Benjy. “I lost $400, and now you want me to pay another $100?!”
They agreed to go speak with Rabbi Dayan.
Rabbi Dayan ruled: “Benjy has to pay a reasonable fee to Yehuda for trying to rescue the bag, about $20. However, Yehuda cannot demand the $100, since he did not stipulate that Benjy should pay even if he fails to rescue the bag.”
Rabbi Dayan then explained: “A worker is entitled to payment if he fulfilled his duties responsibly, even if the employer did not ultimately benefit from his service. For example, a person who is hired to represent a client or run an election campaign is entitled to pay even if the client loses.” (Chavas Yair #154)
“On the other hand, a person who was contracted to accomplish a certain goal is not entitled to payment unless he accomplishes it,” continued Rabbi Dayan. “A serviceman who is contracted to fix something and is unable to is not entitled to payment – unless he stated that he charges for labor or that is the common practice. Because of this, most servicemen now stipulate that the initial charge is for the visit itself.”
“In our case,” concluded Rabbi Dayan, “Benjy presumably agreed to pay the excessive amount only if Yehuda would succeed in rescuing the bag, whereas for the attempt he is willing to pay only a reasonable fee. If Yehuda wanted to secure the $100 payment regardless of the outcome, he had to stipulate this explicitly.” (C.M. 264:4; SM”A 264:11; Nesivos 264:3)