The Liebers were going to a wedding. “We need a wedding present,” Mr. Lieber said to his wife.
“I don’t have time to get one now,” Mrs. Lieber said. “We’ll have to get something later.”
“Maybe we have something in the house?” asked Mr. Lieber.
“I’ll look around quickly to see if I can find something,” replied Mrs. Lieber.
Mrs. Lieber checked various gift items she’s stored in a closet. “Nothing appropriate,” she said to her husband. “Some too expensive, some too cheap, some not appropriate for them.”
“What about the gift we got for the couple who got married last month?” asked Mr. Lieber.
“What about it?” asked Mrs. Lieber. “I haven’t had a chance to give it to them, yet.”
“Maybe we can use it tonight, instead,” said Mr. Lieber.
“How can we do that?” asked Mrs. Lieber. “I bought it for the other couple. We can’t give their gift to someone else!”
“What makes it their gift?” asked Mr. Lieber. “Until we give it, it not theirs! Anyway, you can always buy another one for them.”
“It won’t be easy to buy another one,” said Mrs. Lieber. “It was an odd sale item I found in an antique store. It’s not right to give away what I got special for them.”
“You can get the other couple something else,” said Mr. Lieber. “How would they know what you were going to give them?”
“I told them I got something antique,” said Mr. Lieber. “Anyway, I don’t feel right about giving away what’s theirs.”
“How about we ask Rabbi Dayan?” suggested Mr. Lieber.
“If he says it’s OK, then fine with me,” replied Mrs. Lieber.
Mr. Lieber called Rabbi Dayan. “We bought a gift for someone, but haven’t given it yet,” he said. “Can we give it to someone else, instead?”
“You can,” answered Rabbi Dayan. “However, if you already told the recipient, it is ethically proper to get something parallel in lieu.”
“Can you please elaborate?” asked Mr. Lieber.
“A gift, like any other transaction, requires a kinyan to be halachically binding,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “Therefore, until the recipient receives the gift, he does not acquire it.” (C.M. 241:1)
“What about the fact that we bought it for him?” asked Mr. Lieber. “Is that considered a kinyan on his behalf?”
“The recipient would acquire the gift if you bought it as his agent or handed it to a third party to acquire on his behalf,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “However, when you buy a gift, you do not serve as the recipient’s agent. You acquire the item for yourself, to give afterward as a gift to him. Nonetheless, if you already told the recipient you would give him a gift, and he expects it, is it proper to give it, even if not legally binding.” (C.M. 243:1-2)
“Why does it make a difference whether I told him about the gift?” asked Mr. Lieber.
“Although the gift is not binding without a kinyan, a person who said that he would give a gift and retracted without due cause is considered untrustworthy – mechusar amana,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “A trustworthy individual honors his verbal commitments, even if they are not legally binding. In any case, it would be sufficient to give him a parallel item in lieu.” (Rama 204:11; Pischei Choshen, Kinyanim 1:3 )
“What did you mean by ‘and he expects it’? ” asked Mr. Lieber.
“Since a gift is a one-way commitment, it is considered untrustworthy only if the gift was moderate, so that the recipient expects it,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “However, the recipient knows a large gift might not pan out, so that one who retracts is not considered untrustworthy. Nonetheless, a person should not say something without intention of fulfilling it.” (C.M. 204:8; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Mechira #2; Pischei Choshen, Kinyanim 15: 4 )