by: Rabbi Yechezkel Khayyat
Where to Return?
The Mishna stated that one who incurred an obligation to pay in a settled area may not pay in a desert. The Shitah quotes the Rema that explains that the rule is that if the obligation was incurred in a secure area, one must pay back in a secure area. If the original place of the obligation is now not secure, the payment may not be made there, even though it was incurred there. The Meiri states that if the receiver of the payment agrees to accept the payment in the desert, it is then a valid payment, and releases the debtor from his obligation.
Where to Claim?
The Gemora explained that in all cases but a loan, the creditor may not claim the object from the debtor anywhere besides the original place. The Meiri explains that this is because generally items that are not fungible as a loan is will only be in their original place, and we do not force the debtor to return to that place. However, if the debtor has the item with him, he must return it wherever the creditor demands it. Furthermore, if the debtor is a thief, but he acquired the object through a change, the obligation now has the rule of a loan, since it is purely a monetary obligation, and may be demanded anywhere. The Ramban adds that even in the case of a loan, the creditor must leave the debtor with enough money for him to support himself until he leaves the desert.
When discussing the Mishna about one who is unsure of his obligation, the Gemora introduces the concept of ba latzais yedei shamayim – one who cannot be forced to pay in court, but wants to fulfill his religious obligation. Rav Shimon Shkop in Shaarei Yosher (5:16) discusses the nature of this obligation. One has no obligation to fulfill his religious obligation, but if he does want to, he is opting to not invoke his power of ownership (muchzak), and then is obligated based on the standard rules of bari and shema. It is a good character trait to want to fulfill such an obligation, but we do not try to persuade him to do so. This is different than the concept of chayav b’dinei shamayim – one who is obligated at a religious level, but not in a court context. That situation is one where a clear obligation exists, but cannot be directly enforced by a court. We do, however, provide inducements to persuade him to do so.
The Need to Know
The Gemora discusses different levels of knowledge that a theft victim must have when the thief returns an item. The Rashba states that once the victim saw someone steal his item, the thief must notify the victim so that he does not consider him a thief anymore. The Rashba therefore holds that if the victim just realized that an item was stolen by noticing that one was missing, this is not considered knowledge of the theft. The Sma states that once the item is stolen, the victim despairs of having to guard it, and therefore must be aware of its return. According to the Sma, once the victim notices the item missing, this would be considered knowledge of the theft.
The Rif and Shulchan Aruch rule like Rav Chisda and Rabbi Yochanan. The Rif explains that Rava explains Rav Chisda, and agrees with him, indicating that the halachah follows his opinion. When dealing with an inanimate item, Rav Chisda would agree to Rabbi Yochanan. In any case, we would rule like Rabbi Yochanan, since he is favored over both Rav and Shmuel in general. The Baal Hamaor, however, rules like Rav. One of his reasons for this ruling is the fact that the Gemora established the opinion of Rabbi Akiva to follow Rav in the case of a coin. See Biur Hagra (HM 365:1) for a discussion of why the Rif ruled like Rabbi Yochanan against the majority of Rav and Shmuel. See Responsa Rabbi Akiva Eiger (1:155) for a detailed discussion of the Baal Hamaor’s opinion.
The Gemora said that Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael argue about a case of a guardian who stole the item he should be guarding. Rabbi Akiva says that the theft ended the term of the guardian, and he must now return it to the owner’s possession, while Rabbi Yishmael says that the guardian’s term is not ended, and he must just return it to its original place. The Rishonim explain that Rabbi Akiva holds that once the guardian stole the item, the owner would not trust the guardian anymore. The Rashba discuss why Rabbi Yishmael requires him to return it at all – if the guardian’s term is not over, it is safe in his possession, and should not have to be returned. The Rashba offers three answers:
1. Rabbi Yishmael is not being precise
2. Rabbi Yishmael is referring to a case of a coin, which must be kept in its designated place
3. Even an animal should be in its flock, to ensure it doesn’t run off
The Rashba states that once the Gemora establishes the dispute in the case of a guardian, it does not depend on any specific opinion about the level of knowledge necessary. Rashi, however, states that even this reading of the braisa assumes that both Rabbi Akiva and Rabbi Yishmael agree with Rav Chisda’s position.
What’s in the Pocket?
The Gemora offers an explanation of the braisos dealing with returning stolen money at a later sale that distinguishes between putting money in an empty pocket or by putting it in a pocket that has money. Rashi explains that in an empty pocket, the owner will count the money and realize it was returned, while in a pocket with money, he won’t realize how much was added. The Rif, however, explains that in an empty pocket, he will not count the money, and not realize it was returned, while in a pocket with money, he will count it and realize the extra money. The Shulchan Aruch (H”M 365:1) states that if the pocket was empty, the thief has not fulfilled his obligation, but if the pocket had money, and the owners knew how much, the thief has fulfilled his obligation. The Gra explains that the Shulchan Aruch is ruling like the Rif, but adding in Rashi’s qualification. The Rif only stated that generally one knows how much money is in their pocket, when it’s not empty, since they check it periodically. Once they know how much is there, they will realize the extra, since they will again check. However, the Rif would agree with Rashi that if the owner did not know how much money was there, putting the money there is not notification.
The braisa stated that one may purchase wool shearings that are tfurim. Rashi explains that this means when the wool was made into clothing, in which case the shepherd acquired the wool by its change. The Raavad says it means shearings that are connected and put into large groups. The reason one may buy is that such large items are probably not stolen, because a thief would not draw attention to himself. The Rashba explains, based on the tosefta, that it means pieces of wool that are stuck on bushes. Since they are so insignificant, the flock owner does not mind if the shepherd takes them.