Up In The Air

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By Rabbi Meir Orlian

“Storms tonight with very strong winds,” the meteorologist announced. “Gusts will reach 50 mph.”

Throughout the afternoon, clouds gathered in the sky. The wind began picking up and the trees started swaying back and forth.

“You’d better fasten the outdoor tables and chairs so that they don’t go flying,” Mrs. Spitz warned her husband.

Sammy Spitz went outside and chained the chairs to the table, adding a few weights for good measure. “That should do it,” he said to his wife. “The combined weight will hold them down.”

As the evening wore on, the wind continued to gain force. The trees began to sway wildly. The table lifted slightly from time to time. “I’m really worried about the table,” said Mrs. Spitz. “The wind can send it flying!”

Sammy looked out the window and watched the table for a few minutes. “It’s lifting a bit in the wind, but it can’t go anywhere. It’s got the chairs and weights attached to it.”

The family continued to go about their business. All of a sudden, the howling of the wind was punctured by a loud “Crash!” and the piercing wail of a car alarm.

Mr. and Mrs. Spitz ran outside. An exceptionally strong gust had lifted the entire bundle of table, chairs, and weights and hurled it into their neighbor’s car!

“I can’t believe the wind did that,” said Sammy, shaking his head. “I’ve never seen it pick up something that heavy!”

As they were speaking, Benny Morgenstern, the neighbor, rushed outside to assess the damage. Fortunately, the car’s windows were not smashed, but there were several dents in the car.

“I’ll contact my insurance,” Benny said to Sammy, “but I assume it’s your liability.”

“I guess it is,” said Sammy sheepishly, “but I’m still shocked that any wind could lift up that whole thing.”

Meanwhile, some other neighbors came to see what happened, and soon a discussion began about whether or not the Spitzes were liable. “They didn’t do the damage,” declared one neighbor confidently. “It was an accident caused by the wind.”

“So what?” argued another. “It was their table that caused the damage.”

“But with that kind of wind, there was nothing they could do,” responded the first.

“They could have chained the table down to something,” retorted the second.

Mr. Spitz and Mr. Morgenstern heard the argument. “Perhaps we should talk this over with Rabbi Tzedek?” suggested Benny.

“Certainly,” Sammy replied.

The two met with Rabbi Tzedek the next morning. Mr. Spitz provided details of the case and asked, “Am I liable for damage caused by my table that was hurled by the wind?”

Rabbi Tzedek answered, “A person is liable for damage caused by an object of his that was hurled by a normal wind, but not one hurled by an unexpected one. However, when a storm is known to be approaching, he is responsible for any item that can be hurled by such wind.”

Rabbi Tzedek then elaborated, “The Gemara (B.K. 6a) teaches that if a person left his rock or bundle on a roof and they were hurled by a normal wind, he is liable for damage they cause.”

“In which category of damage is this included?” asked Benny.

“If they caused damage while being hurled, it is included in the category of aish (fire), which is defined as damage caused in conjunction with an external force, such as the wind,” Rabbi Tzedek explained. “If they caused damage after landing, such as if someone fell on them, it is included in the category of bor (pit), which is defined as damage caused by an obstacle (C.M. 411:1 and SMA 411:1).”

“What if the damage is caused by an unexpected wind?” asked Sammy.

“If the objects could not have been blown off the roof by a normal wind, but were blown by an uncommon wind, the person is exempt,” answered Rabbi Tzedek. “This is because he had no reason to expect that they might be blown, and was not negligent in placing them there (C.M. 411:2; Lechem Mishneh, Hil. Nezikin 14:16).”

“But what if he knew there would be strong winds?” asked the neighbor.

“If the person placed the objects there when the unusual winds were already blowing, he is liable, since he was negligent in placing them there under such circumstances,” answered Rabbi Tzedek. “The same would be if he knew a storm was approaching (see Rema C.M. 418:9 and 307:3). Therefore, Mr. Spitz must pay for the damage.”

From The BHI Hotline: Carpool Collector

Q: I am one of a group of people who travel every day with a hired driver. I’m in charge of collecting money from all participants every week. I keep the money in a special wallet and pay the driver at the end of the month. Am I allowed to use the collected money for my own purposes, and then “repay” it at the end of the month when I pay the driver?

A: Shulchan Aruch (C.M. 292:7) rules that a shomer (custodian) who was given money for safekeeping is allowed to use it for personal use as long as it was not bundled in a way that indicates that the depositor did not want it to be used. The depositor’s intent is that his money should be safe and available when he wants it. Using the money before the depositor asks for it does not violate the terms of custodianship as long as it can be made available when needed. This law would allow you to use the money until it is time to pay the driver. The application to this case, though, is not simple.

Nesivos (see Pischei Teshuvah 292:2, but see Shach 131:35) holds that the allowance to use money in one’s possession does not extend to a shaliach, an agent. The rationale for the distinction is that the money was not given to the agent to remain in his possession. It was given to him for the purpose of carrying it to fulfill his agency. By using the money for personal purposes, the agent violates the terms of his agency; thus, it may not be done. Accordingly, since you act as the agent for your friends to pay the driver, it follows that you should not be permitted to use the money for yourself.

There is, however, a difference between your case and a regular agent. In most circumstances, monies given to an agent are designated for a task to be performed with that money. In your case, you assume the responsibility to pay the driver by collecting money throughout the month, and then pay the driver at the end of the month with the money that you collected.

As such, you play both roles. You act as a shomer on the money collected from the other passengers for the majority of the month. It is only at the end of the month, when you pay the driver, that you act as the shaliach for the others. Therefore, during the earlier part of the month, you are playing the role of a shomer and may use the money in your possession.

Additionally, a reasoning suggested by Pischei Teshuvah (359:3) indicates that if the amount of money that is collected and given to the driver is an amount that is readily available to you, it would certainly be permissible for you to use the collected money.

Money Matters:
Business Competition

Q: May I browse a store’s showroom if I don’t actually intend to buy anything there?

A: It is prohibited to cheat a person monetarily (ona’ah) or emotionally (ona’as devarim). You may not ask a seller how much an item costs when you have no interest in buying. This gives the seller the impression that you might buy, and he is disappointed when you don’t. It also distracts him when he could deal with other customers (C.M. 228:1, 4).

Walking into a store similarly raises the seller’s expectation that you might buy, albeit to a lesser degree, so you shouldn’t browse if you have no interest in buying. It is permissible to browse, though, if there is any possibility that you might buy there. Any store owner knows that potential customers comparison shop and might decide not to buy there (Pischei Choshen, Ona’ah 15 nt. 15). Furthermore, browsing in a store full of customers is permissible if you do not distract the salespeople, since the owner or salespeople do not note an individual person who enters and browses.

This article is intended for learning purposes and not to be relied upon halacha l’maaseh. There are also issues of dina d’malchusa to consider in actual cases.

Rabbi Meir Orlian is a faculty member of the Business Halacha Institute, which is headed by HaRav Chaim Kohn, shlita, a noted dayan. For questions regarding business halacha issues, or to bring a BHI lecturer to your business or shul, please call the confidential hotline at 877-845-8455 or e‑mail ask@businesshalacha.com. To receive BHI’s free newsletter, Business Weekly, send an e‑mail to subscribe@businesshalacha.com.

 

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