Proper Paper Payment

Question


Yossi mentions to his friend, Motti, that he would like to
take out a subscription to a certain Torah magazine. Motti suggests to Yossi
that, since he is already a subscriber, he will take out a second subscription
for Yossi and pay it through his existing bank order. Yossi should then repay
him in cash. Yossi agrees and this arrangement works smoothly for many years.
One day, Motti tells Yossi that he is unable to continue with this arrangement.
Yossi calls up the magazine office to arrange a subscription under his own name
and is told, by the way, that Motti has not paid his subscription dues for a
long time. Yossi still owes one month’s subscription. He wishes to know
whether he should give the money to Motti, as arranged, or perhaps he should pay
the magazine directly, since it seems that the money which he has already paid
did not reach its destination?


Answer

(Tractate Kesubos 19a) Rebi Noson says that if
Reuven lent Shimon $100 and Shimon lent Levi $100, we tell Levi to repay the
loan directly to Reuven. This law is derived from the verse dealing with
returning money misappropriated by means of a false oath. The verse instructs
the guilty party to return the money to its true owner. Thus, if the money was
taken from a borrower, it must be returned to the lender, and not to the direct
victim, the borrower. This is known as shibuda d’Rebi Noson (Rebi
Noson’s lien). This ruling is quoted by the Shulchan Oruch (Choshen
Mishpot
86:1), who adds that it applies even if Shimon lent Levi before he
borrowed from Reuven. It also makes no difference whether the loan agreement was
documented or was merely verbal. However, Reuven has to make the effort to
collect the money from Levi. He can not tell Shimon to do the work for him,
arguing that Shimon actually lent Levi the money (Ibid. Paragraph 3). Similarly,
Shimon has no right to forego payment to Levi or to give him more time to pay
(Paragraph 5). The reason is that the verse teaches us that whenever a person
takes out a loan, he undertakes to repay the money to whomever is entitled to
it. Thus, in the Reuven-Shimon-Levi setup, when Levi borrowed from Shimon, he
undertook to pay the outstanding amount to its true owner, namely Reuven. Reuven
is treated as the real lender. He must make the effort to collect the money from
Levi. Shimon no longer has any right to this sum. He therefore has no power to
forego the loan.

However, the Shulchan Oruch adds a condition. Reuven
can only collect directly from Levi if Shimon agrees that he still owes Reuven
this sum of money. If Reuven has not clarified this point, he can not collect
from Levi. Levi should also not give the money to Reuven without such
clarification. If he does, he may find himself paying twice! Shimon may come to
him for payment. When Levi argues that he already paid Reuven, Shimon will say,
“I had good reason not to pay Reuven. You are still obligated to repay the
loan I gave you!” And Beis Din will agree with Shimon! The reason for
this is simple. The purpose of shibuda d’Rebi Noson is to “rescue the
oppressed from his oppressor”. We must first establish that Shimon is acting
like an oppressor by withholding money from Reuven. Only then can we instruct
Levi to pay Reuven, instead of Shimon. If Shimon has a valid reason for failing
to pay, we can not call him an oppressor!

Accordingly, Yossi should only pay the magazine directly if
Motti admits to him that he still owes the magazine money. Should he not have
such information (he may be too embarrassed to ask him), he should play it safe
and pay Motti, as he always did until now.