כ״ד בטבת ה׳תשע״ז (January 22, 2017)

Bava Metzia 118a-b: Cash vs. Items of Value

When someone owes money to another person, how must he pay him? Must he pay in currency that can be easily spent, or can he give him other items of value to pay off the debt?

The Mishna on our daf tells of a worker who was hired to gather straw. Upon completing his work and asking to be paid, his employer tells him to take the straw that he gathered and keep it as his wages. According to the Mishna, the worker does not have to accept the straw instead of the agreed-upon wages. If he does agree to accept the straw, however, the employer cannot change his mind later on and say that he wants the straw and will pay him his salary.

This halakha stands, even though the general rule is that shaveh kesef ke-kesef – that objects of value are viewed as money – since the pasuk that requires prompt payment (Vayikra 19:13) is understood to obligate an employer to pay his worker according to their agreement.

The rishonim establish three different types of situations of payment where objects of value may be used instead of actual cash payments –

1. ba’al hov – a borrower must pay back a loan in cash, unless he does not have any money with which to pay. If he has no money then he must pay back what he has available. If it is land, he pays beinonit – middle quality land.

2. nezikin – damages, where the person who caused the damage can pay with whatever he has, but if he pays with land, he will pay idit – the best quality land

3. sakhir – a hired worker, who must be paid in cash, and the employer is obligated to find money for him, even if he does not have it readily available.

The Ran explains the rule of sakhir as being based on the assumption that a worker needs the money for day-to-day living expenses, and he does not anticipate having to go to the trouble of selling what he receives in order to support himself.

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