What is the law if while someone is taking care of someone else’s things, something goes wrong?
Well, it depends on the situation. Our Parsha gives four different possibilities. Let’s follow the guidelines of the Torah:
If Mr. Vatcher volunteers to guard his friend’s store, he must do the best job he can guarding. But if a robber breaks into the store while he is on guard, he won’t have to pay for the damage as long as he swears before a Beis Din that he wasn’t careless. After all, Mr. Vatcher was not getting paid – he was just doing his friend a favor.
Now, this same Mr. Vatcher works for a living and he is a paid guard at the local bakery. Now, if while guarding the bakery, he dozed off and someone stole a dozen bagels, who is responsible?
It’s Mr. Vatcher, of course! After all he is getting paid, and should have been more responsible while “vatching” the store!
If you borrow your friend’s baseball bat, remember to take very good care of it. You are responsible for any damages to the bat, aside from normal wear and tear, like some scratches from hitting a home run.
On the other hand, if by accident you left the bat in the baseball field, and it was stolen, you must then give your friend money to buy a new bat.
What happens if someone rents (pays money to borrow) someone else’s property, and something happens to the property? For example, Mr. Renter rents an apartment and the stove belonging to Mr. Landlord breaks. Who is responsible to fix the stove – Mr. Renter or Mr. Landlord?
The answer is not so simple! Even Rashi (the famous commentator on the Chumash) quotes an argument between two great Rabbis about this very question:
Rabbi Meir says, “Mr. Renter is treated like a “Shomer Chinam” (an unpaid watchman) and it is up to Mr. Landlord to fix the stove.”
Rabbi Yehudah disagrees, “My opinion is that Mr. Renter is just like a “Shomer Sachar” (a paid watchman), and therefore must pay to get it fixed.”
So who ends up paying to have the stove fixed? If your stove is broken and you need to know the answer right away, first call your local Rabbi to find out the answer, and then call your local handyman. Good luck! We hope it gets fixed soon!