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Robbing Peter to Pay Paul – At a Coffee Shop

Robbing Peter to Pay Paul – At a Coffee Shop

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, Conn.

Q – Last spring I lent $200 to a woman who works at a midtown coffee shop near my office. I’ve gone in there every day for years and have gotten friendly with her – in fact, I know her whole life story and we are on a first name basis. When I lent her the money to pay for an emergency medical procedure, she promised to pay me back, although I had my doubts that she would be able to.

I went away over the summer and when I came back to the coffee shop I decided not to mention the loan and see what would happen. But when I went to pay for my coffee she smiled and waved me by and said, "It’s on the house." This has now happened for a couple of weeks and I suspect she is giving me the freebies to pay off the loan. The problem is, she doesn’t own the shop. What do I do?

A – Many eating establishments allow employees to grab a cup of coffee for themselves from time to time.

Even a behemoth like McDonalds allows a free drink and half-price meals to those behind the counter. If the coffee comes from her perk rather than her boss’s pocket, everyone’s a winner. She is reimbursing you, one cup at a time. If she is repaying you by stealing from her boss, however, not only is that a crime, but you are an accessory, and if it’s discovered, she could lose her job. It’s classic case of robbing Peter to pay Paul.

Rabbi Jacob Ben Asher, a medieval codifier also known as the Ba’al Ha-Turim, spoke of how important it is for the lender not to shame the borrower if he knows that a loan cannot be repaid. This is based on Exodus 22:24. You have every right to ask, gently, if it’s really OK for her to be pouring complimentary cups. If you determine that it is, keep your own running tab and stop when it reaches $200, then let her know that the loan has been paid in full.

If, on the other hand, that steaming cup could land her in hot water, say "Thanks, but no thanks" and let her know that she doesn’t need to be concerned about paying you back. I guarantee that your next cup will taste good to the last drop.

Rabbi Joshua Hammerman is spiritual leader of Temple Beth El in Stamford, CT. Read his blog here, and follow him on Twitter.
Have an ethical dilemma? Email Rabbi Hammerman at

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