The sixth perek of Massekhet Bava Metzia, ha-sokher et ha-umanin, begins on today’s daf. When someone hires another person to work for him, two different areas of Jewish law play a role in their relationship. First of all, there are certain mitzvot – both Biblical and Rabbinic – that must be applied to them. These commandments are largely discussed in the seventh perek. The focus of the sixth perek is the second area of Jewish law that is relevant which deals not with commandments but with understanding the agreement that is made between the two parties.
Generally speaking, when a casual work agreement is made between two people, there is no perceived need for a formal contract that includes all of the conditions and requirements of the work and the job that is to be completed. Our perek focuses on clarifying questions that arise from such informal agreements.
The case presented in the first Mishna describes someone who hired workers ve-hit’u zeh et zeh – they deceived one another. They can complain, but there is no obligation to pay damages. Two explanations are offered in the Gemara regarding this case –
1. The workers deceived one another. The individual who hired the workers told the foreman to offer four dinarim per day, but he only offered three. Since they agreed to accept three, they have no real claim on the additional wage.
2. Either the workers or the individual who hired them backed out of the agreement before they began their work.
It appears from the Gemara that these explanations stem from the difficulty in determining how the two parties could deceive one another (i.e. that both sides may be involved in deception). The Talmud Yerushalmi offers another possibility – where the man doing the hiring assured the workers that he was offering them the wage that he usually pays, but, in fact, he usually pays more, or alternatively that the workers assure the man doing the hiring that this kind of work usually receives a certain wage, but, in fact, that work usually receives less. In both such cases, since there was an agreement, they can complain, but will have to accept the agreement.