Paying it Forward
Lending with interest is something that (for Jews) is taboo. Hashem
demands a certain kinship between brothers and sisters that prevents them
from profiting from those who - through their misfortune - need loans. Thus
the Torah commands us this week: "If your brother becomes impoverished
and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him --
proselyte or resident -- so that he can live with you. Do not take from
him interest and increase; and you shall fear your G-d -- and let your
brother live with you. Do not give him your money for interest, and do
not give your food for increase." (Leviticus 25:35-37).
The Torah then juxtaposes what seems to be a veiled admonition by
reasserting Hashem's omnipotent authority in the context of the
prohibition of taking interest: "I am Hashem, your God, Who took you out
of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be God unto you"
(ibid v. 38). What connection could exist between the prohibition
against taking interest from Jews and the exodus from Egypt?
Rabbi Paysach Krohn relates the story of a 40-year old man who passed
away and left a young widow and orphans. The oldest son, Yosef, took the
helm of his father's business as the breadwinner for the surviving
children. It was not easy; competitors took advantage of his na'vet and
inexperience. One day, in the midst of his struggles, a Mr. Hans
approached him with an envelope. It contained two thousand dollars.
Yosef was taken aback. "Please," he said, "I am working to make a
living. I do not want any charity!"
Mr. Hans explained. "Take it as a loan. When things get better you can repay me."
It took almost two years, but the time came when Yosef was on his feet.
He went to see Mr. Hans. In his hand was an envelope containing two
"I am not taking the money," said Mr. Hans.
"But," retorted Yosef, "you said it was only a loan!"
Hans smiled and nodded his head. "It was, but sit down and let me
"A while back I was in difficult straits. A fellow named Mr. Stein came to me with money. I, like you, did not want to accept it. Mr. Stein assured me that the money was merely a loan, and I accepted it. Within a few years, I was able to pay it back.
"When I approached Mr. Stein, he refused to accept the money." Hans continued his story. "When I began arguing with him, he explained. I want
you to pay it back, but pay it in the following manner: When you see
someone else struggling, lend him the two thousand dollars. And when he
comes to pay it back, you too shall refuse. Then explain to him the
terms I just told you. Yosef understood the message and followed the
instructions. Somewhere out there in our community, those two thousand
dollars are floating around, while waiting to be returned, rather loaned,
once again. The K'sav Sofer explains: When we left Egypt, we should have
left with just the shirts on our backs. But this was not so. We left
with gold and silver from the Egyptians, and after the splitting of the
Yam Suf our portfolios increased measurably with the Egyptian booty that
washed ashore. G-d gave all of that to us. But he stipulated one minor
request. When we take the wealth He gave us and pass it around, we are
asked not to derive any benefit from it. We are told lend it to your
brothers without a profit. We owe the Almighty for all we have. The
least we can do is pay it forward without interest.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi M. Kamenetzky and Torah.org.
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The author is the Associate Dean of the Yeshiva of South Shore.
Drasha is the e-mail edition of FaxHomily, a weekly torah facsimile on the weekly portion which is sponsored by The Henry and Myrtle Hirsch Foundation