He (RYB”Z) said to them (his five students): Go out and see which is an evil path from which a person should distance himself. Rebbi Eliezer said “Ayin Ra’ah” (an evil eye). Rebbi Yehoshua said “Chaver Rah” (an evil friend). Rebbi Yossi said “Shachen Rah” (an evil neighbor). Rebbi Shimon said “One who borrows and does not pay back. One who borrows from another person is like one who borrows from the Almighty; as it is written ‘An evil person borrows and does not pay back; and a righteous one (G-d) grants and gives'(Psalms 37:21, see Rashi).” Rebbi Elazar said “Lev Rah” (an evil heart). He (RYB”Z) said: I “see” (prefer) the words (the opinion) of Rebbi Elazar be Arach, for included in his words are your words.
In response to RYB”Z’s request to go out and see which is an evil path for a person to pursue, each of his students said the polar opposite characteristic of what he had said for the good path. Except Rebbi Shimon, who taught “one who borrows and doesn’t pay back” instead of “one who doesn’t foresee the outcome (of his actions).”
Why didn’t Rebbi Shimon also make the evil path the opposite of the good one, teaching it as one who DOESN’T see the outcome of his actions?
The Rambam (and other commentators, too) explains that the defect of one who “borrows and does not pay back” resides in his failure to see the outcome of his actions (effectively making it an opposite path). Not paying back his debts will prevent him from receiving loans in the future.
But this explanation, rather than responding to our difficulty, actually strengthens it. It would have been far better had the Tanna taught us to avoid the path of “not foreseeing the outcome of our actions,” which would have included EVERYONE guilty of this shortcoming, INCLUDING one who borrows and doesn’t pay back!. Making it even more difficult is that one could conceive of situations where a person does not pay back his debts, at the same time that he DOES foresee the outcome of this actions. For example, if a person who had borrowed suddenly became very wealthy, he might feel there would be no consequences of not paying back his debts, convinced that he would never need to borrow again. He would be fully aware that the outcome of not paying his debts would deprive him of the possibility of future loans. He just wouldn’t care! It doesn’t appear that “borrowing and not paying back” is the polar opposite of “foreseeing the outcome of ones actions.”
Finally, the conclusion is difficult to understand. How does one who borrows from a person become like one who borrows from the Almighty?
Each of the other students of RYB”Z taught a good path and its precise evil inverse — a “lev tov” and “lev rah”, etc. While failing to see the outcome of one’s actions lacks the positive quality, it would not be accurate to call it EVIL, just as Rebbi Eliezer didn’t say “NOT having a good lev” is evil. The polar OPPOSITE of a “good lev” is “bad lev”, and Rebbi Shimon had to teach more than simply the LACK of the good characteristic. He had to identify the underlying character trait of the person who sees the outcome of his actions, and present its precise inverse.
(We have written in the earlier Mishnayoth, especially 2:11 – 2:12, that the superior character traits of the nefesh and sechel translate themselves into virtuous behaviour. A review of our shiur on Mishna 11, Pt. 2 will be helpful in understanding the following explanation.)
(One other introduction is necessary: explaining the meaning of the word “pashut” as used in the Maharal. The word is usually understood to mean “simple.” As a verb, it means to simplify or to undress. Conceptually it means something which is stands on its own, with nothing else attached to it or mixed with it. The opposite of “pashut” is “murkav,” which would refer to a compound or an alloy — various elements combined together. The Maharal writes many times that true “sechel” — the spiritual/intellectual component — is considered “pashut.” This implies the purity and independence of something which is compellingly logical as well as something which is transcendent and spiritual. The “chomer,” matter and things which are more physical in nature, are dependent on many external elements, and can’t stand alone the way logic or spiritual reality can.)
It is the lucid and “pashut” (pure) sechel component of the individual that enables him to foresee the outcome of his actions. This trait of being “pashut” creates an association with the spiritual world, and this is the source of Rebbi Shimon’s unique virtue of “fear of heaven.”
The opposite of this character trait is one who has a dependence on others for his existence. A person who borrows and doesn’t pay back is a [net] receiver from others, and as such cannot be considered “pashut.” The need to borrow doesn’t, in and of itself, compromise a person’s ability to be “pashut,” for it is the nature of the physical world that people are mutually dependent upon each other, both giving and receiving at various times. But if the person’s character was one of being “pashut” (standing pure and independent on his own) he would ultimately give back whatever he had received from another, never retaining something that was not essentially his.