Parshaa - Ki Seitzei 5763
Rabbi Eliyahu Hoffmann
Mitzvos That Come Our Way
If you lend your fellow a loan of any amount, you shall not enter his home
to collect his collateral. Stand outside, and the borrower shall bring the
collateral to you outside. If that man is poor, do not keep his collateral;
return it to him when the sun sets, so that he may sleep with his garment,
and he will bless you. And you shall have performed an act of charity
before Hashem, your G-d.(24:10-13)
The above passage details the laws of collection of collateral from an
impoverished borrower; assuming the lender has taken an evening garment, he
must return it each night so as not to deprive the borrower of an essential
need. From the fact that the Torah ascribes "charity" to the lender for
doing so, the Talmud (Gittin 37a) understands that the lender attains a
degree of ownership in the security he collects. Otherwise, the verse
should describe his returning the collateral each night as an act of
"kindness" or "generosity," but not "charity" (see Rishonim ibid.). Charity
is the idea of giving something I own to someone else. If the Torah
describes his deed as one of "charity," we must conclude that the
collection of a security is not merely the possession of an object through
which to remind himself or the borrower of the loan, but rather imparts a
degree of ownership to the lender.
There are numerous halachic ramifications to this "ownership": Although one
may not normally collect a loan once the Shmittah (seventh year of the
seven-year cycle) has passed, if the lender was in possession of a
security, he may collect indefinitely; since he "owns" the collateral, it
is not considered that he is collecting his loan from the borrower, but
rather that the borrower is redeeming the object from him (Talmud ibid.).
Also, it is this "ownership" that enables the borrower to bless the lender.
Normally there is a prohibition of usury, which decrees that the lender
receive no compensation from the borrower for his having given a loan. This
includes not only monetary compensation, but even verbal compensation such
as praise or a blessing. Since, however, by having collected his security,
the lender has received ownership in it, it is as if the loan has already
been collected, and thus he may now receive the borrower's blessings. The
blessing is no longer in compensation for the loan, but rather for the fact
that the lender returns "his" pyjamas to the borrower each night (Tosafos,
About seventy years ago, there was a wealthy Jew in Lodz (an industrial
city in central Poland) who owned many properties and apartment buildings.
In one of these building lived an impoverished family who were chronically
behind in their rent payments. After repeated warnings, the landlord became
fed up with their failure to pay the rent in a timely manner, and evicted
them from his building, together with their measly belongings.
His despicable deed became known throughout the Jewish community, and
others were quick to criticize him for his lack of compassion. In response,
he countered that there were many other wealthy Jews in Lodz who were
perfectly capable of donating the money to cover their rent. His cancelling
of their debt would in itself be an act of charity. "I've been carrying the
burden of this charity on my shoulders for long enough - let someone else
take a turn, and pay me my rent, and I will gladly give them back their
Some time later, the landlord happened to visit the Imrei Emes, R' Avraham
Mordechai Alter of Gur zt"l. Having heard of the man's callous deed, the
Rebbe chastised him for his insensitivity and lack of compassion. The
landlord repeated his claim that he was no more obligated than others to
cover their rent payments, and that the mitzvah of charity is incumbent on
the entire community. "Why should I bear more responsibility for their
homelessness than anyone else?"
The Rebbe disagreed. He cited a Mishnah in Gittin (41b) which discusses the
case of a non-Jewish slave who was jointly owned by two Jewish owners. If
one of the two owners frees his half, beis din obligates the second owner
to emancipate his half as well, and to receive from the now-free slave a
promissory note as compensation. "Yet," argued the Rebbe, "why do we force
the second owner to, in essence, lend the freedom-funds to the slave? Why
not rather initiate a public collection, and coerce the entire community
into contributing towards his freedom? It appears that when an act of
charity falls into one's lap, so to speak, we do not allow him to absolve
himself from the mitzvah and throw it on others, but rather the Torah
requires the one to whom the mitzvah has presented itself to go ahead and
do it himself, regardless of the ability of others to contribute as much as
him! This poor family lived in your property, and therefore you have the
mitzvah of supporting them. You can't shirk that responsibility and throw
it on to others. Now go and take them back in."
The Talmud (Bava Metzia 113b-114a) seems to make a similar point with
regard to the above passage. Why, asks the Gemara, do we force the lender
to return the collateral after having collected it? Having already
collected the item, he is essentially "paid up," and at this point
supporting the borrower should be no more incumbent on him than on others?
"This is wrong," the Gemara says, "for it is written, 'And it shall be for
you a charitable deed.'" It seems that since the mitzvah of supporting this
individual has fallen into his lap, the lender can not evade his
responsibility to do so by casting it on the community (Me'oros Ha-daf
Ha-yomi 147). This is even more noteworthy based on the above ruling that
collecting a security is tantamount to paying off the loan - all the same
it remains the responsibility of the lender to support the borrower, since
it was by him that the mitzvah began.
Rav Reisman shilta relates that at some point he agreed to take a position
on the board of directors for a Yeshiva in Israel. As time went on, his
position began taking up more and more of his time, detracting from his
Torah study and other important facets of his life. He went to Rav Pam zt"l
to ask him if he could resign from the board - after all he had carried the
responsibility for many years. Rav Pam related that he had once asked a
similar question of Rav Schach zt"l (I believe it was with regard to his
position with Chinuch Atzmai), and Rav Schach had forbidden him to resign.
"It's your mitzvah now - and you have no right to abandon it!" He likened
it to one who finds a lost object and picks it up; even though there are
circumstances which permit one to ignore the object even after having
noticed it, once he's taken hold of it, he is forbidden to put it back down
and abandon the mitzvah for others. (I heard this story a while ago; I hope
I have recalled the details correctly.)
There are times when we are all faced with similar scenarios. We have
become involved in a mitzvah or in a chessed project, and we feel (or wish)
that the time has come to "move on" and allow others to take over where we
left off. Evidently, matters are not so simple. A mitzvah which has come
our way, especially if we've already become involved, becomes "our"
mitzvah, "And it shall be for you tzedakah!" It is a responsibility not to
be taken lightly.
Have a good Shabbos.