Question:What are the guidelines and practical ramifications of the Mitzvah in the Torah of “Im Kesef Talveh Ess Ami” (You Shall Lend Money To My People) (Shemos 22:24)?
What is the Halacha?
- There is a Positive Commandment in the Torah to lend money to anyone who needs it. This applies, whether the recipient is a wealthy person who is having a cash-flow problem, or a poor person, according to the financial ability of the lender, and for as long as possible. Lending objects is not a specific, individual Mitzvah, rather it is included in the general Mitzvah of being kind to others.
The Mitzvah to lend money is even greater than the Mitzvah to give Tzedakah, because a person is much less embarrassed to receive a loan than to receive Tzedakah. Also, by giving a loan you can help a borrower retain control over his business investments and give him the opportunity to stand on his own two feet and not have to accept hand-outs from others.
- The lender has a right to demand proper collateral for his loan to guarantee that it will be paid back in a timely manner. If the lender is not satisfied with the guarantees provided, he has no obligation to lend, even if the borrower is a poor person. It is essential that a person keep in mind when faced with this situation that all of his actions must be L’Shem Shomayim (For The Sake Of Heaven).
- If two people approach you for a loan and you are only able to lend to one of them, you should give precedence to the poorer person.
- A relative generally takes preference over anyone else, if both borrowers are financially equal, even if the other person requesting the loan is a Talmid Chochom (A Torah Scholar). However, if the relative is wealthy and the other person is poor, the poor person takes precedence. Also, if you know that your relative would be able to borrow from another source, and the other person has no other source to borrow from, the other person would take precedence, even if your relative was poor.
- The Halachah that a relative takes precedence over others, only applies when you are lending your own money. If you are a trustee over a communal loan fund, it is absolutely forbidden to give your relative preference over others. The loans should be offered to all equally as predetermined by the fund, whether it be on a first come first served basis, or based on need. This applies even if the trustee was the one who set up the fund and donated a large amount of his own money to it.
- If you have been approached by a number of people for loans, and one needed a very large amount, to the extent that if you would lend him what he is requesting you would be unable to lend the others at all, it is preferable to provide a few loans of smaller amounts than to give it all to one person. If the person requesting the larger amount needs it to avert financial disaster, and the others just need the money to increase their cash-flow and make things easier for them, the full amount should be given to the one who requires the larger amount to prevent him from going under.
- If you told someone that you would lend him money or objects, or if you decided to separate a percentage of your income to start a free loan fund (Gemach), it is considered as if you had taken a vow to this effect and it is forbidden to change your mind.
Sources:The above Halachos are discussed at length in the Tur (Choshen Mishpat 97) and in the Shulchan Oruch (ibid.) They are also discussed in the Rambam in the first Perek (Chapter) of Hilchos Halva’ah (The Laws Of Lending). Additionally, many of the above points are mentioned in the first six chapters of Sefer Ahavas Chesed by the Chofetz Chaim.
This class is translated and moderated by Rabbi Aaron Tendler of Yeshivas Ner Yisroel in Baltimore. Rabbi Tendler accepts full responsibility for the accuracy of the translation and will be happy to fax originals of the articles in Hebrew to anyone interested.
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Please Note: The purpose of this column is to make people aware of Choshen Mishpat situations that can arise at any time, and the Halachic concepts that may be used to resolve them. Each individual situation must be resolved by an objective, competent Bais Din (or Rabbinic Arbitrator) in the presence of all parties involved!