Parashas Mishpatim

This week’s parashah is devoted mainly to civil laws. One segment deals with lending money, especially to the poor, and not taking interest. The Torah states (Shemos 22:24): “When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a pursuing creditor; do not lay interest upon him.” Below are a few insights from the Maggid on this topic.
1. By lending money to a poor person, one is doing a kindness not only for that particular person, but also for the public at large. By helping the poor person get back on his feet, one eliminates the need for him to seek charity from members of the community, and thereby relieves the public at large from a burden.
2. If a person is accustomed to lend money to the poor without interest, then by working to earn money he is serving the poor along with himself. It is if he is working jointly on his own behalf and on behalf of the poor. But when a person lends money to a poor person with interest, the work the poor person does afterward serves not only the poor person himself, but also the lender, for part of the money the poor person earns will be going to pay the interest. It is as if the poor person is working in part on behalf of the lender. The Torah teaches that that poor person should be “with you” – you should see to it that you work for him, rather than making him work for you.
3. We all must bear the burden of Divine justice in the economic realm. The basic mechanism that Hashem uses to distribute this burden is the cycle of economic fortune, whereby people experience wealth and poverty in alternation. But a person who is currently well off can preempt a transition to poverty by choosing first to bear the economic component of Divine justice in an indirect way – by shouldering the responsibility of caring for the poor.
4. When a person charges interest in the usual way, as a function of the length of the time that the borrower holds onto the funds, he is automatically acting as a pursuing creditor, even if he does not approach the borrower directly to demand repayment. The constant accumulation of interest itself puts pressure on the borrower, as if he is being pursued.
5. The Midrash teaches (Shemos Rabbah 31:12): “‘One who is gracious to the poor is giving a loan to Hashem, and He will pay him his due recompense (Mishlei 19:17).’ Up to what point? ‘A borrower is a servant to the man who has lent him (Mishlei 22:7).” That is, when a person lends money to the poor, Hashem considers it like a loan to Him and takes responsibility for repayment. It is as if two parties have signed on the loan, the borrower and Hashem, and the lender can collect from either one or the other. But if the lender hounds the borrower for payment, he is showing that he is focusing his attention solely on the borrower, and neglecting to keep Hashem in mind. This attitude might prompt Hashem to step out of the picture. The Torah therefore exhorts us not to act as a “pursuing creditor” toward those to whom we have lent money. If the borrower is having trouble paying, then turn to Hashem, and He will step in and repay.
David Zucker, Site Administrator

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