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Mazal tov to Isaac and Suri Ninio on their marriage last week! שתזכו לבנות בית נאמן בישראל!

Although Purim is still three weeks away, students have already begun their preparations for the day. The yeshiva band is beginning to practice for the nighttime party, and students (and rabbeim) are busy preparing their various shipels.

This week we were honored to welcome numerous guest speakers. On Sunday morning, Rav Avraham Friedman, rosh hayeshiva of the Hebrew Theological College in Skokie, offered a shiur on the meaning of אנכי ה' אלקיך. Later that day, Rav Yonasan Sacks, rosh hayeshiva at Lander College, offered insights into the scenarios in which Chazal make takanot d'Rabbanan in Hilchot Shabbat, and when they did not.

On Monday night, Rav Hershel Schachter, rosh yeshiva and rosh kollel at Yeshiva University, gave a shiur on Tefilah B'Tzibur, which was followed by a question and answer session. (download here http://www.yesodei.org/obm/?p=3681).

On Wednesday, Rav Mayer Twersky, rosh yeshiva at Yeshiva University, delivered a shiur on the topic of Mitzvat Talmud Torah.

On Thursday night, Rav Kahn gave the sicha ruchanit on the topic of, "Shovevim". Following the mishmar cholent and snacks, Rav Kahn offered a shiur on, "Ko Amar Hashem", Rav Wolicki discussed "Livnat HaSapir", and Rav Arram gave a class discussing Chazal's understanding of the 'zvuv'.

25 Shvat 5775
Rabbi

Lending to the Wealthy
By Rabbi Scott Kahn

Parashat Mishpatim includes the mitzvah of lending money to the poor.
Although the verse begins with the Hebrew word “im” – that is, “if” or “when” – Chazal understood it not as an option, but as an absolute requirement. Indeed, the Rambam codifies it as a Torah law in the Mishneh Torah, calling it a greater mitzvah than giving tzedakah to the poor man who asks for a gift. (Hilchot Malveh u’Loveh 1:1)

The Biblical verse reads:

“When you lend money to My people – the poor man with you – do not act like a creditor towards him; do not charge him interest.” (Shemot
22:24)

Rashi, citing Baba Metzia 71a, explains that the words, “My people”, “the poor man”, and “with you” set priorities regarding who should receive a loan:

“My people and gentiles – My people come first. A poor man and a wealthy man – the poor man comes first. The poor of your city and the poor of another city – the poor of your city come first. [Thus,] this is the proper meaning of ‘When you lend money’: You should lend to My people and not to idol worshippers; and to whom among My people? The poor man. And to which poor man? He who is with you.”

There are two other places where the Torah introduces a commandment with the word “im”: when mandating the building of a stone altar (Shemot 20: 22), and in the commandment of giving the Omer offering (Vayikra 2:14). The Mechilta explains that the word “im” is used in the first instance to indicate that building an altar of earth is also permissible, while the Sifra explains that the word “im” in the commandment of the Omer offering hints to the fact that the Temple will be destroyed and the Omer will be temporarily suspended. Our case, however, is somewhat vague. Why does the Torah use the word “im”, implying that this commandment is optional, rather than a more forceful word?

The answer may lie in the words of the Gemara cited by Rashi. Although Rashi concludes his comment by succinctly summarizing the mitzvah – that one must lend to the poor of Israel, particularly to those living in the same city – the Gemara includes no such summary. Rather, the Gemara simply mentions, in the name of Rav Yosef, that the local poor take priority over the wealthy and the poor of other cities, thus implying that giving to others still fulfills a Divine mandate, albeit one which is not obligatory. Accordingly, it appears that while lending to the poor takes priority over lending to the wealthy and represents the fulfillment of an obligation, lending to the wealthy is still the will of G-d. Although there is no Torah requirement to lend money to the wealthy, the words, “A poor man and a wealthy man – the poor man comes first” imply that one should nevertheless attempt to help all those who need assistance, be they poor or wealthy. This may be the implication of the word “im”: there is an aspect of this mitzvah which is optional, but still a mitzvah – that is, lending to the wealthy.

Sefer HaChinuch (mitzvah 67) offers a rationale for the mitzvah of lending to the poor which explains its effect – spiritually and intellectually – on the giver:

“The root of this mitzvah is that G-d wanted His creations to be immersed and well-practiced in the attribute of kindness and mercy, for this is a praiseworthy attribute; and from their perfection with good attributes, they will deserve to receive the good… And if not for this perspective, He would have provided the poor with that which he is lacking without our help; however, it was from the Blessed One’s kindness that He made us his messengers, for our own merit.”

In other words, the mitzvah of lending to the poor is not for the poor’s benefit – indeed, G-d could provide for them – but for our own.
With this perspective in mind, we can derive three important ideas that explain the importance of lending to the wealthy. First of all, because the mitzvah of lending is for our own benefit, so that we are inculcated with the value of kindness, we must act kindly even when the natural “feel-good” benefits of giving to the poor are absent.
True kindness manifests itself even when the emotional “reward” is missing. Secondly, by lending to the wealthy, we avoid the stratification of society, and instead help solidify the idea that we are a single nation composed of individuals, not financially independent groups. Everyone helps everyone, for we are G-d’s representatives in perfecting society. Third, our loans to the wealthy help us avoid looking down upon the poverty-stricken. When we only give to those who are in dire straits, we begin to see ourselves as their benefactors; by giving to everyone who needs, including those who live more financially secure lives than our own, we internalize the reality that we are the messengers of G-d, thereby helping us avoid treating the poor with anything less than absolute dignity.

May we always find success in acting as G-d’s representatives, so that we create a perfect society predicated on justice, kindness, and mercy.

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