Thoughts on the Weekly Parshah by HaRav Eliezer Chrysler
Formerly Rav of Mercaz Ahavat Torah, Johannesburg

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Vol. 12   No. 34

This issue is sponsored l'iluy Nishmas
Rus bas Shlomoh z.l.

Parshas Behar

Taking Interest
(Based on the K'li Yakar)

Rashi comments that although the Torah uses the double expression 'Neshech' (with regard to money) and 'Tarbis' (with regard to food), the Chachamim have already equated them, and anyone who lends on interest transgresses two La'avin. Yet the question remains, if the two are truly identical, then why does the Torah use two different expressions?

The K'li Yakar therefore explains that Neshech describes Ribis from the point of view of the borrower, whereas Ribis describes it from the point of view of the lender. To the borrower, it is like a snake-bite (see Ba'al ha'Turim), which begins as no more than a small incision which is barely visible (a mere two or three per- cent), but which quickly swells into an enormous incurable growth, extending from head to foot (as the compound interest develops into a vast debt on its own from which the debtor is unable to extricate oneself). Perhaps that is why the Torah mentions the borrower regarding the Neshech ("Do not take from him Neshech"), but refers only to the lender regarding Tarbis ("and for Marbis do not give your food"). In any event, says the K'li Yakar, it certainly explains why the Torah connects "Neshech" with money, and "Tarbis" with food; because, he explains, it is generally money that one lends on compound interest, whereas one tends to lend food on simple interest, five Sa'ah in return for a loan of only four.


The K'li Yakar, commenting on the Pasuk in Mishpatim (22:24) and the Pasuk here, which both imply that the prohibition of taking interest is confined to a poor man (but from a rich one it ought to be permitted), concludes that from the Pasuk in ki Seitzei, which specifically permits lending a gentile on interest, but forbids doing so to 'your brother', clearly indicates that the prohibition applies to lending on interest to all Jews, rich and poor alike. And to support this he points to the Torah's principle reason for prohibiting it, which he ascribes to a lack of Bitachon. A regular businessman, he explains, constantly needs to turn his eyes Heavenwards, to pray to Hashem for success in all his business deals, since he has no way of knowing in advance whether, or to what extent, they will succeed. Not so the money-lender who lends on interest, who knows in advance how much he stands to gain, in which case he no longer feels the need to place his trust in G-d. In that case, he concludes, there is not the least reason to differentiate between lending on interest to a poor man and lending to a rich one.

The K'li Yakar's explanation is problematic however. For one, the Pasuk is not necessarily speaking about a money-lender, as he suggests. It refers equally to a private individual who lends money on a once only basis, and who takes interest in order to offset the loss that he incurs due to his money being unavailable for investment. And besides, why by the same token, does the Torah not issue a prohibition on earning a fixed income, even where no interest is involved?

Clearly, it is one of life's tests to earn one's income in a way that gives the impression of being self-sufficient, yet remaining fully convinced that every cent that one earns and owns is by the grace of Hashem!


Consequently, the reason offered by the Seifer ha'Chinuch seems more plausible. The Seifer ha'Chinuch (Mitzvah 68) explains that G-d wants all His people to settle in the world that He created, and to that end, He does not permit one Jew to set about ruining his-fellow Jew's livelihood. Instead of exploiting his poverty, He wants him to help him find his footing. And this is what the Torah means when it writes here "and your brother will live with you". Perhaps we can add, the Torah deliberately uses the word "your brother". One would hardly expect someone to lend his own brother on interest. The Torah writes "Let your brother live with you", because it expects us to consider every Jew a brother.

To be sure, lending someone without taking interest is a test of faith, since one has to believe that someone who performs a Chesed with a fellow-Jew, does not lose one cent, as Chazal have taught in many places, but that is not the principle reason behind the Mitzvah. It is to ensure that, instead of exploiting another Jew's misfortune, one helps him overcome it.

And this reason also explains why the Torah permits lending a gentile on interest. It is because, when it comes to finances, G-d's unlimited mercy is confined to His people (whom the Torah incorporates in "your brother"). It does not extend to a gentile (even if he is one of the Chasidei Umos ha'Olom), as the Gemara explains in Bava Kama (38a).

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Parshah Pearls
(Adapted from the Chochmas Chayim)

Sweet Words

"And a man should not aggrieve his friend" (25:17).

This is how Rashi, citing the Toras Kohanim, translates the second "Lo Sonu".

The famous educator, ha'Rav Doctor Moshe Auerbach tells the following story, that happened shortly after his marriage. It took place in 5769 (almost one hundred years ago). R. Yosef Chayim Sonnenfeld was visiting Petach Tikvah and Rav Auerbach had invited him for lunch. As they were settling down to the meal, the young newly-married hostess came before the Ga'on R. Yosef Chayim, and after respectfully apologizing to all the guests for the interruption, she asked for a ruling concerning the chicken that she had cooked, after having forgotten to first remove the heart. The Rav Paskened leniently, but informed his hosts that, seeing as it was his custom not to eat from an animal on which a She'eilah had been posed, he now had no option but to decline their offer to join them for lunch.

Before leaving the house however, he turned to Rebetzen Auerbach and thanked her for her hospitality, adding sweetly, 'Regarding a woman such as you, who is not ashamed to ask a She'eilah of this nature in the presence of such an esteemed gathering, I would rely on her Kashrus even to the point of declaring it Mehadrin min ha'Mehadrin.'


On another occasion, R. Yosef Chayim was approached by a young Yerushalmi, who was about to move to America, and who wanted from him a Heter Hora'ah to act as a Shochet in his new location. Sensing however, that the young man's Yir'as Shamayim did not precede his knowledge, the Rav replied. 'We have learned in Chulin that anybody is allowed to Shecht, and their Shechitah is Kasher. When the Beis-Hamikdash is rebuilt (may it happen soon), many Shochtim will be needed, and, bearing in mind that a Zar (a non-Kohen) is permitted to Shecht, you will certainly be among their ranks. For the present however, I suggest that you find another respectable and Kasher means of income. I personally, proffer upon you the blessing that G-d grants you success in all your endeavours, and sends His blessing in all your undertakings'.

And he even accompanied the young man outside up to the steps of his house.

The man took heed of Rav Yosef Chayim's advice, and he was indeed blessed with astounding success.


And Sweet Thoughts

If, throughout the year, the constant flow of people who came to see R. Yosef Chayim, the man who carried the heavy burden of the entire community on his shoulders, barely slackened, then how much more so on Yom-Tov, when the flow became an endless stream. The people of Yerushalayim came to perform the mitzvah of greeting their Rebbe on Yom-Tov, and, at all times, one would find seated round his table Torah personalities, communal leaders and ordinary folk, each one feasting his eyes on the holy countenance of the Rav, which shone seven-fold during Yom-Tov, each one eagerly awaiting a Chidush or a 'gut vort' connected with the character of the especial day.

It happened one Yom-Tov that, at precisely such a scenario, whenever a new guest entered the room, R. Yosef Chayim would greet him with the customary 'Good Yom-Tov', but then added the assumption that he had either just come from the Kosel ha'Ma'aravi, or that he was on his way to it. The assembled guests found this somewhat strange, and the Rav noticed the puzzled look on the face of R. Moshe Blau (one of his esteemed guests). After the remaining guests had departed, he told him his motive. 'You no doubt noticed that sitting next to me was the Ga'on R. Eliyahu Klatzkin, the Rav of Lublin. I was afraid that when he saw the large number of guests who came to pay me a visit, he may feel hurt at the large number of guests that came to my Succah, but not to his. So I made a point of stressing that most of the visitors were actually on their way to or from the Kosel, and only popped in casually, so to speak.'


The Foundation of the World

"And when a man becomes poor in your vicinity, and his means falter, you shall support him" (25:35).

The world, R. Yosef Chayim would say, is built on kindness, a man helps his friend and says to him 'be strong'. Because performing deeds of kindness with one another is one of the foundations on which the world is built. This is written in the Torah, repeated in Nevi'im and again in Kesuvim. In fact, there is no end to the sources for this in both the written Torah and the oral one.

R. Yosef Chayim offered his own 'Gematriyah' to reinforce the pillar of Chesed. Based on the Pasuk in Megilas Esther "Ish le're'eihu", he points out that the numerical value of "Ish" is equivalent to that of "le're'eihu", to teach us that it is only someone who performs Chesed with his fellow-Jews, who earns the title of 'Ish', a title shared with G-d Himself (see Beshalach 15:3).

In fact he said, this Gematriyah on Purim one year, adding that, bearing in mind that the purpose of Sh'lach manos is to spread friendship and love among our people, it is important to remember that it is only possible to achieve this if the person and friend are on an equal footing (but not when one of them considers himself superior to his friend), for it is the feeling of superiority that is the cause of all strife and arguments in Yisrael. And it is only when each person considers his friend no less important than himself, that unity and harmony reign.

And this is further illustrated by the word 'Yedidus' (love), which can be read both forwards and backwards. Because true love can only exist where it is equally two-sided.


Saved by Converting

" ... a convert and a native ... do not take from him interest" (35:36).

Even if you lent a person money when he was a gentile, when taking interest from him was permitted, you are not permitted to take from him the interest that he agreed to give you then, should he have converted before repaying the loan.

That, says the Meshech Chochmah, is why the Torah uses the strange expression 'ger ve'toshav' (a convert and a native) - because it is speaking about a 'ger who became a toshav'.


Both in the Same Boat

"Do not take from him interest ... and your brother will live with you" (25:36).

Chazal have said that whoever lends a fellow-Jew on interest will not arise together with the dead at Techi'as ha'Meisim.

Moreover, they have said, the borrower will suffer the same fate as the lender.

And this is what the Torah is hinting, when it writes "ve'Chei ochicho imoch".

Bearing in mind that the word 'chei' (with a 'Tzeiri' [as opposed to 'Chai' with a 'Patach']), refers to everlasting life (which explains why we describe Hashem as 'Chei ho'Olamim'), the Torah is warning the lender (by implication) that, should he persist in taking interest, he will deprive both himself and the borrower of life in the World to Come (Yalkut ha'Urim).


Employer vs. Employee

" ... but with your brethren, the B'nei Yisrael, a man shall not subjugate his brother with hard labour" (25:46).

R. Yosef Chayim would speak often about the relationship between employer and employee. On the one hand, it is interesting to note how particular the Torah is about the rights of a worker, and how many Mitzvos Asei and Lo Sa'aseh are linked to this. Whilst on the other, he was extremely troubled by the antagonistic atmosphere created by the various workers' groups against their employers, and the raised fists that symbolized the socialist ideology that was then becoming more and more popular.

He maintained that the contempt in which the workers' unions held the employers would only rebound on to the workers themselves. For he described the continuous incitement against those on whom their livelihood depended as nothing less than stark ingratitude, and considered it cutting off the branch on which they were sitting.

If, he mused, each side knew how to a. fulfill its obligations towards the other, and b. to show the other the necessary respect, they would see that each one needed the other and complemented it. In that way, each side would benefit greatly and they would attain an idyllic working relationship.

* * *

(Adapted from the Seifer ha'Chinuch)

Mitzvah 337:
Not to Cheat in Business

It is forbidden to cheat a fellow-Jew, whether it is a man or a woman, in business matters, as the Torah writes in Behar (25:14) "And when you sell something to your friend ... do not cheat (overcharge or underpay) one another". The Sifra explains that this refers to cheating financially (as opposed to "Lo Sonu" mentioned later, which refers to hurting a fellow-Jew verbally). The Gemara in Bava Metzi'a (56b), going one step further, based on the same Pasuk ("or when you purchase from the hand of your friend") explains that this refers to something that is given 'from hand to hand', i.e. Metaltelin (movable goods). This does not come to preclude Karka (immovable property) from the realm of Ona'ah. It does however, preclude it from the Din concerning the retraction of the sale for a discrepancy of more than a sixth. Chazal also extrapolate from here that when you come to buy, buy from a Yisrael, as the Torah writes "or when you purchase from the hand of your friend". It is possible that they derive the earlier ruling, confining the Dinim of overcharging to Metaltelin, from the fact that the Torah changes its expression from "When you sell something (either Metaltelin or Karka) to your friend" to "or when you purchase from the hand of your friend" (implying Metaltelin only, as we explained). They learned from here that whereas the general Din of cheating/overcharging extends to Karka as well, Metaltelin have a special Din regarding the cancellation of the sale in certain cases. Essentially, the difference between Metaltelin and Karka concerns where the discrepancy in the prices reaches more than a sixth. In the case of Metaltelin, the sale is cancelled, since people are not willing to forego such a sizeable discrepancy; whereas by Karka, which lasts permanently, they are willing to forego any discrepancy, irrespective of its size, as the Gemara writes in Bava Kama (14b), with tongue in cheek 'Karka is worth any amount of money'.

And a proof that Karka is included in the prohibition of Ona'ah lies in the fact that the main warning against it is located in the Parshah that deals with Karka. This is the opinion of the Ramban in this matter, as he explains in his commentary on the Chumash.

The reason for the Mitzvah is self-understood. In fact, had it not been written, then it ought to have been, since it is not befitting to obtain somebody else's money falsely and through trickery. Every person earns through his own hard work what G-d graces him in His world, with truth and honesty. It is also in everyone's interest, because just as he does not cheat others, so too, will others not cheat him. Neither should one delude oneself into believing that he is more adept at cheating than others (and so he will get away with it). Because even if he is, his son might not be so astute, so others will be able to cheat him. What emerges is that this Din affects everybody, and is beneficial for the development of the world. And after all, it is the development of the world ("Lasheves yetzarah") that G-d had in mind when He initially created it?

Some of the Dinim of the Mitzvah ... that both the seller and the purchaser are included in this warning, as the Torah writes "And when you sell something ... or when you buy". The purchaser may not assume that the seller surely knows the price of the object, and if he agrees to sell it at such a cheap price, then he (the purchaser) cannot be guilty of sinning. That is not the case, but, as we explained, the purchaser is in fact included in the La'av, as the Mishnah (Bava Metzi'a 4:4) explicitly states, and whichever one has been cheated is permitted to retract from the sale, provided the Ona'ah comprises more than a sixth of the value of the article or a sixth of the money that was paid for it (as the Gemara (50b) explains. If it is a sixth, then the one who transgressed is obligated to pay the difference, but the sale remains in effect; whereas if it amounts to less than a sixth, he does not need to return the difference either.

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