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When your brother becomes poor… you shall support him. Do not give him money at interest… I am G-d who brought you out of Egypt to give you the land of Canaan, to be G-d to you. (25:35-8).
Rashi emphasizes the importance of the word ve-he-chezakta bo, literally "You shall strengthen him". If you see a person facing financial difficulties, do not let him fall into poverty. Instead "you shall strengthen him" by lending him money without interest so that he will not slide into poverty. It is much better to prevent disaster occurring in the first place than to stand by, let disaster happen, and then pull him out. Indeed, the Rambam emphasizes that offering the necessary assistance to prevent poverty is the highest form of tzedaka.
The Sforno goes further, extending the prohibition of interest from the level of the individual to the level of the community. He notes that "you shall support him… do not give him money at interest" has "you" in the singular. But: "to give you the land of Canaan, to be G-d to you" has "you" in the plural. That indicates that G-d's purpose in creating Mankind will only be realized when G-d's people look out towards helping one another. Indeed, the Sforno writes on the parallel section in Devarim (23:20-1) that the act of lending money without interest is a form of kindness that enables the Shechina to rest in Israel: "so that G-d will bless you in whatever you do, in the Land". [And that also includes showing due consideration to the non-Jewish population: "You may give interest to a stranger" means that if you enter into a financial agreement with a non-Jew, you are required to pay the agreed interest and not renege, which would cause a chillul Hashem, an act of bringing G-d's name into disrepute. Even though borrowing at interest would not be permitted between Jews.]
Indeed, the punctilious observance of these mitzvot is reflected in the very wide range of gemachim (free-loan funds) in the community today.
However, the Halacha tracing back to Bava Metzia 68a does recognize the necessity for payment for financial services. It issues guidelines where this may be permitted, based on the procedure of converting loans into partnerships to avoid interest payment.
But underlying is the spirit in which the loan or investment takes place. Reuven invests in Shimon's project. Both Reuven and Shimon seek to gain.
Technically, if the investment pays off, they will both gain. It could be a win for Reuven and a win for Shimon. But Revuen's attitude is crucial. If he is solely thinking of himself, he is helping himself and not Simeon. But if he approaches the deal with the feeling and desire to help Shimon by giving him his custom, then he is moving in the direction of "you shall support him".
And the same may well apply when you consciously choose to give your custom to small, worthy, but struggling local business, perhaps a bakery, clothing shop, repair person, or restaurant.
For those looking for more comprehensive material, questions and answers on the Parasha may be found at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/questions/ and on the material on the Haftara at http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/haftara/ .
Written by Jacob Solomon. Tel 02 673 7998. E-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org for any points you wish to raise and/or to join those that receive this Parasha sheet every week.
Parashiot from the First, Second, and Third Series may be viewed on the Shema Yisrael web-site: http://www.shemayisrael.com/parsha/solomon/archives/archives.htm
Also by Jacob Solomon:
This article is provided as part of Shema Yisrael Torah Network
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