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   by Jacob Solomon

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PARASHA MISHPATIM 5777 - D'VAR TORAH


The concern of this Parasha is with helping others, exemplified by:

When lending money to a poor person with you, among my people, you should not press for repayment. Nor should you impose interest (22:24).

Not pressing for repayment is followed by ensuring that the terms of the loan do not threaten the poor person's welfare. In specific circumstances, the Torah does allow personal items to be taken as security on a loan. The lender, however, must return them when they are needed if they are vital for the poor person's continued existence:

If you take your neighbor's garment as security for a loan, you must return it before sunset. For that alone is his covering… (22:25-6)

Later on, the requirement of helping others is even extended to those very much outside the person's circle:

If you see your enemy's donkey crouching under the pressure of its load, you might not want to help. Instead, you should make every effort to help to unload it - with him (23:5).

The Mishna (Bava Metzia 2:10) stresses that the mitzva to assist applies where the animal's owner is making due efforts as well - "help…with him". It does not apply where the owner deliberately sits idly and expects the passer-by to do all the work. The Kli Yakar extends this principle to the more general mitzva of helping others, beyond the specific case of the overloaded donkey. He uses this source to suggest that the mitzva of tzedaka in general applies when the impoverished individual is doing his or her best to improve the situation such as seeking work, rather than sitting idly in the expectation of a handout from the community.

Indeed, the Kli Yakar's comments on these three sources combine to form a framework for helping others with the gifts and services of tzedaka.

The center of that framework is that G-d assures that He will ultimately pay back every Israelite that assists another. G-d is the ultimate guarantor for those who give tzedaka. The poor person is "among My people" (22:24), among G-d's people. His or her livelihood is G-d's responsibility. Nevertheless, G-d allows individuals to suffer poverty in order to enable the more fortunate to help (Bava Batra 10a). It is the poor person that does more for the donor than the donor does for the poor person, for it is that assistance that rewards the donor for eternity. So interest charges for the loan are forbidden; it is G-d that ultimately will be doing the repaying, as guarantor of "My people" (ibid). The poor person is "with you" (ibid), meaning that he or she descended to poverty in order to provide you with the merit of helping that leads to eternal reward. And even the legally-taken security must be returned at the time that the impoverished person needs them if they are vital for well-being.

However, the poor person must not take advantage. "You shall make every effort to help unload it - with him" (23:5). When he also exerts himself. The Kli Yakar writes: "From here we learn a response to the few poor of our people who impose themselves on the public and refuse to do any work, even if they have the ability to work or engage in some other activity by which they could supply food for their hungry families, and they complain if they are not given enough to satisfy their needs" (trans. Elihu Levine). G-d only demands that others help when the poor person also puts in the effort.

[Please bear in mind that a competent rabbinic source should be consulted for psak halacha in this sphere]

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: jacobsol@netvision.net.il 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:
From the Prophets on the Haftara

Test Yourself - Questions and Answers

e-mail: jacobsol@netvision.net.il

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