Questioning faith in the parsha
Jan. 29, 2010/24 Sh’vat 5771
Modern Author: Bernard Malamud
The Magic Barrel
v.24 If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor: exact no interest from them.
MECHILTA… “When you lend…” The Tanna R’ Yishma’el teaches: Any use of the word IM in Torah implies a voluntary act, except for three—and this is one of them.
SARNA… The hypothetical, or casuistic, formulation is only apparent. No penalties are specified, the direct address in the second person is employed, and there is a concluding apodictic prohibition—none of which is characteristic of the true type of casuistic law. Hence, Rabbi Yishma’el could rightly construe the opening Hebrew im not as a voluntary act but as implying obligation.
KIMCHI… “When you lend…” For, according to Deut 15:8, “You must open your hand and lend him sufficient funds for whatever he needs.” It is an obligation.
ABRAVANEL… The rules that fall under “You shall not covet” begin here. Note that lending is not an obligation, since it is preferable, in my opinion, to give an outright gift, unless the poor man refuses it.
RASHI… “My people…” If it is a question of lending to “My people” or a gentile, “My people” take precedence; to a poor man or a rich man, “the poor among you” take precedence; to your own poor or the poor of your city, your own take precedence. What it literally says is, If you lend money, lend it to My people… Do not read “the poor among you,” but rather “the poor with you.” They are with you; see yourself as if you are the poor person.
IBN EZRA… The text literally says “to My poor people.” The rich man not ought to think that God made him rich because He loves him more. The poor are “My people” because the pious ones do not pursue wealth in this world, proven by the example of Elijah and Elisha who would not accept Na’aman’s gift [II Kings 5:16] If God has given you wealth, you should lend to the poor.
RAMBAN… “The borrower is a slave to the lender.” [Prov 22:7] But you must act in every way as if he never borrowed even a penny from you. Moreover, “You shall not deduct interest from loans to your fellow, whether in money or food or any other goods.” [Deut 23:20] You must loan to him as a matter of generosity, gaining no profit from him in either honor or money.
IBN EZRA… “Do not act as a creditor.” Expecting a payoff from him to prevent you from embarrassing him. Thus, “exact no interest.” The verb is in the plural, showing that not only the lender, but the scribe and the witness too—all involved—transgress in so doing. The Hebrew word for interest comes from the root meaning “to bite,” for interest takes a bigger and bigger bite out of you minute by minute.
RASHI… The word “NeSheCH—interest” is from the same root as “to bite,” for interest is like the bite of a snake, which makes a little wound on someone’s foot, which he does not even feel, and suddenly the swelling goes up to the top of his head…
v.26 Therefore, if he cries out to Me, I will pay heed, for I am compassionate.
SARNA… The extraordinary omission of the term “rachum—merciful,” which always accompanies God’s attribute of Chanun, perhaps underscores the point that the poor man is entitled to the return of his garment by right,
not as an act of mercy. The outcry of the poor at their deprivation is a plea for justice to which God responds.
RAMBAN… “for I am compassionate.” And I accept anyone’s plea, even if he is not deserving. The term Chanun—compassionate comes from the root meaning “grace.” The point is that you should not think ‘I will not take a righteous person’s garment in pledge, but I can certainly take the garment of one who is not righteous—and not return it, for God will not heed his plea.’ So God makes the point, accepting all who seek His grace.
MUNK… It is worthy of note that the prohibition against interest does not apply to dealings with non-Jews [Deut 23:21] Over the millennia of Israel’s wanderings throughout the world, the extensive oppression of other nations toward Israel was such that for many centuries lending money at interest was one of the few occupations which the gentiles tolerated in the Jewish ghettos. Had it been forbidden for loans to non-Jews as well, then Israel would have lost its last source of subsistence. [TUR, Yoreh Deah, 159]