– In Memoriam of Mr. David M. Warren (Menachem Dovid ben
Harav Yosef Z’L)
“If you lend money to
my people, to the poor who is among you, do not act
toward him as a creditor; do not place upon him
interest.” (Exodus 22:24).
Rashi (1040 -1105)
quotes the Mekhilta (A collection of Halakhic Midrash on
the book of Exodus 90 CE – 135 CE): “Rebbe Yishmael says
anytime the Torah uses the expression ‘if’ it implies a
voluntary action, except for three times and this is one
In other words, Rebbe
Yishmael is stating we have an obligation to lend money
to other Jews.
The Ohr HaChaim (Rabbi
Chaim ben Moses Ibn Attar, Morocco and Jerusalem; 1696 –
1743) raises an obvious question. If the requirement to
lend money is compulsory, why does the Torah say “if”?
Because, the Ohr HaChaim explains, only those people who
can afford to lend are compelled to do so.
The Ohr HaChaim
instructs us to read the verse as follows – “If you,
lend money to my people.” Meaning if you are the one
chosen to act as G-d’s agent, if you are the one who has
been provided more than you need, then lend to my
Reading the initial
verse “If you, lend money to my people” changes the tone
of the entire verse. “If you, lend money to my people,
to the poor who is among you, do not act toward him as a
creditor; do not place upon him interest.” As the Ohr
HaChaim teaches us, G-d is saying if you have been
chosen to act as His agent, if you have been so
privileged, do not desecrate this opportunity by using
your position to extract a profit, to act towards the
borrower as a creditor. G-d has selected you as his
agent and you must act as G-d’s agent.
The prohibition against
charging interest does not derive from the obligation to
act charitably to your brethren. Rather, it is
prohibited because the excess money is not ours; we are
merely agents, acting on G-d’s behalf, and using His
funds to loan money to the needy among us.