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RABBI ASHER BRANDER

Mishpatim
Shabbos Mevorchim
24 Shevat 5771

By: Rabbi Asher Brander, rabbi@kehilla.org

 

Un-legally Bound

With Apologies to the Lawyers

Reflections is sponsored by Leora and Erez Talmor in honor of their new born son Shahar Yisrael and his big brother Yaer Yehuda. Our wish for them is that Hashem will make the Torah sweet in their mouth and make them un-quenchably thirsty for it and that they will merit to be "mekayem": לא ימוש ספר התורה הזה מפיך...  והגיתה בו יומם ולילה

 

The hour is late. Excuse the terse writing

The Torah describes a scene of the desperate borrower [Shemos, 22:25-26]

When you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with [among] you, do not act toward him as a [demanding] creditor. ..

The lender responsibly takes a collateral:

If you take your neighbor's garment as security,

 

But what if the borrower has no other pair of pajamas?

you must return it to him till sunset;.... For this alone is his covering the garment for his skin. With what shall he lie down [to sleep]? If it happens that he cries out to Me, I will hear [his cry] for I am gracious.

 

This section confounds: 

a. What right does the poor man have to cry out (presumably) against the lender - what did the lender do wrong?

b. Also note how the Torah tugs at our hearts strings and fails to provide legal rationale nor explicit condemnation of the lender:  this alone is his covering, the garment for his skin; with what shall he sleep?"

c. Finally, the Torah then closes in the reason why God will listen - foir I am chanun - gracious - but why should that obligate the lender

 

1. Chizkuni (approach # 1)  solves our problem

When he calls out to me - on your behalf  - for had you not returned the collateral, he might have died of cold, therefore I have heard his prayer and will pay you back

The borrower is not complaining; his is a thanksgiving crying on behalf  of the lender. The text is speaking of the merciful lender - and portrays an inviting image: because you went out of your way for him, I shall go out of my way for you. It is midah kineged midah in a most positive way. Admittedly, this approach must interpolate that lender has already provided the collateral - something not apparent in the simple reading of the text

2. A similar positive incentive approach is adapted by Seforno

And I will have mercy on all who cry out - when there is none other except for Me. Therefore it is good for you to be merciful [by returning the collateral] in a manner that will bring you grace [from Me] so that you will be able to continue to lend and support others

In other words, Hashem is saying: I will help no matter what, but if you become part of the process, then you will be the beneficiary - beckoning the famous Talmudic line more than the giver does for the poor, the poor does for the giver. A classic pithy Talmudism says it shorter and sharper: melach mammon chaseir - the salt (i.e. preservative) of money is to get rid of it.

Here too, the Seforno approach does not have the text punish the rigid lender; rather it incentivizes the flexible one.

3. Chizkuni's 2nd approach however seems to capture the most basic essence of the verse; it is a harsher read - one which bespeaks a consequence for the legal but intransigent lender:

Even though it is not logical that you should return the collateral - for you lent him your money and the lender acquires the collateral - nevertheless I will listen to him and My mercy is aroused on him - for he cried before you and you were cruel and did not have mercy on him ... therefore it says for I am gracious

 

The pajamas do belong to the lender and legally his crisis need not be your problem (more than anyone else's). Consider further that if you return the pajamas , he will have no incentive to pay back. Nevertheless, if he cries out to Me, I shall respond - Why for I accept I accept the sincere cry of the destitute... and SO SHOULD YOU!!

 

Thus we have encountered an explicit Torah statement that formulates that a Jew dare not always be by the book. In the famous Talmudic words : 

For R. Johanan said Jerusalem was destroyed only because they gave judgments therein in accordance with Biblical law.. because they based their judgments [strictly] upon Biblical law, and did not go beyond the letter  of the law.

 

The law then,  is not always the way to go. Peshara  (compromise) at times, beats judgement - and you may be help culpable for trying to be too legalistic (lawyers beware!).

 

One more compelling notion here that lurks in the shadows - a thought I heard from Rav Mendel Blachmun Shlit"a. First a story (heard many years ago - the gist is true, the details are mine)

 

Shimon, a wealthy Jew was being chauffered in a horse drawn wagon amidst a terrible snow storm. Shortly into his trip, he notices Berel, the wise but poor Kotzker Chasid. Shimon turned to Berel and said, "I have a wonderful  mitzvah opportunity" - please come on my wagon and I shall take you to  your destination. - "And  how much will you pay me?". Berel said to Shimon 

Finding that odd, Shimon repeated his request -as did Berel. Disgusted by Berel's chutzpah, Shimon instructed his wagon driver to move on. Five minutes  later Shimon,  overcome with pangs of guilt - waited for Berel to catch up: "and how much will it cost me to have you join me?" - whereupon Berel responded: "100 rubles". Shimon was incensed by the huge sum and quickly instructed the driver to move on - whereupon the scene repeats itself and Shimon then gave Berel the 100 ruble bill,  invited him into his wagon and a few moments later asked Berel - andf why pray tell did am I  giving you this money?

 

Berel looked at him intently: "when you saw me,  you did not say,  there's a downtrodden Jew. I feel his pain - let me help relieve his suffering. You were interested in a mitzvah opportunity. I became your mitzvah object - you know mitzvos cost money - a  beautiful esrog a well guarded shmurah matzah , a beautiful pair of tefillin.

If I am your object of mitzvah and am no longer a Jew in need, then you"ll have to pay me - for me.

 

Why must the lender give back the collateral. There is not technical responsibility. But there is something deeper at stake. Be like God! Walking in Hashem's ways does not simply mean to do - but to be. To feel a deep sense of connection with Hashem's will even if it transcends a particular mitzvah. And even when we engage in Hashem's mitzvos - we dare not lose sight of the bigger picture - that we seek to bond with the Master of the Universe.

 

Thus, just as a hungry Jew need not seek permission to eat, so the one who sees that same Jew should also feel the hunger. Why? Because God says, If I am chanun, then so should you be - for isn't that why I put you here in the first place?  

 

 Good Shabbos, Asher Brander
 


 
   
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