This page presents insights by Rabbi Tuvia Bolton on the weekly Torah portion.
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Parshat Behar (5768)
This week's Torah portion contains 14 commandments and one of them is the prohibition of taking (or giving) interest on a loan. (25:36,37)
In fact this sin is so severe that the Torah follows it with the words; "I am G-d that took you from Egypt to be your G-d" to tell you that anyone who takes interest denies that G-d took the Jews from Egypt!
At first glance this doesn't make much sense. What's so bad about taking interest from money that could have been used to make profit in business! And why does G-d consider it tantamount to rebelling against Him and denying the Exodus?
To understand this here is a story. (Torah e-Parsha © 2008 by Herschel Finman. Shliachparsha@aol.com)
Israel Baal Shem or the Baal Shem Tov as he was best know, was a true Jewish leader with extra-sensory perception. In addition to knowing all of the books and commentaries of the written and Oral Torah he was also well acquainted with the mysteries of G-d and how to use them in day to day life. In fact he developed his wisdom into a system of understanding Judaism called 'Chassidut'.
He had many pupils but his main one was a great Rabbi by the name of Dov Ber (known as The Maggid) of Mezeritz.
It is said that the holiness and erudition of this Rabbi Dov Ber were so intense and incomprehensible that the very sound of his approaching footsteps actually threw his pupils (who were also great scholars in their own right) into convulsions of fear and trepidation..
He taught great secrets but brought them all 'home' with stories. And here is an example:
"Once a woman came into the Synagogue of my holy teacher the Baal Shem Tov on Saturday night just after the final prayer of the Shabbat with a desperate request; she needed money.
"She should have known better and waited; It is forbidden for Jews to carry money on the Shabbat and there was no chance that either the Besh't (Baal Shem Tov for short) or his pupils would have any cash on them but her desperation distorted her mind.
"She entered just before the master was about to make 'havdala' (a prayer issuing in the coming week made over a cup of wine) waited impatiently until he drank the cup, burst into the crowd of Chassidim, fell at his feet weeping and begged him to help her. She needed 300 rubles immediately to pay bills and provide dowries for her daughters.
"'Money?" said the Baal Shem Tov incredulously. "Where would we have money now after Shabbat? It is forbidden to carry money on the holy day and I and my followers are religious Jews. We have no money!" He turned to his pupils, palms raised, and asked rhetorically "Correct?"
"'But,' he continued. 'Let us see what we can do. I have no money in my pockets" He said to her matter-of-factly. 'But let me ask my pupils'.
The Baal Shem Tov instructed his students to reach into their pockets and give her all the money they found there and without hesitating, they complied. They reached into their pockets and much to their surprise, each pulled out several ruble notes!
And what was even more miraculous; the sum was totaled and it tallied precisely 300 rubles. Exactly what the woman needed!
The Baal Shem took the money, counted it out before the bewildered and overjoyed woman and handed it to her while blessing her with a long happy life. I saw this miracle myself!"
The Magid fell silent for several moments and then asked, "Now, my dear pupils….who can tell me what is the greatness of this story? What was the miracle here?"
One student answered immediately.
"That money miraculously appeared in the students' pockets. It is prohibited to handle money on Shabbat and it was impossible that any of the students would have had money in their pockets. That it was there was pure act of G-d!"
The Magid shook his head in agreement but waved his finger in before him to the right and left as to disagree. "You are correct, this was a miracle but there was something much greater here. Think more deeply."
A second student raised his hand, was called upon, stood, cleared his throat and replied. 'There was a double miracle; not only was there money in their pockets but it amounted to exactly 300 rubles!'
But the Magid dismissed this as well saying that everyone should try again.
After several moments of pregnant silence a third student stood and spoke, 'Perhaps the miracle was that the Baal Shem could have produced the money entirely himself but he chose to share the 'mitzva' and make it happen through others; his students.
But the Magid just shook his head no.
"The greatness of this story," he answered "was that the students unquestioningly put their hands into their pockets to take out money, knowing that there was none. In other words, they completely ignored their logic and relied totally on the Baal Shem Tov."
This explains our questions.
The main 'sin' of taking interest is that of making a profit with no effort or risk; namely the borrower has to return the principle plus interest while the loaner does nothing. And this 'doing nothing' is the opposite of man's purpose on earth!
The purpose of man is, as we saw in our story, to change the world through effort and faith.
The miracle that the Besh't accomplished was not producing the money but producing a willingness in his followers to change the WORLD through their OWN effort and trust.
In other words to 'risk' their certainty (that nature is supreme and the future is controlled by the past) and make miracles happen THEMSELVES.
Therefore one who takes interest on a loan is denying the miracle of leaving Egypt.
To leave Egypt was impossible and the only way the Jews did it was by trusting and (so to speak) CAUSING G-d to change the laws of nature. Just as the pupils of the Besh't did in our story.
This is the lesson to us.
It is our job to change the world; as grandiose and impossible as it may seem, it is in our ability to remove the pain, suffering and strife of all mankind! Just as we defied all laws of nature and left Egypt over 3,300 years ago beyond all logic and historical precedence, so we can bring Moshiach and see the world change for the good - beyond the laws of nature.
This is the vision of the Lubavitcher Rebbe as explained in the books of Chassidut Chabad; that it is in our hands to make the world a holy, joyous and meaningful place. We just have to do everything possible to bring....
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