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Parshat Mishpatim (5763)
This week's section, which opens with the law of a Jewish slave, contains over fifty commandments and one of them is to lend money (without interest).
In fact, the Maimonides (Matnot Aniyim 10:7) writes that lending money to a poor man is a greater kindness than giving him charity.
At first glance this is not understood. How can giving a money that has to be paid back be more generous than giving it as a gift? Could you imagine someone winning a million dollar lottery and then being told that the board decided, after reading this Rambam, to make it a loan instead?!
What is so special about a loan? Has it any connection to the law of a Jewish servant?
To understand this here is a story.
Some one hundred years ago in the city of Vitebsk there lived two friends Rav Leib Pozin and Rav Shmuel Brin. Both were rich and both gave charity, but Rav Leib, the far richer of the two, was businesslike and unemotional while Rav Shmuel was warm and friendly.
They were Chassidim (followers) of the fourth leader of Chabad, Rebbe Shmuel (or the M'harash as he was known by the Chassidim) and would go to consult with him regularly.
Shortly before Rav Leib made one such visit to the Rebbe, his friend RavShmuel got tricked by dishonest businessmen and cheated out of his entire fortune, leaving him not only penniless but in considerable debt as well.
Rav Leib entered the room of the Rebbe and, after discussing his problems and receiving answers to all his questions from the Rebbe, let out a heartbreaking sigh and exclaimed, "Oy! My poor friend Shmuel Brin! What a tragedy! He lost all his money! Surely all that G-d does is just; I do not doubt the ways of HaShem, but what a pity!!"
The Rebbe didn't reply.
Shortly thereafter tragedy again struck, but this time to Rav Leib. A fire broke out in the city of Vitebsk consuming his store, his entire home and one of his three immense storehouses; a loss of over fifty thousand rubles none of which was insured.
He immediately traveled to Lubavitch, entered to the Rebbe and burst into uncontrollable weeping as he poured out his heartbreaking story.
The Rebbe looked at him silently and then quietly said. "For Shmuel Brin you didn't cry. You even were able to justify his misfortune. But on your loss, which is much less, you can't control your weeping; seems that by you 'I' and 'he' are two separate worlds."
These words struck Rav Leib like a sledgehammer. After several seconds of stunned silence he slowly backed out the Rebbe’s room and then wandered around Lubavitch like a zombie. It took him three days of deep thought to realize how right the Rebbe was. His entire way of looking at the world was lopsided and selfish.
He again requested an audience with the Rebbe but this time when he entered he let the Rebbe do the talking.
"Rav Leib" the Rebbe said "The Baal Shem Tov taught that if one does not suffer at hearing bad news about his fellow man, or worse yet, he justifies that bad news; he draws that bad thing on himself as well. But one who genuinely feels bad when his friend suffers will be rewarded in the end.
"Now take all the cash you have on hand, three thousand rubles, and give it to Shmuel Brin as an interest free loan. Be sure to give it with a joyous heart. Then go to Moscow to buy merchandise to sell. HaShem will repay your loss twofold!"
Leib went back to Vitebsk took all the cash money he had (it came out to be exactly the sum the Rebbe said) and walked to Shmuel Brin's home but to his disappointment Shmuel had left home a few days earlier and his wife didn't know when he would return.
And so it was every day for over two weeks. Leib was getting desperate; he wanted to travel to Moscow as the Rebbe said as soon as possible but Shmuel was no where to be found. Then, on Shabbat evening Shmuel suddenly showed up in the Synagogue smiling as though he just won a million rubles.
When asked where he was he replied that had been by Rebbe and had even had memorized the 'mimor' (a deep Chassidic discourse on Kabalistic ideas) that he heard from the Rebbe when he was there.
Rav Leib looked at his friend and felt even more ashamed than ever.
Here stood a man that, although he had become a pauper overnight, was full of optimism and joy while he himself was still anxious and sad. He watched as Rav Shmuel repeated the mimor for the congregation and then invited everyone to his home for a gala meal after the morning prayers at which time he would repeat the mimor again.
After Shabbat, Rav Leib went to Shmuel's house to give him the loan, but before he could open his mouth Shmuel began to comfort him about the fire that ruined his fortunes. "Don't worry Rav Leib." Shmuel said optimistically, "The saying is 'after a fire is richness'. I'm sure G-d will repay your loss a hundred-fold."
Rav Leib couldn't contain himself. "Tell me, Shmuel, where were you these last two weeks except Lubavitch? Did you make all your money back? Is that why you are so happy?
"No" Shmuel replied. "I'll tell you what happened. After I lost my money I became very downcast and seriously considered just working for someone else and forgetting about the business world. Then I fell ill for a few weeks which made me feel even worse.
Near the end of my sickness, when I was just beginning to feel better, I had a visit from a Jew, a teacher from the city of Valiz, who said he had been in Lubavitch and the Rebbe told him to visit me.
'The Rebbe said I should tell you to stop thinking foolish and sad thoughts and that your mind should rule your heart and make it happy, not your heart making your mind sad.'
"So, as soon as I felt better I borrowed enough for travel to the Rebbe and asked for advice. He congratulated me that I decided to be positive and told me I should go to Riga, buy merchandise that is already loaded on rafts on the river and try to sell it elsewhere.
So I did it. I went to Riga, found choice goods, but the seller wanted three thousand rubles, wasn’t willing to take credit but was willing to wait a week. So I decided to return to Vitebsk to wait.
"That’s when a small miracle happened! As I was boarding the train to Vitebsk I met someone who was on his way to visit me! He told me that two big businessmen in the city of Smolinsk heard about me and wanted me to arbitrate in an argument they were having… for pay! So I changed trains to Smolinsk and, thank G-d after a few days of hard work, I succeeded in making peace.
"They paid me three hundred rubles for my troubles and I felt that the Rebbe's blessing was beginning to work. At least I had money for my family to live on. Now I'm waiting for the money to buy that merchandise in Riga."
Rav Leib felt that now was the time. He pulled the wad of cash from his pocket and said "Here! It's a loan from me. Three thousand rubles! Return it when you can! The Rebbe told me to give it to you."
But Shmuel refused flatly saying, "The Rebbe ordered you to offer the loan but he didn't order me to take it. That must be all the money you have, right? Well, I'm sure G-d will provide for me without you having to suffer. You take that money and invest it."
Finally Rav Leib had no recourse than to travel again to the Rebbe who took the money, put it in an envelope, addressed it to Rav Shmuel with a note; "I'm sending you three thousand rubles to be repaid in full after the successful business enterprise" and sent it back with Rav Leib.
Shmuel accepted the loan and headed for Riga while Rav Leib was now free to travel to Moscow albeit with nothing but the Rebbe's blessing in his pocket.
Unexpectedly the businessmen in Moscow gave Rav Leib unlimited credit and within a year he was twice as rich as he was before the fire,,, as the Rebbe said and Rav Shmuel succeeded fantastically in Riga. In no time had repaid his debts and was on his way to becoming wealthier than ever.
This answers our question. Why a loan is better than charity and what it has to do with the ‘Hebrew Servant’.
Charity is wonderful; it shows the kindness of the giver.
But it also accentuates the poverty of the receiver. A loan, on the other hand, transforms the receiver into a partner of the loaner.
And even more; the loaner rises to become a partner to G-d.
Because G-d is also a loaner.
True, G-d also is a giver. In fact, everything we have is G-d's charity. He doesn't have to create, enliven and sustain us; He does if for free. But that could leave us feeling small and worthless.
That is why G-d in His infinite wisdom and kindness gave us the Torah which explains how to 'pay Him back'; that responsibility makes us feel like His partners. And nothing makes a person more happy, valuable and elevated than being a partner to the Almighty!
And that is what happened in our story: When Rav Leib gave the loan he succeeded in raising both himself and his friend Rav Shmuel.
And that is the connection to the ‘Jewish Servant’.
Before the Jews left Egypt they were already called the ‘Sons of G-d’ (Ex. 4:22) but when they received the Torah they were raised to the level of ‘Servants’ (Lev. 25: 55) and were able to repay G-d for His kindness.
That is the job of Moshiach that we have been awaiting for thousands of years. He, and only he, will teach and remind us of how the world is not just a miraculous gift but will inspire all mankind (as Moses did to the Jews) to remember it’s also a loan and that we as Servants and partners to the Creator, can repay Him with joy.
But it all depends on us. One more good deed, word, or even thought can tip the scales and make it happen! The entire world will become a meaningful and blessed place with …
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