MATTERS OF INTEREST
In this week's portion we are taught the laws regarding lending money: "If (im) you shall lend money to any of My people. . .do not act towards him as a creditor; do not lay interest upon him" (Exodus 22:24).
In this week's portion we are taught the laws regarding lending money: "If (im) you shall lend money to any of My people. . .do not act towards him as a creditor; do not lay interest upon him" (Exodus 22:24). Rashi, the great medieval commentator, states that although the verse uses the Hebrew word "im - if" which would usually imply a voluntary act - and therefore no obligation to lend money to a poor person in the first place - it is in fact one of three places in the Torah where that word instead means "when", suggesting an actual command to lend money. The question still remains, however, that if Hashem intended to teach the obligation of lending money to a poor person, why does the Torah use the terminology of choice?
Rabbi David Feinstein, one of contemporary Jewry's foremost halachic decisors, answers that by saying "if" when it really means "when", the Torah is teaching us the approach which we should always take upon lending money. Even if we are lending because the Torah requires us to be merciful to the poor and destitute, we should act as if our motives are purely altruistic, ingraining the attributes of chesed (kindness) and rachamim (mercy) within ourselves. The possibility of taking interest should never even enter our minds. The desire to perform this mitzvah should be so much a part of us that we should do it in exactly the same way as we would do any other matter of personal choice.
Through this nuance in language, the Torah is teaching us an invaluable lesson in charity. We should lend money with the same alacrity and enthusiasm when we are commanded to give, as we would in a situation when it is our personal choice. This insight is based in the roots of the psyche of man. A person would rather do an act of kindness on his own accord, based upon his own decision and conclusion, rather than be told by an outside force to do it.
This is especially true when it comes to doing good deeds. A person naturally wants to take the credit, and we are much happier to know that we have helped somebody out of the goodness of our heart, instead of doing it because of our obligation as a Jew. It is with this understanding of man that the Torah offers this insightful lesson. We should take this message with regard to charity and apply it to all other mitzvot. Even though we are commanded to do them, the mitzvot should not be viewed as a yoke that we merely have to bear. They should be something in our nature which we really want to do.
Ezra Cohen, a native Atlantan and an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is a graduate student at Yeshiva University in New York.
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