Dvar Torah Behar — Matters of Interest The Kli Yakars` novel pshat on Ribis

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    Behar 3 — Matters of Interest
    אל תקח מאתו נשך ותרבית ויראת מאלקיך וחי אחיך עמך:
    את כספך לא תתן לו בנשך ובמרבית לא תתן אכלך:
    אני ה’ אלקיכם אשר הוצאתי אתכם מארץ מצרים לתת לכם את ארץ כנען להיות לכם לאלקים
    You shall not take from him interest and increase; and you shall have fear of your G-d, and let your brother live with you. Do not give him your money for interest, and do not give your food for increase. I am Hashem, your G-d, Who took you out of the land of Egypt, to give you the land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you (Vayikra 25:36-38).

    What connection is there between not lending money with interest and our coming out of Egypt, our being granted Eretz Canaan, and having Hashem as our G-d?

    The Sifra (verse 38) explains that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim so that we would accept the mitzvah of ribbis. Anyone who keeps this mitzvah demonstrates that he believes that Hashem took us out of Mitzrayim; anyone who throws off the yoke of ribbis also throws off the yoke of the Exodus. Moreover, anyone who accepts upon himself the prohibition against lending money with interest accepts upon himself the yoke of Heaven, and one who throws off the restriction throws off the yoke of Heaven. (See also Yerushalmi Bava Metzia 5:8.) How does charging interest, or refraining from doing so, determine the nature of our relationship with Hashem? Doesn’t this apply to all sins?

    One of the two terms used for lending money or commodities with interest is neshech, which means bite. Rashi (Shemos 22:24) writes that just as when a person is bitten by a snake, he may not feel the wound at first, but the poison slowly spreads until he is done for, so it is with interest. At first, the person does not feel the pinch, but before long the interest compounds and the person finds himself overwhelmed with debt. The Baal HaTurim (Vayikra 25:36) takes note that the gematria of נשך (370) is the same as זה נחש (370) — This is a snake. As the Baal HaTurim explains, in the future, in the time of techiyas hameisim, the snake will not go back to its original state (based on Yeshayahu 65:25, Bereishis Rabbah 20:5), and the usurer will also not come back to life (Shemos Rabbah 31:6).

    But what if the terms are favorable for the borrower and never accrue beyond his means? Is ribbis in that case still called neshech?

    The Kli Yakar (verse 36) explains that ribbis enables the person to abandon his trust in Hashem. Every other means of financial gain carries with it an element of risk — depending on the whims of the customer, the prevailing economic climate, and many other factors — with no success guaranteed. A right-minded person will therefore have his heart and eyes facing Upward, to the Maker and Breaker of all deals — Hashem — and will constantly enhance his bitachon.

    Lending money with interest is an exception to this rule. By lending the money on his terms, the lender cannot lose. Properly arranged, with collateralization and security of the loan in place, there is no risk. His profit margin is known upfront; the vagaries of the business world have no impact on how much money he makes. The lender doesn`t need Hashem to make money; he has arranged it all, down to the last detail, by himself. Having nothing to fear, he never feels dependent on Hashem and learns to live a life devoid of bitachon and trust. This, says the Kli Yakar, is why lending with ribbis is forbidden, as it robs a person of his bitachon in Hashem.

    Borrowing with interest is also forbidden because the borrower becomes an accessory to the crime — he is guilty of causing the lender to lose trust in Hashem. And the only reason we can lend gentiles money with ribbis, continues the Kli Yakar, is that there is always an element of risk when dealing with a non-Jew. Not being a co-religionist, he is always suspect of being a tough person or thief who cannot be trusted, even with normal safeguards in place. The lender’s eyes are therefore always directed toward Hashem, to ensure that he does not lose his money. (Perhaps this also explains why a heter iska — a halachically approved manner of restructuring a loan, whereby it becomes an investment in place of a loan — would be permissible. With a heter iska, the lender assumes equal risk and gain in the borrower’s venture. According to the Kli Yakar, the problem of lending with ribbis is the zero-risk factor, which leads to a lack of bitachon. Since there is risk involved in a heter iska, the problem is solved.)

    With this, we can understand why the Torah linked ribbis with the Exodus from Egypt, and why the person who lends with interest is regarded as one who has thrown off the yoke of the Exodus and also the yoke of Heaven. The Malbim (25:38) explains that lending without ribbis, without any financial gain, demonstrates trust that Hashem will repay his kindness and act with him in a miraculous way, just as He did when He took us out of Egypt. However, a person who does not rely on Hashem, and instead insists on doing it his way by lending money with interest, fails to truly believe what Hashem did for us then, in Mitzrayim, and what He can do for us now. Such a person throws off the yoke of Heaven and the Exodus. (See Alshich 25:38.)

    We can take this one step further, to explain why acceptance of the prohibition of ribbis is also connected to the fact that we have been given Eretz Yisrael, and to the fact that we have Hashem as our G-d. Egypt has a guaranteed source of irrigation in the form of the Nile, which inundates the land every year. Its residents do not depend on rain — or Hashem, the One Who sends it — and thus live a stress-free life. Eretz Yisrael, however, relies on rain for the crops to grow. (See Rashi Devarim 1:27.) As the Ksav Sofer (Behar) points out, the pesukim in Krias Shema (Devarim 11:13-17) make clear that the rains are wholly dependent on our relationship with Him. This is as it says in the pasuk (ibid. verse 12), “Hashem’s eyes are always upon it” (Eretz Yisrael), and the Seforno elaborates: “Hashem carefully scrutinizes the deeds of Eretz Yisrael’s inhabitants to determine if they are deserving of rain or not.”
    Even more, the pesukim (ibid. 10-11) preceding this verse say: “For the land to which you come, to possess it — it is not like the land of Egypt that you left, where you would plant your seed and water it on foot like a vegetable garden. But the land to which you cross over to possess it is a land of mountains and valleys; from the rain of heaven it drinks water.” The Ramban explains that these pesukim serve as an introduction to the second paragraph of the daily Shema, which warns of the consequences of disobeying the Torah: that Hashem will withhold life-sustaining rain (ibid. verse 17). It is in this respect that Eretz Yisrael and Egypt differ. While Mitzrayim enjoys the reliable Nile River, which serves as a constant water source to irrigate the fields, Eretz Yisrael is wholly dependent on rainfall.

    Hashem specifically removed us from Egypt, a land where one need not develop his bitachon and closeness to Hashem, to a land that fosters and demands dependence upon Him. Awareness of this fact itself should generate the trust in Hashem to lend money on His terms, without interest. The Ksav Sofer explains that the person who lends with interest, hoping to bypass that integral part of the equation, has lost sight of why He took us out of specifically Egypt, a fertile land, and brought us to a land where our ability to nourish ourselves is dependent on our relationship with Him.

    One of the original pesukim quoted states, “…to give you the land of Canaan, to be a G-d to you.” Based on these words, Rashi teaches, “For I am a G-d to anyone who lives in the land of Israel, but anyone who leaves it is like one who worships idols” (25:38). Perhaps this is telling us that only by living in Eretz Yisrael, where one must work on his bitachon and where Hashem is constantly scrutinizing his actions to make sure he is worthy, does an individual maintain a true and lasting connection to Hashem. A person who recognizes on which side his bread is buttered and from whence come the clouds and rain, is a person who will truly have Hashem as his G-d. The person who lends with ribbis, or lives outside the environment that fosters such trust, cannot be assured of having Hashem as his G-d.

    Perhaps this can also give us a new insight into why the one who lends with interest is like a snake and is not worthy of techiyas hameisim. The curse to the snake was: “Ve’afar tochal kol yemei chayecha — And dust shall you eat all the days of your life” (Bereishis 3:14). The commentators point out that the food of the snake is like dust. Just as there is dust everywhere, the snake finds food everywhere. But how is this a curse? Total self-sufficiency seems like the ultimate blessing.

    The Kotzker Rebbe tells us that Hashem said to the snake, “You will not need to ask Me for food, for I do not want to see or hear from you ever again.” Hashem totally divorced Himself from the creature, leaving it a pariah — unloved and uncared for, unable to form a relationship with Him.

    The person who lends with interest, who does not want to incur the normal risk associated with making a living, is like the snake. He may not want risk in life, but it comes with a steep price. If he does not want to work on his relationship with Hashem now, he will not have one in the future. As the Baal HaTurim taught, such a person will not merit techiyas hameisim or any future life, basking in His Presence.

    This can explain another Gemara (Bava Metzia 75b), “Those who lend with interest lose more than they gain.” While this can be understood in the sense that the usurer eventually loses his money and does not recover it (Rashi), perhaps the most monumental loss is because it inhibits one’s bitachon in Hashem.
    The Chovos HaLevavos (introduction to Shaar HaBitachon) lists many benefits of trusting in Hashem, specifically joy, serenity, and acceptance, even in times of challenge and difficulty.
    Conversely, the person who lends with interest because he has no faith in Hashem will be overcome by anxiety when things don`t go his way. Whatever financial gains he has achieved from lending money with a few points of interest are more than offset by his inability to cope with life when things get rough. A baal bitachon, who may not be wealthy in a financial sense, has nonetheless acquired a fortune — a treasure house full of trust in Hashem, which will help him through the rainy and cloudy days he will inevitably face. This serenity and peace of mind, which are worth all the money in the world, are unavailable to the usurer.

    “Those who lend with interest lose more than they gain.”

    Reb Eliezer

    The Ben Ish Chai applies the pasuk לא יחצו ימיהם we don’t half the days. Yitzchok Avinu argued that we should not be responsible for half of our life as we are sleeping. When someone lends money with ribis,money also accumulates when he is sleeping. ואני אבטח בך but I have trust in you and I don’t have to lend money with ribis and therefore my days will be divided in half.

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