One of the mitzvos we find in this weeks parsha is the lo saseh of ribis. The pasuk says (25; 36) ‘You shall not take from him interest or increase, and you shall fear your God, and let your brother live with you.’
When reading the pasuk one must ponder the peculiarity of the wording ‘and let your brother live with you.’ What does your brother living with you have to do with ribis that it is placed in middle of the pasukim discussing ribis?
Additionally, just as one is permitted to rent out his home, why can’t the same concept be applied to lending money? We know that Chazal teach us that someone who lived his life and lent money with ribis does not resurrect when Moshiach arrives; his body doesn’t get up- that’s how strict it is. Why?
Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, zt”l, offers a fascinating answer
We find by shiluach hakan that the Torah commands us not to take the mother while she is sitting on her eggs. The reason being because one is to have pity on the young chicks. But why is one is allowed to take this same bird for sake of slaughtering it?
The answer is when you try to take a bird and it sees you coming it will fly away. But if you have a bird sitting on her eggs, nourishing and warming them, at that moment she is vulnerable. When you try to take her chicks away her immediate reaction is not to run away! She is forced to stay on top of her eggs as long as possible and you will be able to grab them much easier! Being that she has something pulling her to stay, you are exploiting her weakness. The Torah is telling us don’t take the mother because that is taking advantage of the situation and using it for your benefit.
This same concept is true by ribis. When a person is desperate and out of money, he is approaching you because he needs your help. If you’re going to charge him ribis that is taking advantage of him. An individual who takes advantage of others while they’re in a weaker moment, isn’t worthy of standing up at techias hameisim.
This is different than renting a house. In such a situation a person is not in a desperate situation, there is a vast market for renting apartments. But when a person comes to ask you for the loan, in his mind you are the only one who can help him out.
It is for this reason that it places the loshon of ‘and let your brother live with you.’ He’s your brother. Don’t take advantage of him.
There’s a well known story with Reb Akiva Eiger that stresses this point.
When R’ Akiva was Rov in Poland there was an individual who always lent with ribis; he didn’t care about the prohibition. Many people scolded him for it but it did not affect him in the slightest. At the end of his life, as he was lying on his death bed, his family summoned in the chevra kadisha to discuss his burial plot. After some back and forth, the chevra kadisha charged the family an exorbitant amount for the plot. His family was very upset and complained. Their case was brought in front of R’ Akiva, they stated that for anyone else it would be much cheaper. After hearing their plea he concluded that the chevra kadisha was right. Being that chazal said that anyone who lent with ribis won’t get up by techias hameisim, they weren’t simply renting a plot-they were buying it!
Many a time, people pick up very quickly the ones that are susceptible to become their clients. They’re in a bind; they’re about to get fined; they need it done right now. How we handle them in that specific situation will determine if you consider them your ‘brothers’ or not. No one wants to be in such a matzav; let us help those in it-get out of it with dignity. By doing so it will ensure us that our bodies will once again arise and serve Hashem, with the coming of Moshiach which should be b’karov.