Let’s Make a Deal and Minhag vs. Din.
Avada you all know that if a person borrows money from his chaver or anyone else, there is a halocho that the borrower is obligated to repay the loan, ober the minhag, sadly for many, is not to, and many taka take this minhag seriously: they don’t repay their loans. Shoin! And in this week’s opener, Parshas Behar, which we’ll read together with Parshas Bechukoisei (so that we’ll catch up with our friends over in Israel), we’ll learn the origins of two of the greatest money loopholes since the selling of chometz, a subject we already covered a few weeks back. And since the Parshas are connected, we’ll bounce around a bit. Welcome to money lending practices 101, ober first let me begin with a mayseh shehoyo (a true story).
Something unusual happened this past Sunday to the Oisvorfer who attended the chasuna of the son of one of his good chaverim. Nu, following a mamish elegant shmorg for which many lambs were nebech sacrificed so that the guests wouldn’t chas v’sholom go hungry, it was time for the chuppah. Outdoors we went to a mamish picturesque setting where the Oisvorfer immediately scoped out an aisle seat. A minute later mamish a yinga fruy (young lady), sat down mamish one row ahead. Avada the Oisvorfer politely advised her that women would be sitting on the left side and men on the right. She turned and answered azoy: this chuppah was going to have mixed seating. Nu, this was mamish a shock for the Oisvorfer who is avada makpid (strict) on such seating arrangements himself, ober for the chasuna and not to shter the simcha, reluctantly went along with the program. Shoin! There we were, the menner and the veyber, those with sleeves, those without, those with kurtza kleider (short dresses) and some with more material, those with open backs and some with open fronts, rachmono litzlon: ala tzizamin (all together). Shoin! Next: the Rabbi asked that the guests silence their cell phones but never demanded quiet. And avada you all know how at a typical orthodox chuppah, there is mamish way too much chattering and talking, sometimes quite loud, it almost sounds like Shul. Ober at this chuppah, there was dead silence, one could hear a pin drop and one could also mamish see the heartbeats and more of those within distance, if you chap. It was sha-shtill throughout the entire ceremony which was quite lengthy and also included a few speeches. All this promoted a discussion with the eishes chayil about this new unusual but refreshing minhag. And we concluded azoy: mamish a neys min hashomayim took place. Never ever before did we attend a chuppah that was quiet from onset to the end and where at least one frum wisenheimer’s cell phone did not ring during the ceremony. And what was taka the secret you ask? Nu, it’s quite poshit: mixed seating!! Don’t you chap what took place here Raboyseyee? The machatunim had a brilliant plan and it worked to perfection. They had the men sitting mamish next to their wives and guess what? The men had nothing to say to them and avada the neshei chayil zicher had nothing to say to their husbands and shoin- there was no talking for kimat 45 minutes. Avada this got the Oisvorfer thinking that this same type of seating arrangement could avada be implemented in orthodox shuls where he speculates the same results could be achieved. Shoin: the end of Rabbis getting upset, losing their tempers, pissing off the oilom (the masses) and farkert. Ok, veyter.
Mistama you recall the great Let’s Make a Deal show with Monty Hall and his beautiful hostess Carol Merrill, and who wouldn’t remember such a chaticha. Grada Monty was a nice Jewish boy who actually attended services in Beverly Hills from time to time and taka it is said that one time he was given psicha and when he opened the Oroin (Ark), he asked the Gabbi: shall I take out sefer #1, #2 or #3. Nu, this week, in the second half of the double header- Parshas Bechukoisi- we learn that it was the RBSO who was the original creator of this concept In His version, the game was played as follows: if the Yiddin would only listen to the RBSO’s commandments and Chukim, life would be good, rain would fall timely and many other blessings including material prosperity, which is avada a good thing, would potentially fall their way, ober if not, and were they to stray, which nebech Yiddin have done in every generation since matan Toirah, well……as the Parsha tells us, many disastrous consequences are promised and delineated with great specificity: they are gory mamish and those of you who suffer from nightmares, occasional bedwetting and other such symptoms that disturb sleeping patterns, let this be your fair warning. Stay away from the third aliya (either the first or second longest in the gantze Toirah) and instead make a lechaim at the kiddish club or chap a schmuz with your neighbor on either side. Nu we’ll try to find something pleasant in the parsha ober first a few words about Parshas Behar which discusses laws of plowing, planting, seeding and harvesting (of the fields by the farmers you chazerim). It also discusses the laws of Yoivel (Jubilee) and a few other topics. Nowadays and for myriad reasons, these laws don’t all pertain to us, at least not min Hatoirah and let’s instead cover a topic that is avada relevant to everyone, and every day: let’s talk about money. Avada money isn’t everything though some say- it’s the only thing! Shoin.
Avada we all chap that legal loopholes are a mainstay of kimat every profession and seemingly our good and knowledgeable Rabbis of old, also found ways to weave these into the heylige Toirah, especially when it came to money matters, and why not? Says the heylige Toirah: “For six years, you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a Shabbis of Shabbises for the land” (25:3-4). Grada this name -Shabbis of Shabbises- also describes Yoim Kippur, the holiest day of our entire calendar. Yet in the nineteenth century, when the Yiddin made their way back to EY (Israel) and began farming, many of the greatest rabbinic authorities permitted–even encouraged–the “selling” of the land to goyim, effectively eliminating this fundamental mitzvah in Parshas Behar. What’s taka pshat? Seemingly, when Shmita became a shtikel nuisance, when it conflicted with the ability to maintain a Jewish presence in the land, when letting the land lie fallow would have had deleterious effects, our Rabonim sprang into action. What to do? Could they ignore Toirah law? Chas v’sholom and instead they used their ingenuity to design the ‘heter mechirah’, (a legal fiction of a sale) to neutralize the effects of the Shmita year. Shoin, now the goy had our chometz and our land. Who said Goyim were only for shabbis lights and air conditioning?
And noch a broch (another disaster): Shmita also nullifies any outstanding personal debt. What? Did you just read that one can borrow money from his chaver (friend), wait seven years (less if one borrowed funds closer to Shmita) and then tell the lender that his debt is cancelled- expired and otherwise null and void due to Shmita? Indeed you did. This is called shmitas Kisofim (a debt wipe-out if you will). Moreover, you, the lender violate a loi sah-say (negative prohibition) if you demand or even politely ask for your money back after Shmita. Nice, but is this pshat? And given these halochos (rules), how did so many Yiddin end up in the money lending gisheft (business)? Or, were they only borrowers looking forward to the Shmita no-pay-back exemption?
The bottom line is that this shmita is no joke as it mamish wipes out loans that one gave in good faith hoping to be repaid. And why shouldn’t it? Who says that just because you were nice enough to advance a chaver in need badly needed funds, that you’re entitled to get repaid? Don’t you know that no good deed goes unpunished? Want more bad news? Bazman Hazeh (in our times), even when the laws of Yoivel are not applicable, (according to most Halachic authorities), this mitzvah of Shmitas Kesofim remains in effect (Rabbinic only). And taka why? Says the Gemora that this was instituted so that these laws would not be forgotten from Israel. Moreover, this Mitzvah applies both in Israel and here in chutz lo’oretz (Diaspora), since it is an obligation dependent on the person (Gavrah) and not on the land (Adamah). Still it doesn’t epes feel right..
Nu, what to do about this halacha? How do we operate? Would people lend money even for interest (we’ll get to that soon) in year six (or earlier) if they understood that their loans are subject to being wiped out in year seven? And which clever Yid wouldn’t stall repaying his obligations so that they could get wiped out in year seven? Brilliant mamish, ober not to worry because Toirah/shmoira and the very clever Rabbis understood that business is business and that the halachos of shmita and loan cancellation would mamish shut down the economy. Who would support their local Rabbis if they weren’t getting their loans repaid and couldn’t collect interest? Nu, when the Rabbis parnosa (livelihood) was potentially affected, they came up with one of the more clever loopholes ever created and named it the Pruzbil. Veyter. Soon I’ll tell you what is and how you can make one. Let’s go veyter.
“When your brother becomes impoverished and loses the ability to support himself…do not take advance interest or accrued interest” (25:35, 36). Yet do we not regularly borrow monies from banks and others and willingly pay interest? Do we not consider it a great mitzvah to buy Israel Bonds, which pay more-than-competitive interest rates? And when was the last time you lent out money without charging epes a vig, a few points + interest? When? Never! Shoin! As an aside, when was the last time someone paid you back timely? And in order for the money business to exist, a gisheft that supported many Yiddin over the centuries, and in order not to violate this halacho from the Toirah mamish, our good and knowledgeable Rabbis who chapped that money was a key ingredient in daily life, created another loophole and called this one the ‘heter iska’ which is another cleverly created document that converts a loan into a business partnership. And as I said this is very similar to another rabbinic loophole, that of mechiras chometz, the “fictitious” sale of chometz to the goy and which spares us the necessity to actually rid our homes of chometz , thereby somehow avoiding the explicit demands of the heylige Toirah. Is the Oisvorfer suggesting that the system is corrupt mamish? Chas v’sholom!
Farkert: The Toirah expects us Yiddin to help one another, even with no expectation of reward. Ober the Rabbis also chapped that without the willingness to pay interest, few Yiddin would be properly motivated to partake in this great mitzvah. How would they buy homes or raise the necessary capital to start a business? In other words: people need motivation and stimulation, if you chap, even to do a mitzvah and interest makes the proposition a shtikel more interesting and allows for the economy to prosper. Therefore using their Gemora kepelach (Gemora heads), they developed the ‘heter iska’, a document that makes the lender a shtikel partner, allowing him to get his ‘interest’ in the form of profits vs. interest and shoin- all is kosher, glatt. And of course every Jew likes to be called a partner and shoin, it was all settled. The people were motivated and stimulated, the monies were flowing and life was good. Veyter. But isn’t interest in any form strictly verboten min hatoirah?
Says the heylige Gemora (Gittin): about a century before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamikdash (Temple) a man named Hillel the Zoken (the elderly) came up with mamish a givaldige loophole, one of many that allow us Yiddin to survive on a daily basis. Hillel saw that people were avoiding lending and because they didn’t want them to commit the avayro of not lending to those who needed help (a transgression mamish) as the Shmita year approached and he solved the problem. After all, the heylige Toirah does state “Vochai Bohem” (and you shall live by them) and avada we translate that to mean that if a law makes life so unbearable, we may find a way around it. Givaldig! Maybe one day they’ll also solve the two and three day Yom Tov debacle.
How does it work? Like a loophole should and the rather simple Pruzbil does the trick. The Pruzbil is a mechanism by which debts are transferred from the individual to a Beis Din (religious court). By making a pruzbil, one makes his private debts public – and therefore redeemable. Shoin. Unlike other complicated contracts and even the heter iska, the pruzbil language is mamish one sentence long. “I give over to you [the Beis Din] all debts which I have, so that I may collect them any time I wish.” Ut a zoy (that’s how it’s done). Exactly how the funds are collected by the Beis Din and how they are repatriated to the original lender, nu, this I don’t know but I imagine that after the proper vig is given to Beis Din, and other referring Rabbis properly taken care of, if you chap, the rest makes its way back somehow.
And as to why Hillel was allowed to enact this loophole, we are taught that there was a pressing need, mistama a concept similar to hefsed meruba (hefty loss) which will soon allow Shuls and other schnorrers to swipe credit cards even on Shabbis following appeals. Some say that Hillel’s actions were part of “Tikkun Oilom” (fixing or improving the world) which is avada a central tenet of our beautiful religion. Hillel is credited with bringing about Tikkun Oilom – a contribution to a just and well-functioning society. Hillel was a good man!
And as we conclude sefer Vayikra with the laining of Parshas Bechukoisei, let me remind you that though it’s on the short side (8th shortest), it packs one hec of a punch. In Shlishi (3rd aliya) we find one of the most dramatic and harshest sections of the entire Toirah, a section known as the “toichocho”. What is it and why is it so frightening? Simply stated, because at the end of the day, you’re still an oisvorf, the RBSO gave you fair warning about your wayward ways. A great majority of the pisukim are here to warn the BNY and by extension, mistama us and specifically you to what’s ahead if we continue to chap where we shouldn’t and other avayrois .
Ober as always, there is always a shtikel good news on the horizon. The good and the bad are seemingly in our own hands and therein taka lies the problem at times nebech, if you chap. Seemingly we have free will to be an Oisvorf and of course if we don’t use our free will correctly, there is also this concept of reward and punishment. And I do have some more givaldige news for you. A very famous Rashi on the very first possik tells us that the RBSO wants more from us than just following the laws of the heylige Toirah. And what might that be? Says Rashi: that we must be “Ameilim ba’Toirah “, we must toil in Toirah. Avada that’s great news for the thousands of you that spend time each week opening the Toirah email, forwarding it to others or going to the website to print and read it. Seemingly, you’re out of the woods and can skip the rest of the parsha and its horrible rebuke; it’s zicher not meant for us.
Chazak- Chazak – Vinischazeik- and a gitten shabbis-