Is it efsher meyglich (at all possible) that one can borrow funds from a chaver, mishpocho member or anyone else and halachically not be obligated to repay the loan? Avada we all know that the minhag ho’oilom is not to repay such loans ober is it kosher? Seemingly there is epes a mehalich (way) and as we explore Parshas Behar, a short but very interesting Parsha, we’ll circle around to this topic. Nu, brace yourselves: yet another double header this coming shabbis and welcome as we say hello to Parshas Behar and Bechukoisei and good bye to Sefer Vayikro and Toiras Koihanim. Next week we’ll begin Sefer Bamidbar (the book of Numbers) and follow the Yiddin’s travails as they sojourned through the Midbar for 40 years. Ober before we discuss the practical applications of Shmita, Yoivel, Jewish slavery, loans to Yiddin, interest on those loans, helping your buddy out in his time of need and a few other interesting factoids all found in Parshas Behar, let’s quickly meet Shmita and Yoivel. Who are they, you ask? Nu it’s taka a shanda and a bizoyoin (shameful and disgraceful) to even hear the question and only an oisvorf would taka dare ask. Shmita and Yoivel are concepts – mitzvois, heylige ones that the RBSO himself gave over (apparently) at Har Seenai. So why repeat them here? We can efsher kler (think) that the Yiddin were so mesmerized with the thunder sound and light show, with the RBSO’s presence on the mountain, and especially when they heard how their lifestyles would need to quickly change following the declaration of the 5 loi sah-says, that they mamish weren’t paying attention when the RBSO instructed them about the laws of shmita and yoivel. And as a service to the (less than) choshovo readers, who were too busy with other narishkeyt while the Rebbe was, when not busy beating the living daylights out of you, explaining Shmita and Yoivel, let’s do a quick review.
Says the heylige Toirah: the RBSO spoke to Moishe b’Har Sinai (at Mount Sinai) saying… the land shall rest as a Sabbatical to Hashem. “When you come to the land that I am giving you, the land must be given a rest period, a Shabbis to G-d.” What’s taka pshat that the land gets tired? Nu, are we farmers, do we plow? Never mind! Ober if the RBSO says it’s so, who are we to argue? Veyter.
For six years you may plant your fields, prune your vineyards, and harvest your crops, but the seventh year is a Shabbis of Shabossim for the land. It is G-d’s Shabbis during which you may not plant your fields, nor prune your vineyards. The sabbatical year of Shmita is called a “Shabbis,” and indeed, just as Shabbis is a day of rest after six weekdays, Shmita is a year of rest after six years of work. Shmita is seemingly a mitzvah unique to the land of Israel. In other words, the land does not get tired outside of Israel. Shoin!
Now that you’re all Shmita experts, let’s move on to another amazing concept: Yoivel! The Yoivel mitzvah follows immediately after Shmita and is explained as follows. Yoivel means Jubilee and the yoivel year is known as the jubilee year. Says the heylige Toirah: “You shall count seven sabbatical years, that is, seven times seven. The period of the seven sabbatical cycles the land an emancipation [of slaves] for the entire populace. This is your jubilee year, when each man shall return to his hereditary property and to his family”. Got that? No? noch a mol.
During Yoivel, the land may not be worked; crops are not harvested; and produce is shared by all. Moreover, the heylige Toirah (elsewhere) describes two additional aspects of Yoivel. Ershtens (firstly), the land reverts back to its original owner. And who might that be? What if he’s no longer alive? Nu, in that event, the land reverts back to its ancestral owners. And who are they? All the land in Israel is redistributed to the descendants of those who initially conquered and possessed it. Mistama we’ll have to dig them up! Mistama also, for most of you, this particular halacho is not a major concern, nor to most real estate investors, but should it be ignored? Also, on Yoivel, the slaves go free.
As you can imagine, volumes are written about these quite amazing pisukim in the Toirah and avada there’s plenty of discourse as to what they mean. Says the heylige Gemora (Ayrachin 32b) azoy: Yoivel is only in effect when the (entire) BNY populace is there. In other words, Yoivel is only declared if all the Yiddin are living in the land of Israel. If they’re not, no Yoivel. Adds the RambaM and a majority of other commentators: this is true for the previously stated mitzvah of Shmita as well. Gishmak: no shmita and no yoivel today. (Laws of Shmita and Yoivel 10:8-9). Ober (but) mistama for business purposes, bazman hazeh (in today’s times) we understand this to mean that only a majority of the world’s Yiddin need to live there. And even though less than 50% of the Yiddin live there and even though min Hatoirah (biblically), there is no mitzvah of Shmita or Yoivel for that matter, nonetheless, and as suggested earlier, for reasons that are unknown to us but of course known to the Rabbis that declared it to be otherwise, they do enforce Shmita in Israel today. What does enforcement entail? Nu, chap nisht; soon we’ll learn.
Ok- now that you learned what Shmita and Yoivel are, mistama you’re trachting (thinking): what do these concepts have to do with you and me? Are we farmers or slave masters? Are any of our chaverim? Are you planning to buy a farm or a slave anytime soon? Isn’t it a fact that the only farming you taka know and understand is plowing fertilizing and seeding, if you chap. And aren’t we ourselves slaves, if you chap, to our farming habits?
Nu, mistama you’re anxious to quickly move right into Bechukoisei and get scared straight as the RBSO lays out the various punishments awaiting us for being such active farmers ober Raboyseyee be forewarned: you’re not at all going to be happy when you hear what Bechukoisei has in store for us, and the heylige Oisvorfer strongly suggests we stick to Shmita and Yoivel because in reality this parsha gave birth to two of the bigger legal loopholes, kimat as big as michiras chometz to the unsuspecting goy, we taka enjoy in the entire Jewish religion. Would we still be orthodox without loopholes? Nu, geloibt der Abishter (thank the RBSO) we have loopholes and they’re sanctioned, mamish legal? Yes! And now that you’re paying attention – let’s taka introduce them- ober- first….let’s listen to this additional halacho of Shmita.
Shmita nullifies any outstanding debts. Come again! Yes, at the end of a Shmita year, all loans or debts between Jewish people (men or women) that are due before Rosh Hashono, are cancelled. What? Did you just read that one can borrow money from your best friend, wait seven years (less if you borrowed funds closer to Shmita) and then tell him you’re not paying him because his loan expired due to Shmita? Indeed you did. This is called shimitas kisaofim (a debt wipe-out, if you will). Moreover, there is also a loi-sah-say (negative prohibition) that is violated if someone requests payment after Shmita for loans initiated before the Shmita year and this includes debts resulting from monetary loans as well as those incurred from borrowing items that have been consumed. In other words: not just aren’t you getting paid but you get an avayra just for asking for your money. Nu, you got to love it. Nice guys do taka finish last or in the case where their loans are wiped out, are taka finished!
The bottom line is that this shmita is no joke as it mamish wipes out loans that you 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 (friend) much needed funds you’re entitled to get repaid? Don’t you know that no good deed goes unpunished? And this isn’t just a minhag (custom) but a din. Want more bad news? Bazman Hazeh (in our times), even when the laws of Yoivel are not applicable (according to most Halachic authorities), the Mitzvah of Shemitas Kesafim (Rabbinic only) remains in effect. And taka why? Says the Gemora: this was instituted so that these laws would not be forgotten from Israel. Gishmak! Moreover, this Mitzvah applies in Israel and in chutz Lo’oretz (here), since it is an obligation dependent on the person (Gavrah) and not on the land (Adamah). Yet another loophole, ver veyst?
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? Avada nisht! Ober not to worry because Toirah/shmoira: the Rabbis understood that business is business and that the halacho of shmita and loan cancellation would mamish shut down the money lending business and efsher the gantze (entire) economy. Who would support their local Rabbis if they weren’t getting their loans repaid and couldn’t collect interest? Nu, when the Rabbi’s parnosa (livelihood) is potentially affected, they came up with one of the more clever loopholes ever created and named it the Pruzbil. And Chasdei Hashem (through the kindness of the RBSO), halocho makes use of “evasions” of the law in various different realms.
And who says that one has to lend money to those in need? Nu…the heylige Toirah says so in discussing Shmita (Sefer Devorim 15:2; 9-10) and let’s learn the pisukim. And this is the law of the Shemitah; to release the hand of every creditor from what he lent his friend; he shall not exact from his friend or his brother, because the time of the release for the L‑rd has arrived … Beware, lest there be in your heart an unfaithful thought, saying, “The seventh year, the year of release is approaching,” and you will begrudge your needy brother and not give him… You shall surely give him, and your heart shall not be grieved when you give to him; for because of this the L‑rd, your G‑d, will bless you in all your work and in all your endeavors.
Nu, as you can see, the RBSO was worried about us having unfaithful thoughts, if you chap, even about money issues. Says the heylige Gemorah in Gittin: about a century before the destruction of the Second Beis Hamkidash (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. After all, the heylige Toirah does state Vo’chai Bo’hem (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. Anyway, Hillel saw that people were avoiding lending, and because he didn’t want them to commit the avayro of not lending to those who needed help (a sin mamish described above), as the Shmita year approached, he came up with this brilliant chap (novel idea).
How does it work? Like a loophole should! The Toirah tells us that only private debts are cancelled by Shmita: “He shall not exact from his friend or his brother.” Read those words again. If, however, one owes the court (i.e., the community) money, Shmita does not affect the loan. Based on the wording of the Toirah, Hillel instituted the “pruzbil“: a mechanism by which debts are magically transferred from the individual to a Beis Din (religious court). By making a pruzbil, one makes his private debts public – and therefore redeemable. Want to go public? A simple Pruzbil does the trick. Exactly how the funds are collected by the Beis Din and how they are repatriated to the original lender, nu, that part remains somewhat shrouded in mystery ober es lust zich farshteyn (it is understood) that after the proper vig is given to Beis Din, the rest makes its way back somehow. Actually, as the Oisvorfer understands the mechanics- once you declare that it belongs to the beis din(with the pruzbil), you can actually collect it yourself. 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 (big losses) under which, one day soon, Shuls, on shabbis and other times, will be able to swipe and process pledges at an appeal. This would zicher increase collections.
Avada you’re totally bewildered at Hillel’s actions, for who empowered him to go against what the heylige Toirah demands? And as you can only imagine, the Gemorah has lots to say on this inyan. And not just the Gemorah, for generations since, they’re still discussing Hillel’s bold move and its mechanics. In fact Toisfis (a commentator on the Gemorah) states that there was mamish no concept of Shmita or Yoivel during the 2nd Beis Hamikdash because a majority of the Yiddin were living outside of Israel, a concept we covered earlier. Hence Hillel did nothing wrong. Others say Hillel was not the creator of this loophole altogether and that he was merely given credit because he publicized an already existing loophole in the Toirah which allowed private debt to be converted into court debt. In other words: Hillel, mistama the first Jew in that position, was acting like the Federal Reserve during a crisis in order to allow the banking system to work for the Yiddin. Shoin, who should it work for- the goyim? Of course you’re now wondering what will happen if and when the Moshiach arrives. Will we need loopholes if they bring back Shmita and Yoivel? Is Hillel coming back? Ver veyst?
And listen to this vichtiger nikuda (important point). There are various types of debts which do not require a pruzbil and can be collected after shmita even without the paperwork. Lemoshol (by way of example), this includes debts which arise as a penalty or fine — such as the money a man must pay his victim for rape or seduction. You see from this that the sages knew that even back then the menner (men) were shlecht (bad boys) and had to make provisions for their victims to be able to collect. Also, a woman’s kesubah (marriage contract) may be enforced. There are a few others ober once you heard rape and seduction, does anything else matter? Zicher nisht!! Go look them up. Ginig (enough) on the Pruzbil, let’s bikitzur (in short) cover the next beautiful loophole in this week’s parsha: the famous Heter Iska. Yes, you heard that correctly: the Heter Iska.
We learn this week that the RBSO wants us, in fact He exhorts us, to assist other Yiddin financially, and prohibits us from charging interest on these loans. Says the Chofetz Chaim that every Yid should grant another Jew an interest-free loan, and recommends that each person apportion some tzedakah money for granting such loans. It is perfectly permissible, however, for a person to invest money in a Jewish business, and to share proportionally in whatever profits or losses there may be.
Says the heylige Toirah azoy: (25:35): “If your brother near you becomes poor and is unable to support himself-you shall strengthen him.” Seemingly what is meant by ‘strengthening him’ is, according to Rashi and many others, an obligation on those who can, to be sensitive to other people and pay attention to their problems and needs. Moreover, we may not wait for our friend to fall down and hit bottom; at that point it’s efsher too little and too late. Instead, the RBSO instructs us to offer assistance to our chaver (buddy) as soon as we see that he’s in trouble. It’s at this point, when it is still relatively easy to help a chaver, that we must act to help him regain his financial equilibrium. This assistance can be in the form of a loan, gift, advice or, ideally, a job. The point is to not to stand on the sidelines: offer assistance!
Efsher you’re klerring if the Yiddin, upon hearing these instructions, weren’t themselves wondering how they might best be able to fulfill this mitzvah in the midbar while under the direct daily and nightly supervision of the RBSO and also eating a steady diet of Mun; did some have more than others, ver veyst? Ober said The Sokatchover Rebbe azoy: this mitzvah is not limited to financial needs. It also applies to any need a person has that requires strengthening and encouragement from others. In the desert people had different levels of faith and trust in the RBSO. There were those people whose faith was very strong, others still wavering. This mitzvah mandated that those people who possessed strong faith had to, through their words, strengthen and encourage those people whose faith was weak. They needed to inspire their friends with words to get them through the difficult times.
Ober to accommodate the over 99% of Yiddin that can’t/don’t give such loans and help where really needed, nu-it’s time to introduce for a second time – the heter iska. Nu, zog shoin (tell me already) what is it? Today all that is necessary to circumvent the law of not charging interest to another Yid, is to sign a heter iska , some kind of document ‘invented’ by our Rabbis that converts a loan into a business partnership. This is avada very similar to another “rabbinic loophole”, that of mechiras chometz, one we mentioned above.
Seemingly, the idea of the heter iska arose way back in the seventeenth century, and expanded to enormous proportions over the last hundred years, despite its inherent halachic difficulties, ober as we stated above: business is business and seemingly, there was little interest (pun intended) in conducting business without real interest. It works like this.
In a heter iska, the “lender” and the “borrower” turn into “investor” (capitalist) and “businessman.” Thus, it is noted that all the documents mentioning the terms “borrower” and “lender” actually mean “investor” and “businessman.” Shoin: a new title and you’re good to conduct business. The investor gives money to the business, and the businessman is supposed to invest the money in a business that yields profits. The profit and loss derived from the money is divided equally between the investor and the businessman, except for the small salary that the businessman takes for his work. The important point in the agreement is that the investor cannot know exactly how much the businessman profits from the business, and so the parties agree among themselves that the businessman is required to prove the truth of the figures presented by him. If the businessman is unable to prove to the investor how much money he earned, he must pay him demei-hitpashrut, at the rate of interest. Practically speaking, the businessman (i.e., the borrower) is unable to prove how much his business profited or lost, and therefore he must pay the investor (the lender) the agreed upon demei-hitpashrut. In other words: a gevaldige loophole being used bazman hazeh (in our times) on a daily basis. Banks opening in Jewish neighborhoods, have this form handy. No more toasters or corning ware: today with your loan, you get only a heter iska! This is emes, mamish! Nu, the Oisvorfer asks: were our sages not mamish brilliant? Did they not sit and ponder and figure out how to make life easy for the Yiddin back then? We need those sages back; seemingly today’s, for the most part, sit around and try to figure out how to make life miserable for us.
Shoin, we’re kimat out of time and space ober a few words on parshas Bechukoisei and they come with a strict warning: If you suffer from nightmares and or any other sleep disorder, efsher you’re an occasional bed wetter, or stam have trouble falling asleep, do not read this parsha. Raboyseyee: parshas Bechukoisei is not for the faint of heart.
Though the toichocho found in this parsha is considered the “smaller” of the two found in the heylige Toirah (the other, in parshas Ki Sovoi), it’s still not too pleasant to read and hear. Accordingly, the Baal Kora (reader) reads this section of the heylige Toirah in an undertone, at times barely audible. All this got the Oisvorfer thinking azoy: if the RBSO wanted to warn us about what may lie ahead for the sinners and if the Mishna taka established that this reading is so critically important that we cannot make an hafsoko (stop), then why does the baal Koirah read them in a soft undertone so that barely anyone can hear him? Does this make sense to you? If we can’t hear them, maybe they’re not meant for us? Ver veyst?
Seemingly and despite repeated warnings, the Yiddin, as we will learn beginning next week, did not necessarily pay heed to these warnings. They were and still remain a thick skinned people. Despite all the dire warnings in this week’s parsha and again repeated later in Sefer Devorim, the Yiddin seemingly shook them all off. Isn’t it emes that throughout history, the Yiddin didn’t learn much of a lesson from these curses? They lost the Beis Hamikdash twice, were exiled from the land, and experienced innumerable other pogroms and massacres and yet they continued to go about life without an accounting. Nu, the Oisvorfer should not be giving mussir, if you chap. The parsha is scary enough. Let’s stay strong!
Chaazk, Chaazak, Vinischazek: a gitten shabbis