Mishpotim 2022: Losing Interest

by devadmin | January 27, 2022 9:46 pm

Raboyseyee and Ladies,


Losing Interest:


This week’s review is dedicated to the memory of Reb Yaakov ben Chaim Yitzchok Halevi Grossman (the heylige Ois’s late father, OBM) whose yurtzeit (the 19th) is being observed today, the 25th of Shevat.

Back in 2014, in a special edition, the Ois memorialized his chance encounter with a woman and her family whom he met over in Ft. Myers, Florida on the first night of Pesach. She, an Auschwitz survivor, was a close relative to a gentleman my father spoke about often. That man, Boju Guttman, back in 1956, arranged papers for my father and family -to include a one-year-old future Ois- to leave the country for the United States. Alas, the courier of the paperwork stole them and used them for his own safety.  I had discovered a new cousin. Read the entire story here https://oisvorfer.com/yom-hashoah-special-edition/.

Fast forward to earlier this week, January 21, 2022. The heylige Ois and eishes chayil find themselves in Los Angeles, CA at Pat’s, a well-known steak house catering to the orthodox communities of Beverly-Wood and surrounds. I spot my old friend Marilyn Sohacheski; our friendship goes back at some 45 plus years. She and her husband Jaime are hosting sheva brochis behind the curtain. We exchange pleasantries and hugs; shoin. We are there on a different agenda but following dinner (we were graciously hosted), and after we walked out hosts around the corner, we made our way back to Pat’s to say hello to Marilyn’s husband Jaime whom I haven’t seen or spoken to in nearly a decade. We are invited and quickly seated at their table just in time for dessert. Tea is served along with hot apple cobbler. The Ois rarely (ok, never) says no to dessert though he just ended his meal with a portion of some excellent chocolate cake concoction. We’ve joined sheva brochis where by chance, we know both families. The Weinerkurs (as in Melissa and Lewis) from the Five Towns and the Kaufler’s (Janice and Philip) from Los Angeles made a wedding. Adam Kaufler married Eliana Weinerkur); we fit right in. So happens that we -the eishes chayil and I- have several connections to the Weinerkurs and we stam azoy know them, and of them, for kimat 30 years. The Ois first met and spent some time with Phil Kaufler back in 1978; that’s a long time ago and a big mazel tov to both families. May Eliana and Adam be zoche to enjoy many decades of blissful marriage. The next speaker (the last) gets up and with aplomb delivers a beautiful d’var Torah and message to the choson and kallah (bride and groom). She sits down at the very table where the eishes chayil and I are seated. Having detected a heimishe accent, I comment on her speech and ask for her name and where she’s from. Her name is Rebecca Liebermann Nissel, she’s also an author.  Find her book (We are Still Here) at https://www.amazon.com/s?k=we+are+still+here-+rebecca+nissel&i=specialty-aps&srs=13270229011&crid=1606GXKJ7BHZ7&sprefix=we+are+still+here-+rebecca+nissel%2Cspecialty-aps%2C55&ref=nb_sb_noss _ And guess what? She was born and grew up in Vienna. I mention that I was born there and how I went back in 1981 to look for a gentleman, the very one mentioned above. She’s astounded and then tells me that the gentleman, Boju Guttman was well known to her and to her family; he was her father’s very best friend for many decades. He passed away in 2012. She confirms the name of the restaurant where my father worked as a mashgiach in 1955. The story I’ve been telling my family -and anyone else who would listen- since 1981 has come to life. The facts are finally verified for the eishes chayil who likely found parts of the story too hard to believe; at least somewhat embellished. It all happened just as I told it. And if that wasn’t an incredible coincidence, not two minutes later, another incredible event unfolded but that amazing story for another week.

The markets are gyrating, shokeling up and lately, mostly down, also back and forth, like a lulav, and as do many boys and girls after a year in most yeshivas in Israel post high school. CNBC, Bloomberg, and many others have so-called experts discussing and analyzing these dramatic moves and most blame the Fed’s decision on rising interest rates. So happens that the RBSO, in this week’s parsha and among 53 mitzvis handed down, was the first to chime in on the entire concept of interest and rates. He was not in favor! Let’s clarify: He was not in favor of lending money to other Yiddin and charging them interest; so He commands us. It’s seemingly strictly verboten. On the other hand, lending money to goyim and charging interest, is seemingly efsher a mitzvah. Mamish? Shoin. Is it a wonder that early Toirah inspired entrepreneurs became money lenders?  Not! I use the word seemingly because it’s avada understood that money lending -even yid to yid- is critical and to the credit of our sages and good rabbis -mistama themselves money lenders- they eventually came up with kosher sanctioned loopholes under which money lending becomes glatt-kosher. We will take a shtikel dive into this very complicated set of rules below.  Ober, let’s begin with a shtikel chazoro of what went down just last week.

In Parshas Yisroy, the RBSO, after 2448 years in the planning stages, married the Yiddin. Both parties were ready and willing.  Were they?  Efsher you recall the famous medrish as quoted by Rashi, which told us that the RBSO lifted the entire mountain over the heads of the Yiddin and politely asked the Yiddin for their collective hands in marriage.  Of course, you all remember learning that all the umois-ho’oilom (the goyim) rejected the heylige Toirah for various reasons; only the Yiddin were to utter the now famous words of Na’aseh V’nishma (we shall do and then we shall listen) and enter into the union whereby we became His Chosen People. Shoin, here we are over 3,300 years later. Of course, like in most marriages, not all the years have been pleasant.  Grada history records that many were quite rocky, the Yiddin were mostly out of control; as mentioned just last week; somehow, we’re still married.  Shoin, another lesson learned. For the most part, with lots of struggles, marriages can make it.

The Yiddin, as just mentioned, impetuously, and before knowing many details, proclaimed with one voice – na’aseh v’nishma- we will do and we will listen. That was perhaps the first and last time the Yiddin proclaimed anything in one voice, even two.  Yiddin seem to have many voices; mostly, they are not in synch.  Shoin.  Ever since, there has been lots of doing, especially the wrong things, and precious little listening. Another pshat (from the heylige Ois): lots of doing and then listening to find out that what was done, was taka all wrong, as we will sadly learn in the upcoming parshas. Ober for good and bad, we are the Yiddin; seemingly the RBSO has had, and continues to have epes a shtikel love/hate relationship with us. And let’s not forget this: one can only imagine how much worse the other nations were and still remain, if our marriage remains intact.

One week ago, the Yiddin were witness to fire and brimstone: the earth shook, as the RBSO came down and personally delivered the Aseres Hadibrois (Ten Commandments). Shoin, like most marriages, just after sheva brochos -one week later- reality was about to set in and so it does in our parsha when Moishe will teach the Yiddin a whopping number of mitzvis of every variety. Says the Sefer HaChinuch (Book of Mitzvah Education): Mishpotim contains a total of 53 mitzvis, the great majority of them falling under the heading of what we would call “civil and criminal law.” Moreover, 30 of 53 are of the loi-sah-say (Thou shall not do) variety, the type that most of us -and you- struggle with daily, if you chap. Not to fret; you are not alone.

Says the Medrish: Last week’s dramatic revelation by the RBSO to the Yiddin at Har Sinai was so powerful and spiritual that all who were there, and even those who weren’t literally, had an out-of-body experience. Avada it’s easier for those who weren’t born yet, to have such an experience, ver veyst, and maybe we were taka all there.  Is that so hard to believe? Get with the program!  The Yiddin were still awed by the powerful presentation of Matan Toirah earlier in the morning. Hours earlier, they learned the importance of mitzvis that show love for the RBSO Bain Adam L’Makom (between man and the RBSO). As evening set in, the RBSO taught Moishe some important new laws to keep order. These, the Mishpotim (laws) are meant to help the Yiddin love one another and get along. Shoin: that plan didn’t work out too well; Yiddin for the most part do not get along; many mamish hate each other. Hence, the need for the myriad laws taught this week, which include what to do when two Yiddin fight, when one kills another, and much more. The RBSO knew His people well, too well.

Mishpotim sets forth the laws which gave birth to many industries booming. The mitzvis in this week’s parsha gave us the need for lawyers, judges, courts and even Rabbis. They are all busy daily dealing with and interpreting the mitzvis found in this week’s parsha, and violated daily. Last week we appointed judges, and this week, Moishe calls for litigants, defendants, lawyers and witnesses. This parsha has it all: fines, penalties, capital punishment and its details, property damages, torts, regulations for debtors and creditors; di gantze (the entire) law school syllabus mamish in one parsha. Is the heylige Toirah great or what? The RBSO, in His magnificence, understood that if He gave us laws, we’d break them and that if He told us the dos and don’ts, people wouldn’t get it right and would eventually end up in machloikes (disputes). As always, He was correct; He is the RBSO. In fact, Mishpotim, is the inspiration for as many as six Mesechtis (Tractates) of the heylige Gemora. Speaking of which, the heylige Ois has always wondered why the Yeshivas spend so much time teaching the Bubas: Buba Metzia, Buba Basra and Buba Kamma, all deeply rooted in this week’s parsha and which, for the most part -kimat always- put the young energetic, hormone-engorged bochurim to sleep.  Who cares what happens when two people find a schmata and grab onto it at the same time? Have you ever witnessed two guys fighting over a t-shirt or peyris-mifuzrrin (fruits strewn about)? Avada nisht! Have you ever fallen into a hole or pit, if you chap, that you didn’t want to be in? Shoin, don’t answer that! And who cares about an ox goring the neighbor’s ox? High School bochurim (teens) care about one thing: girls! Let’s get real: were the Yeshiva world to teach Seder Noshim (all about women) which includes such stimulating discussions as found in Tractate Yivomis, or Gittin (all about divorces), and a few others, instead of esoteric subject matters that are long gone and forgotten, these same bochurim would be alert and excited to learn the heylige Gemora. They would mistama never miss class or mishmar for that matter.  And ver veyst; efsher they wouldn’t need that year or more in Israel as the boys would be shtark (hard), if you chap, learners. Moreover, they’d be prepared for the real world. On the other hand: it’s taka likely that your bihaymo (animal) didn’t gore your neighbor, but did you, minuvil that you are?

This week Moishe sets down laws covering manslaughter and murder, kidnapping and stealing, injuring or cursing a parent, personal injury or damages, and killing or injuring slaves. We are taught laws concerning animals, damage by grazing or by fire, the laws of custodians, and money lending. Lemoshol (by way of example), we are taught that Yiddin may not charge interest on loans given and avada you know how well that worked out throughout Jewish history. And even today, when was the last time you were the recipient of an interest-free loan from a chaver?  Never! Avada the heylige Toirah does specifically state the word ‘loan’ -zicher meaning- that it’s due to be repaid. A nechtiger tug! Unfortunately, many Yiddin have forgotten that word and when they take loans, they’re nebech almost always sadly not paid back. Many prefer the minhag (custom) over the rule. The custom being not to repay loans. Other laws include those dealing with a man who seduces a woman, chas v’sholom- say it’s not so, occult practices, and idolatry. We are commanded not to oppress widows and orphans and are obligated to lend money to the poor. We must accept the authority of the judges, bring the first of our produce and animals to the RBSO and not pervert the system of justice. We are instructed to return lost objects and help unload an animal that is unable to carry its burden.

Ober, let’s us -for the first time in 12 years- take a look at the laws governing interest and it all begins -but does not end- with a few words in our parsha. Says the heylige Toirah, (Shmois 22:24), azoy: “If you lend silver (lit: money) to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.

 אִם כֶּ֣סֶף תַּלְוֶ֣ה אֶת עַמִּ֗י אֶת הֶֽעָנִי֙ עִמָּ֔ךְ לֹא תִהְיֶ֥ה ל֖וֹ כְּנֹשֶׁ֑ה לֹֽא תְשִׂימ֥וּן עָלָ֖יו נֶֽשֶׁךְ:

What exactly is the heylige Toirah prohibiting in this posik? Let’s break down each element of the posik: The simple meaning of the words is that if one Yid lends a fellow Yid money, he may not charge interest, implying that if he loans money to a goy, he may charge interest. Givaldig and just like that a new business was born. Ober, what sayeth Rashi who comments on kimat everything and especially so when a groundbreaking commandment is given?  Says he azoy: expanding upon on a medrish in the Mechilta d’Rebbi YIshmoel, who rereads the posik to discourage lending to non-Yiddin, he says azoy: This is its meaning: “If you loan silver” – loan it to My people and not to a non-Jew…וְכֵן מַשְׁמָעוֹ: אִם כֶּסֶף תַּלְוֶה – אֶת עַמִּי תַּלְוֵהוּ וְלֹא לְגוֹי….

In other words: Rashi parses the words of the posik seemingly against its plain syntax and even against the Masoretic teamim (cantillation marks), thereby changing the simple meaning of the phrase. Now it means, if you are going to loan anyone money, make sure it is to a fellow Jew. Ober, is this the real meaning of the RBSO’s instructions? Ver veyst? And while the posik above implicitly divides between how a fellow Yid should be treated financially and how outsiders may be treated, the heylige Toirah will be back with another instruction -an expansion of this commandment- and let’s read how it’s presented over in Sefer Devorim (23:20) where we read this:

דברים כג:כ לֹא תַשִּׁיךְ לְאָחִיךָ נֶשֶׁךְ כֶּסֶף נֶשֶׁךְ אֹכֶל נֶשֶׁךְ כָּל דָּבָר אֲשֶׁר יִשָּׁךְ. כג:כא לַנָּכְרִי תַשִּׁיךְ וּלְאָחִיךָ לֹא תַשִּׁיךְ לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְ-הוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מִשְׁלַח יָדֶךָ עַל הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר אַתָּה בָא שָׁמָּה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ.

You shall not deduct interest from loans to your kinsman, whether in money or food or anything else that can be deducted as interest.  You may deduct interest from loans to foreigners but do not deduct interest from loans to your country-men, so that the RBSO your G-d may bless you in all your undertakings in the land that you are about to enter and possess. Did you chap the change in the instructions? In Devorim -presented by Moishe-  the RBSO’s command changes the referent from “my (=G-d’s) people” to “your  kinsman.” Why the change, ver veyst, ober as most of you know, many mitzvis repeated -you read that correctly- in Sefer Devorim, are in fact presented with changes -at times slight, and at others, more significant. As to why we needed this repetition when the heylige Toirah -so we are taught- contains not one extra word or even letter, that for another day. The bottom line -so our sages teach us, and who are we to argue- that each presentation of the mitzvah is there to teach us new things. Veyter.

Several times -at least- in Sefer Devorim we will come across the term “your kinsman” meaning your “fellow Israelites,” emphasizing that this law is about the proper way to treat “family.” Moreover, the second presentation of this mitzvah, the one in Devorim, explicitly envisions Yiddin loaning money to Yiddin and to goyim alike with one major difference. It is permitted to make a profit from the latter but not the former. Were the umois ho’oilom punished for rejecting the heylige Toirah by being forced to pay interest to the Yiddin? Efsher!!? As mentioned, Toirah inspired entrepreneurs read these words very carefully and shoin; money lenders, bankers, attorneys, and many others were suddenly in business where they remain ad hayoim hazeh (until today). And that’s why Raboyseyee, you don’t need to attend business school; aroisgivorfine gelt (money in the toilet). Read and re-read the heylige Toirah; it’s all there!

Ober, shtelt zich di shaylo (the question arises) azoy: what’s wrong with charging some interest? Why can’t the lender make a few dollars? If he lent you money, he has no access to it and efsher he’s talking a loss by not having the monies available to him? Is charging and collecting interest so giferlich? What’s taka pshat? Why does the RBSO mamish abhor the taking of interest? Shoin to chap that, lets; go back and reread the posik quoted above where we find the words, (לֹא תְשִׂימוּן עָלָיו נֶשֶׁךְ), you shall not impose interest on him. And check this out: The word נֶשֶׁךְ is a homograph with the Hebrew root for “bite.” A bite? Says Rashi quoting the medrish (Tanchuma) azoy:  Neshech  (Interest) is like the bite of a snake. Just as when a snake bites someone’s foot, it often doesn’t cause him immediate pain, but as the poison flows through his body he begins to feel pain, and can gradually deteriorate to a life-threatening condition, so too with interest payments on a loan. The borrower doesn’t feel the pain until it accumulates to an unbearable debt. The interest is neither seen nor recognized until it increases and causes the loss of much money; oy vey!

נֶשֶׁךְ – רִבִּית, שֶׁהוּא כִנְשִׁיכַת נָחָשׁ שֶׁנוֹשֵׁךְ חַבּוּרָה קְטַנָּה בְּרַגְלוֹ וְאֵינוֹ מַרְגִּישׁ, וּפִתְאוֹם הוּא מְבַטְבֵּט וְנוֹפֵחַ עַד קָדְקֳדוֹ, כָּךְ רִבִּית אֵינוֹ מַרְגִּישׁ וְאֵינוֹ נִכָּר עַד שֶׁהָרִבִּית עוֹלֶה וּמְחַסְּרוֹ מָמוֹן הַרְבֵּה.

By comparing interest specifically to a snake bite, the medrish underlines the danger of interest, which sneaks up on people and does them great financial harm. Let us recall how the snake snuck up on Chava, showed her some interest, if you chap and shoin.  The bottom line: The Hebrew term for interest, נֶשֶׁךְ (neshech), appears in all three of the Toirah’s pisukim prohibiting interest. In Sefer Vaikra, it is paired with תַרְבִּית which also means interest. This seeming redundancy has led many commentators to understand these terms as two different types of interest. Is there a difference between the two words? Do both mean interest?  Says the Mishnah (Buba Metzia 5:1), azoy: נֶשֶׁךְ is an advance agreement that the borrower will pay back more than the amount of the original loan and תַרְבִּית is paying back the loan of one form of produce with another form of produce that has risen in value, that the borrower did not have on hand at the time of the deal.  Produce? The bottom line: seemingly, the word נֶשֶׁךְ is a catch-all term for interest. In all three sources, the point appears to be that Yiddin should not apply the “bite” of interest to loans given to his poor brethren. Ober we ask azoy: could the world exist without loans and without people charging, paying, and collecting interest?

The good news: the reference to the prohibition of acting like a creditor and charging interest, as well as the pisukim in both Vayikro and Devorim make it clear that the heylige Toirah is discussing only personal loans. Ober, what about business loans? May one charge interest on a business loan? Guess what? The heylige Toirah is silent mamish on business loans, and let us recall that such loans do not take advantage of poor people in dire straits; instead, they reflect a reasonable demand on the part of lenders to ensure that their money is being put to profitable use. Charging interest is a necessary part of market life. Like charging rent, business interest is amoral, i.e., neither moral nor immoral, just business. And taka it’s quite logical to separate a business loan from one given to a friend in need, a kinsman, or family member. It is possible that the RBSO also agreed with such logic? One could argue that’s the case since the heylige Toirah -as mentioned just above- is silent on the matter. However, our sages of yore saw matters differently and applied the biblical prohibition to all forms of interest, including business loans. Does the heylige Gemora explicitly forbid interest on business loans? Not!  Seemingly, the matter is never stated in the heylige Gemora but is simply taken for granted. Is it? Not!  Ober, says Reb Moishe Isserles (the Remah) on the Shulchan Aruch (Yoreh Deah 160:1), azoy: There is no distinction between a loan to a poor person or a loan to a wealthy one.ואין חילוק בין אם מלוה לעני או לעשיר.

And said the Vilna Gaon (Shulchan Aruch), azoy:  even though [the Toirah] states (Vayikro 25:35-36) “if your brother, being in straights… do not take…” [this does not mean the prohibition is limited to the poor], and this is clear in many places [where the Rabbis apply the prohibition to any loan]. The bottom line: interest may not be charged or collected on loans given to the poor and to the rich for business purposes. Ober, why taka did our sages chose to ignore the RBSO’s specific references to the poor and also prohibit business loans with interest? Ver veyst?

And the good news: when a law affected people’s livelihoods -the rabbinic extension of the biblical prohibition led to an impossible situation for people wanting to borrow money for business ventures- and when their pockets were affected (mistama as donations to local rabbis began to dry up), our sages eventually sprang into action. To remedy the problem, ironically of their own making- they found a way of legally charging interest by not calling it interest. Shoin! Our sages sat down and very creatively found an excellent workaround to a problem earlier sages created. Givaldig! A reclassification was in order, and to their credit, the rabbis devised a legal fiction known as the heter isqa (lit., permission to conduct business”), that turns a loan into a business partnership.    Givaldig!

This legal instrument made the “borrower” and “lender” fictional “partners” in the venture and thus entitled to half of all profits and responsible for half of all losses. The lender, though, forfeits her or his right to profits in return for a predictable revenue stream. In practice the deal thus looks like an interest payment, although it is technically a fee or penalty. We will be back with a full explanation om the heter isqa in a few weeks.

A gittin Shabbis-

The Heylige Oisvorfer Ruv

Yitz Grossman


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