SALT - Wednesday, 19 Iyar 5780 - May 13, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
This week's SALT shiurim are dedicated in memory of
David Moshe ben Harav Yehuda Leib Silverberg z"l,
whose yahrzeit is Tuesday 18 Iyar, May 12
            The Torah in Parashat Behar introduces a number of commands relevant to those who have fallen into dire financial straits, forcing them to sell their property or themselves as servants.  These laws are presented as part of the Torah’s discussion of the yovel year, when all servants are freed and sold property is returned to its original owner.  However, before discussing situations of people forced to sell property or become servants, the Torah first speaks of a less extreme situation – a person who requires a loan (25:35).  The Torah commands us to support such a person by lending him money, and it forbids charging interest (25:36-7).
            Tosafot, in two places (Sota 5a; Bava Metzia 70b), cite a startling Midrashic passage stating that those who lend money on interest will be excluded from the future resurrection.  This prohibition is uniquely severe in that violators are denied the chance to return to life when the dead are resurrected.
            The association drawn by the Midrash between lending on interest and the resurrection likely stems from the verse here in Parashat Behar, where the Torah warns against charging interest and then adds, “ve-chei achikha imakh” – “so that your brother may live with you” (25:36).  Those who are capable of lending are required to extend interest-free loans to the poor in order to allow the needy the opportunity to “resurrect” themselves,” to regain their financial footing.  Charging interest on a loan to a fellow in need lowers his chance of recovery, as he is constantly falling deeper and deeper in debt because of the interest costs.  In effect, then, charging interest keeps the individual “dead,” denying him the possibility of “resurrection,” and thus the Midrash warns that lenders who charge interest are punished by being denied the restoration of their lives at the end of time.
            Developing this point one step further, the belief in the future resurrection represents the broader belief in God’s ability to reverse any condition, to restore “life” even to those who have “perished,” who have fallen into seemingly irreversible hardship.  Our belief in techiyat ha-meitim (the future resurrection of the dead) affects us not only in our anticipation of the actual resurrection, but also in day-to-day life, assuring us of God’s unlimited power to reverse any situation.  This doctrine is a source of hope and optimism in times of adversity, as we recognize that just as God will one day restore life to the dead, He can restore joy even now to those beset by any kind of trouble or crisis.
            The Torah obligates us to follow God’s example by assisting those who have fallen into hardship such that “chei achikha imakh” – their “life” and vitality is restored.  We must do what we can to help reverse the fortunes of those who struggle, and lend them the assistance they need to recover and rebuild their lives.
            This might explain the deeper connection between the prohibition of charging interest and the laws of yovel.  The institution of yovel assures that the drastic measures undertaken in response to financial hardship will be temporary.  It guarantees the restoration of one’s property or freedom which had been sold in a desperate attempt to survive, thereby guaranteeing all people the opportunity to recover and rebuild after an otherwise permanent collapse.  In this context, the Torah adds the prohibition against charging interest, which helps ensure that we allow our fellow in need the opportunity to “resurrect” himself after falling into financial straits and experience his own process of “techiyat ha-meitim.”