SALT - Wednesday, 22 Av 5780 - August 12, 2020

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Among the mitzvot presented in Parashat Re’ei is shemitat kesafim – the remission of debts on the shemita year (15:2).  The Mishna in Masekhet Shevi’it (10:8), cited by the Gemara in Masekhet Gittin (37b), establishes that when a borrower approaches the lender to return the loan after shemita, the lender must proclaim, “Meshameit ani,” informing the borrower that he forgives the loan.  And if the borrower then tells the lender that he nevertheless wishes to repay the debt, the lender may accept the money.
            The Gemara, after bringing this Mishna, proceeds to cite an ambiguous remark by Rabba: “Ve-tali lei ad de-amar hakhi.”  Rashi and the Tosafot Rid, surprisingly, explain this to mean that the lender has the right to undertake coercive measures to compel the borrower to repay the loan.  According to this reading, the lender is required to cancel the debt, but the borrower, for his part, bears a moral obligation to repay it, to the extent that the lender can apply pressure until he does so.  Other Rishonim find this reading untenable, raising the question of how the lender can force the borrower to repay the debt which he is required to waive.  The Rosh explains Rabba’s comment differently, understanding it to mean that the lender can expect the borrower to repay.  He may not undertake coercive measures, but he can express his desire and expectation to be repaid.
            The Mesoret Ha-Shas notes (which appear in the standard edition of the Talmud) references the Arukh as emending the text of the Gemara, such that this statement is attributed to Rava, as opposed to Rabba.  The Klausenberger Rebbe, in Divrei Yatziv (6:29), suggests that the Arukh was led to make this emendation because of a story told several lines later about the time when Rabba had a debt which he was required to cancel after shemita.  The borrower brought him the money, and Rabba, as the Mishna requires, informed him that he canceled the debt, whereupon the borrower left.  Rabba felt despondent over losing this money, and so his disciple, Abayei, went to the borrower and encouraged him to repay the loan.  The Klausenberger Rebbe writes that the Arukh may have wondered why Rabba felt helpless and despondent, given his own statement that a creditor may apply some degree of pressure upon the debtor to repay the loan.  And for this reason, the Arukh emended the text, such that it was Rava, not Rabba, who made the statement, “Ve-tali lei ad de-amar hakhi.”  Rabba did not agree with this rule, as evidenced by his reaction of helplessness after cancelling his debt.
            The Klausenberger Rebbe suggested explaining on this basis why the Rambam, in his presentation of these laws in Hilkhot Shemita Ve-yovel (chapter 9), omits a halakha mentioned in the Yerushalmi (Shevi’it 10:3), that the debtor may outstretch his hand in the debtor’s presence to request repayment.  The Rambam may have felt that this statement reflects the view of Rava, entitling the creditor to apply some kind of pressure on the debtor to repay the loan.  Rabba, the Rambam understood, maintained that this is forbidden.  The story of Rabba indicates that in his view, the Torah prohibition of “lo yigos,” which forbids the creditor from claiming the loan after shemita, also forbids him from subtly expressing his desire or expectation to receive the money.  The Klausenberger Rebbe draws our attention in this context to the prohibition of “lo tiheyeh lo ke-nosheh” (Shemot 22:24), which forbids pressuring a borrower to repay the loan if he does not have the means to repay.  The Gemara (Bava Metzia 75b) teaches that this includes even making subtle hints to the borrower that he needs to repay the debt.  By the same token, perhaps, the Rambam maintained that even subtly asking for the loan’s repayment after shemita violates the prohibition of “lo yigos.”  Whereas Rava maintained that this prohibition merely denies the lender legal recourse, taking away his ability to claim the debt in court, Rabba understood that it forbids doing anything in an effort to secure repayment, and the Rambam followed Rabba’s opinion.