Talmidav Shel Aharon
28-5767: Mitzvah 62
June 18, 2007
Mitzvah 62 – It is a positive commandment to lend money to poor Jews.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “If you lend money to any of my people, to the poor with you.” (Ex. 22:24) and this is a duty. This mitzvah is greater than charity, and more obligatory. The Torah disapproves severely of anyone who refuses to lend to a poor person, since it says, “and your eye may be evil against your needy brother … and it will be a sin for you.” (Deut. 15:9) It is in effect everywhere, at every time, for both men and women.
According to Maimonides, the greatest form of charity is giving a loan to someone in need to help them get back on their feet. It is a form of giving that is respectful of the person who is in need and allows him or her to retain their dignity. The force of this Mitzvah, however goes even beyond this ruling.
Charity, as defined by the Hafetz Hayim, and by virtually all other sages, is not the same as what we call charity today. When we use the English word, “charity” we are usually referring to the giving of money out of the goodness of our heart to a worthy cause. In Hebrew, the word we use for charity has a very different meaning. “Tzedakah” is from the root meaning, “justice”. Social justice demands that we take account of the poor and hungry and we must help them in their time of need. It is not something left to the “goodness of our heart” but it is a requirement of all Jews to help those who are in need. It is simple justice that those who have enough should support those who do not.
This Mitzvah, takes Tzedaka to the next step. If we are able, we should move not just to help someone with their daily needs, but should feel obligated to help them out of the cycle of poverty as well. We all know that in a capitalistic society, one must have money before one can make money. This is the kind of capital investment that yields great rewards. Not in money returned for the investment, but in lives saved from poverty. It is giving another person a second chance in life. We are helping that person to start over trying to become a fully productive member of the community. It is important that we realize that if we feel that such a loan will indeed make a difference in that person’s life, we have an obligation to make the loan. That is the nature of this commandment.
Once again, because of the way the Biblical passage is written, there seems to be a bias to supporting Jews who are poor and not other non-Jews in the community. It is my feeling that we do have a requirement to support Jews first. That is, if we have limited resources, that we should make the effort to help our own poor before we help the other poor in the community. I hold this because it is similar to helping one’s own family before one helps the poor of other families.
However, this does not mean that we have no obligations to the other poor in our community. If we have the means to help lift others out of the cycle of poverty through loans of support, than we should be equally obligated to such loans. Clearly we can not personally end all poverty that we see around us, but if we feel that such a loan can have a lasting effect on a person and his/her family, we should not hesitate to make such a loan. The reason this applies is a principle in Jewish Law called “Mipnay Darkei Shalom” we do some things “for the sake of peace”. It is not just that people may feel angry that our money only goes to Jews, it is the greater reason that through such loans, those who are lifted from poverty will praise their benefactor, praise their faith and praise their G-d. It is a matter of Kiddush HaShem, the primary obligation to bring honor to the name of G-d.
It does no good to have charitable funds just sitting in the bank and not working to help ease the plight of poor families of any faith. We need to exercise our obligation to help others, all others, to get back on their feet.