Talmidav Shel Aharon
29-5767: Mitzvah 63
June 25, 2007
Mitzvah 63 – It is a positive commandment to give a pawned object back to its owner at the time that he needs it.
Hafetz Hayim: As Scripture says: “you shall surely restore to him the pledge.” (Deut. 24:13) It is all one whether a person takes an object I pledge from another person through the court or he takes it with his own hand (directly), by force or with the borrower’s consent – he has this duty, and is to return him a pillow at night; and tools with which he does his work, or clothes that he wears in the daytime, he is to return him by day for the entire day. Whoever transgresses and does not return a pledged object at its proper time disobeys this positive commandment and violates one prohibition.
This rather simple Mitzvah cuts to the core of what it means to be live by Jewish Law. A person would only pawn something in order to raise some cash in an emergency. Most of the time such a person would pawn something of value that was not needed everyday. But sometimes, the need is such that something crucial to the family would have to be pawned. He might pawn his pillow upon which he needs to sleep. The tools by which he earns a living, clothing he needs to wear each day. Judaism insists that if we take that object as the collateral on the loan, we still maintain our ownership of it, but we can not prevent the borrower from using it when he needs it. We must return his pillow at night and he must return it to the lender in the morning. If we take his tools, we must return it before the borrower goes to work and he must return it to the lender when the days work is done. How could such a person ever hope to redeem the pledge and pay off the loan if he can not work, go out in the world or get a good night’s sleep.
The objects listed by the Hafetz Hayim are only examples. Anything that a person might need, cooking pots, uniforms, etc, all must be returned if it will prevent the borrower from being able to feed his family or earn the money to pay back the loan. The lender retains the “ownership” of the item, even if the borrower is using it, and it must be returned when the borrower no longer needs it. It does not matter if the collateral was seized by the lender or given to him by a court to pay off the loan. We cannot expect a person to pay back what is owed if we seize the very items that will make this possible.
Judaism demands justice even when we do business. Judaism does not say, “business is business” and turn its back on those in need. Capitalism demands that people pay back the loans they contract. But Judaism insists that a pledged item might still be needed and must therefore be returned to give a person a chance to get their life back in order. It is a beautiful part of our business law.