Skip to main content

Thought for the Day: Repaying a Loan Is a Mitzvah

Often my difficulties in gemara are due to me being thick and/or obstinate and/or lazy.  Meaning to say that I don't see things the way the gemara does and I really want the gemara just to look at the world as I do and it's just too much work right now to do the research that will convince me to change.  That, of course, can be very frustrating.  HaShem, however, "throws me a bone" once in a while and lets me have a really, really good question.  The responses I get ("oooo!  Good question!" or "I know!  I spent a week on that myself.") feed my ego enough to keep me going for a long time.  Big egos need very little encouragement, as they are largely self-sustaining, so I only get these great questions once in a while.

The gemara (Gitten 36b), in its discussion of prozbul, takes a small detour to understand why we need prozbul now a days according to Rebbi, who holds that we do not have shmittas k'safim (forgiving of loans in the shmitta year) while we are in exile.  The gemara answers that Chazal established shmittas k'safim now a days as a remembrance to the d'oraiso obligation.  Hang on one cotton pickin' minute, rejoins the gemara, how can Chazal cancel a loan that the Torah leaves in force!?!  (My free translation; not ArtScroll.)  Rashi explains the question: since the money is actually -- m'di'oraiso -- owed to the lender, Chazal are turning the borrower into a thief.  Abaye resolves the issue, "shev v'lo sa'aseh" -- they are just telling the borrower to refrain from fulfilling the mitzvah of repaying his debt.  We are all used to that answer; that's the same reason we don't blow shofar when (the first day of) Rosh HaShanah falls on Shabbos.  The Torah says "blow", Chazal say "don't blow"; shev v'lo sa'aseh -- Chazal win.

Hang on one cotton pickin' minute!  (That's me this time, not my free translation of the gemara.)  Chazal can tell Bob not to fulfill the mitzvah to repay Leon the lender, but Bob still has Leon's money!  Isn't Bob still a thief?  He has Chazal's blessing, but the thief problem does not seem to have been solved nor even addressed.

It turns out that there is no trivial, "oh... my bad" kind of answer to this question (hence my big ego boost).  The easiest way through this is azoi (ie, as follows).  The gemara originally thought that there are two reasons that Bob needs to return the money.  First, Bob has Leon's money; that's stealing.  Second, Bob has a mitzvah of paying off the debt.  The gemara answered: That's not how a loan works.  When Leon gives the money to Bob, the money now belongs to Bob free and clear.  However, Bob has simultaneously accepted upon himself the obligation to repay the loan.  That obligation is a real live mitzvah; probably d'oraiso.  Moreover, if Bob does not fulfill that mitzvah at the time the loan is due, then he is considered a thief.  Technically it is "oshek" and not "gezel", but it amounts to the same thing.  Once Chazal tell Bob to refrain from paying, though, both the obligation and the thievery fall away.

This is all needed to even begin to understand about 6 words in Rashi; and we've really only scratched the surface.  See why I don't even try daf yomi?  I can't even do Rashi Yomi.


Popular posts from this blog

Thought for the Day: Battling the Evil Inclination on all Fronts

Yom Kippur.  When I was growing up, there were three annual events that marked the Jewish calendar: eating matzos on Passover, lighting candles on Chanuka, and  fasting on Yom Kippur.  Major news organizations around the world report on the "surreal" and "eerie" quiet of the streets in even the most secular neighborhoods of Israel.  Yom Kippur.

As you know, I am observant of Jewish law.  Some have even called me "ultra orthodox" (not in a kind way).  Given that, I have a question.  How likely do you think that I would be tempted to eat on Yom Kippur, that most holy day of the year?  Let's make the scale zero to ten, where zero is "as likely as driving through McDonald's on Shabbos and ordering a Big Mac with extra cheese." and ten is "as likely as breathing regularly".  Take your time.  If you answered "zero"; thank you, but -- sadly and penitently -- no.  The answer is more like nine; I'd like to say lower, but i…

Thought for the Day: Using a Mitzvah Object for Non-Mitzvah Purposes

As I am -- Baruch HaShem -- getting older, I am more cognizant of the fact that I'd like to stay as healthy as possible right up the moment I leave this world.  Stuff hurting is not the problem (I am told there is an old Russian saying that once you are 40, if you wake up and nothing hurts -- you're dead), stuff not working, however, is a problem.  To that end, for several years now I commute to work by bicycle (weather permitting, 30 minutes on an elliptical machine when weather does not permit).  I recently took up some upper body weight training.  Not because I want to be governor of California, just simply to slow down loss of bone mass and extend my body's healthy span.  Simple hishtadlus.  I have an 18 month old grandson who is just the right weight for arm curls (yes... I am that weak), so I do about 10 reps when I greet him at night.  He laughs, I get my exercise; all good.  (Main problem is explaining to the older ones why zeidy can't give them the same "…

Thought for the Day: Thanking HaShem Each and Every Day for Solid Land Near Water

Each and every morning, a Jew is supposed to view himself as a new/renewed creation, ready for a new day of building his eternal self through Torah and mitzvos.  We begin the day with 16 brachos to praise/thank/acknowledge HaShem for giving us all the tools we need to succeed.  We have a body, soul, and intellect.  We have vision, mobility, and protection from the elements.  Among those brachos, we have one that perhaps seems a bit out of place: רוקע הארץ על המים/Who spreads out the land on/over the water.  After all, it's nice to have a dry place to walk, but does that compare to the gratitude I have for a working body and vision?  As it turns out, I should; as explained by the R' Rajchenbach, rosh kollel of Kollel Zichron Eliyahu (aka, Peterson Park Kollel).  Your best bet is to listen to the shiur; very distant second is to continue, which I hope will whet your appetite for the real thing.

First... since we have dry land, I don't have to slog to work through even a foot…