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Thought for the Day: Charging/Paying Ribis -- A Really Bad Idea

When Rabbi Fuerst, shlit"a, gave a series of shium on ribis (interest), he decided to start with a shiur dedicated to how bad the issur of ribis really is; Hilchos Ribbis: Hakdama and who is not chayiv b'ribbis.  I have heard shiurim from R' Fuerst for many years, and I do not recall another instance where he did that.  Of course, all of his shiurim are sprinkled with mussar; not the least of which is the consistency with which he needs to say "let my finish" and never raises his voice or loses his temper.  (By the way, I once called him with sh'eila about my grandson's bris.  It was 10:30PM; a little late but I was sure the rav was still awake.  As the was picking up the receiver, though, I realized that since I was calling from California it was really 12:30AM... Though I was mortified, the rav answered the questions as calmly as usual; albeit groggier than usual.)

So how bad is it?  The m'forshim say that one who lends (or borrows, for that matter) with ribis denies that HaShem took us out of Mitzrayim and cuts off his connection to Elokei Yisrael.  That second, aka "kofer b'ikar", note the m'forshim means that he has no portion in olam ha'bah and he will not get up at the time of t'chiyas ha'meisim.  Just to drive the point home, R' Fuerst related a p'sak from R' Akiva Eiger.  Apparently there was a g'vir in town who was notorious for lending at interest.  When he died, the chevra kadisha wanted an exorbitant sum for the burial plot.  In today's dollars they wanted something like a quarter of a million dollars for regular plot.  The family was annoyed and took their complaint R' Akiva Eiger.  "How can they charge so much for a daled amos of karka?!  Surely that is unfair!"  The rav poskened that the chevra kadisha was perfectly within their rights.  Usually, he said, the person is only renting the burial plot until t'chiyas ha'meisim.  In the case of this g'vir (ha'rasha), however, it was a permanent sale because he would not be getting up at t'chiyas ha'meisim!  (Talk about halacha in a jugular vein...)

R' Fuerst offered a Kli Yakar on chumash to explain what is so bad about lending at interest.  (R' Fuerst prefaced giving over the Kli Yakar but saying he knew there were lots of questions one could ask on it, so don't shoot the messenger.)  The Kli Yakar says that in any kind of business deal, the parties don't know what will be.  They have to daven to HaShem for hatzlacha.  Things happen, business changes, return on investments can go up or down.  The one who loans at interest wants a guaranteed income.  He even wants it in writing and signed by witnesses.  He is straight out saying, "Thanks for all you've done, HaShem.  I'll take it from here."  He thereby cuts off his relation with HaShem and denies that we were taking out of Mitzrayim for the purpose of becoming the Ahm Nitzchi.

When a person want to turn away from HaShem -- even putting it in writing -- HaShem, out of deep respect for his right to free will, allows him his choice.  HaShem Yishmareinu!

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