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Saving Lives

May 16, 2020

It’s going to sound very harsh, and if our Sages hadn’t said it, I would never dare say this. But the Midrash teaches that, “מי שמלוה ברבית אינו עומד בתחיית המתים, one who lends with interest will not return to life at the resurrection of the dead (Shemot Rabbah 31:6).” In fact, this idea is based on a prophecy of Yechezkel. He proclaims, “בנשך נתן ותרבית וחי לא יחיה את כל התועבות האלה עשה מות יומת דמיו בו יהיה, he who has lent at interest, or exacted accrued interest- shall he live? Surely he shall not live! He has committed these abominations, and he shall die; he has forfeited his life (Yechezkel 18:14).” The commentaries explain that the verse repeats the punishment of death in order to make it known that this is an eternal death, one that will outlast even תחיית המתים, when the other deceased return to life. There are few punishments so severe, and one has to wonder why the prohibition of lending with interest is treated so harshly!

R. Shimon Sofer, in the Ktav Sofer (on Vayikra 25:36), explains that this is a classic example of מדה כנגד מדה, punishment that is measure for measure. The Gemara on Nedarim 64B lists certain people who, though they are physically alive, are lacking something so critical that they are חשוב כמת, considered to be as if they are not fully alive. For example, the Gemara states that a metzora, one who has contracted tzara’at, the skin affliction that we read about just a few weeks ago, is considered to not be alive. He is removed from society, lives alone without any social contact (they didn’t even have Zoom then!), and is therefore, to a certain extent, not fully experiencing life. Another example on the Gemara's list is a poor person. עני חשוב כמת, one who is truly destitute, hungry and desperate, is missing such an essential part of life, that he too is included is on this list. One who is forced to spend his whole day scrounging for food or begging for support is missing out on so much of what life has to offer. You don’t need to be rich to enjoy life, but without food on the table, and some basic necessities, things become extremely difficult.

True, the metzora is forced to live outside the camp on his own, and there is really not that much that we can do for him. But for the poor- it becomes a community’s responsibility to lift him up and help fill his needs. It is our obligation to look for those who need help, and to support them in the kindest and most generous way possible.

Following the logic of the Gemara, when you give or lend money to a true עני, to one who genuinely needs the help, you have given him life! You have transformed him from someone the Gemara considers to not be fully living, to one who can now put aside some of his stress and worry, and return to enjoying life! In fact, with a closer look at our Parsha, the Torah makes this idea very clear. “וכי ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך והחזקת בו גר ותושב וחי אחיך עמך, if your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him- convert and citizen- so that he can live with you (Vayikra 25:35).” When you help someone in his time of need, it is not an exaggeration to say that you have given him life.

Hashem is teaching us that if someone comes to ask you for a loan and you lend him money on interest, rather than giving him life, you are taking advantage. Rather than saving someone, you are using it as an opportunity for your own profit. And that person, who had the chance to give life, and yet chose not to, has forfeited his own opportunity to reconnect to life at the time of תחיית המתים. It may be harsh, but the מדה כנגד מדה fits; it is indeed measure for measure.

And of course, the opposite is true as well. When you help someone in need, and you do choose to give him life, then in turn, we believe, Hashem will bless you with life. In fact, our Sages teach that the measure for measure system for reward is five times greater than the corresponding punishment! If lending on interest incurs such a severe punishment, we can only imagine the incredible reward for one who lends and gives with generosity. When someone asks for help, or even better, when we approach someone who we think might need it, let’s not view it as a burden or a hardship, but as an opportunity. It’s a chance to give someone life, and at the same, an opportunity to enrich our own.

It’s going to sound very harsh, and if our Sages hadn’t said it, I would never dare say this. But the Midrash teaches that, “מי שמלוה ברבית אינו עומד בתחיית המתים, one who lends with interest will not return to life at the resurrection of the dead (Shemot Rabbah 31:6).” In fact, this idea is based on a prophecy of Yechezkel. He proclaims, “בנשך נתן ותרבית וחי לא יחיה את כל התועבות האלה עשה מות יומת דמיו בו יהיה, he who has lent at interest, or exacted accrued interest- shall he live? Surely he shall not live! He has committed these abominations, and he shall die; he has forfeited his life (Yechezkel 18:14).” The commentaries explain that the verse repeats the punishment of death in order to make it known that this is an eternal death, one that will outlast even תחיית המתים, when the other deceased return to life. There are few punishments so severe, and one has to wonder why the prohibition of lending with interest is treated so harshly!

R. Shimon Sofer, in the Ktav Sofer (on Vayikra 25:36), explains that this is a classic example of מדה כנגד מדה, punishment that is measure for measure. The Gemara on Nedarim 64B lists certain people who, though they are physically alive, are lacking something so critical that they are חשוב כמת, considered to be as if they are not fully alive. For example, the Gemara states that a metzora, one who has contracted tzara’at, the skin affliction that we read about just a few weeks ago, is considered to not be alive. He is removed from society, lives alone without any social contact (they didn’t even have Zoom then!), and is therefore, to a certain extent, not fully experiencing life. Another example on the Gemara's list is a poor person. עני חשוב כמת, one who is truly destitute, hungry and desperate, is missing such an essential part of life, that he too is included is on this list. One who is forced to spend his whole day scrounging for food or begging for support is missing out on so much of what life has to offer. You don’t need to be rich to enjoy life, but without food on the table, and some basic necessities, things become extremely difficult.

True, the metzora is forced to live outside the camp on his own, and there is really not that much that we can do for him. But for the poor- it becomes a community’s responsibility to lift him up and help fill his needs. It is our obligation to look for those who need help, and to support them in the kindest and most generous way possible.

Following the logic of the Gemara, when you give or lend money to a true עני, to one who genuinely needs the help, you have given him life! You have transformed him from someone the Gemara considers to not be fully living, to one who can now put aside some of his stress and worry, and return to enjoying life! In fact, with a closer look at our Parsha, the Torah makes this idea very clear. “וכי ימוך אחיך ומטה ידו עמך והחזקת בו גר ותושב וחי אחיך עמך, if your brother becomes impoverished and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him- convert and citizen- so that he can live with you (Vayikra 25:35).” When you help someone in his time of need, it is not an exaggeration to say that you have given him life.

Hashem is teaching us that if someone comes to ask you for a loan and you lend him money on interest, rather than giving him life, you are taking advantage. Rather than saving someone, you are using it as an opportunity for your own profit. And that person, who had the chance to give life, and yet chose not to, has forfeited his own opportunity to reconnect to life at the time of תחיית המתים. It may be harsh, but the מדה כנגד מדה fits; it is indeed measure for measure.

And of course, the opposite is true as well. When you help someone in need, and you do choose to give him life, then in turn, we believe, Hashem will bless you with life. In fact, our Sages teach that the measure for measure system for reward is five times greater than the corresponding punishment! If lending on interest incurs such a severe punishment, we can only imagine the incredible reward for one who lends and gives with generosity. When someone asks for help, or even better, when we approach someone who we think might need it, let’s not view it as a burden or a hardship, but as an opportunity. It’s a chance to give someone life, and at the same, an opportunity to enrich our own.

Shabbat shalom!

Rabbi Daniel Fox

Tue, August 3 2021 25 Av 5781