In my opinion, one of the most beautiful Parashot of the Torah is Parashat Mishpatim, which sets the ground rules for a just and socially healthy society where everyone’s needs are met and the underprivileged and vulnerable are properly cared for, with dignity. The Parasha contains 53 commandments.
Lending money is considered a religious obligation when we can afford to do so. Helping others get on their feet and get ahead is an act of kindness. We are also prohibited from taking advantage of others’ needs and profiting from lending money: charging interest is a Biblical offence. But even after prohibiting charging interest, the Torah continues to look out for the dignity of the poor who are forced by circumstance to borrow.
“When you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not press them for repayment. Do not take interest from them. If you take your neighbour’s garment as security [for a loan], you must return it to them before sunset. This alone is their covering, the garment for their skin. With what shall they sleep? Therefore, if they cry out to Me, I will listen, for I am compassionate.” (Ex. 22:24-26)
Our obligation to take care of one another never ends. It is the creditor’s responsibility to continue looking out for their debtor, even if it means showing up at their door in the evening to give them their security garment back for the night, and returning to re-collect it in the morning.
As history progressed, the rabbis noticed that wealthy people were unwilling to lend large sums of money without charging interest and those who needed the loans were not finding anyone willing to lend to them. The rabbis therefore found a legal loophole to allow creditors to charge interest, to serve the greater good – having a society where people are willing to help one another. Even so, a long-standing tradition in every Jewish community is to have a Jewish Free Loan Society from which people can get interest free loans. Hamilton is no exception – our Jewish residents benefit from Jewish Free Loan (https://jewishfreeloan.ca/). Here at Beth Jacob, the Rabbi’s Discretionary Fund is used to support our members who find themselves in need in a dignified and fully confidential manner.
Perhaps the weekend of Parashat Mishpatim is a good occasion to make a modest donation either to Jewish Free Loan (I just did) or to the Discretionary Fund? “We all need somebody to lean on.”