The Gracious to the Poor

letter-447577_1280

by Doron Beckerman

[YA – Some quite good and quite varied responses are coming in after my call for essays last week. I hope that they will add some clarity and nechamah, some focus to our avodah, and expose our readers to some new voices (as well as some familiar ones), including important rabbonim as well as motivated lay people. Baruch Hashem, we have no shortage of people who think, and people who can write.]

He who increases his fortune through usury and interest, gathers it on behalf of the gracious to the poor. (Mishlei 28:8)

On its face, this verse is a riddle – it doesn’t seem to teach the right lesson. Lending with interest is a very serious transgression, and one who does so is in denial of G-d and of the Exodus (Shulchan Aruch Yoreh Deah 160:2). Here, we’re told that the illicit funds end up in the hands of a charitable person or organization. Is this meant as a deterrent? Many, sadly, would consider it the best address for such income…

The Gemara (Bava Metzia 70b) educates us as to the true import of this dictum:

“What is meant by ‘the gracious to the poor’? Rav said – like Shabur the King [Rashi: he was the Persian monarch, and he would take money from the Jews and grant it to non-Jewish poor]. Rav Nachman said, ‘Huna told me, this is needed to teach us even regarding interest to a non-Jew’.”

The Halachic parameters regarding the permissibility of usury lending to non-Jews are not the focus of this piece. It is common worldwide business practice to lend with interest. However, we can frame this issue as a Middas Chasidus, an act of piety, which, according to one opinion, is indicative of a blemish on the soul if not kept. Nowadays, such terminology seems to get some people to sit up and pay attention.

Consider. The Gemara in Makkos (24a) states that it is meritorious to refrain from lending with interest to a non-Jew. The Sefer HaBattim (Asei 199) asserts: “It is the opinion of one of the Sages that David’s statement (Tehillim 15) – ‘His money he did not give with usury’ is referring to interest lending to a non-Jew. Increasing one’s fortune with interest, since it is a bad trait in the soul, indicative of greed and theft, was only allowed for bare minimum life sustenance.”

The Chochmas Adam (130:6), after informing us of basic Halachic guidelines, adds the following: “However, it is proper for every honest man, if possible, to refrain from lending a non-Jew with interest and (preferable) to cast his burden (of providing a living) on G-d.”

If one does not follow this ideal, says the Gemara, the money ends up where it belongs – with the gracious government, redistributed to the non-Jews from whom it was taken.

The lesson is clear, many times over, in light of the current humiliating arrests. We are not talking of some middas chasidus. These are very severe crimes; sins of fraud, theft, and epic chillul Hashem. In the case of organ trafficking, it is, if possible, far worse than that. It is repugnant, heinous.

Moreover, the US government does not merely act kindly toward its non-Jewish poor. We have thrived off of the unprecedented scope of magnanimity of the government, through its myriad avenues of financial aid, and its recognition of our institutions as charity dollar recipients. This Malchus Shel Chessed has been gracious, benevolent and tolerant like none other in our history. And we must shamefacedly admit that we have failed it. Basic Hakaras Hatov, the very bedrock of both Bein Adam Lamakom, as per the Chovos Halevavos, and Bein Adam Lachaveiro, has been conspicuously absent. How far we have fallen! “Grace” is not the word being associated with Orthodox Jews right now.

Even as a cold calculus, we are maaminim, b’nei maaminim. The money will undoubtedly end up where it belongs in any event. What is absolutely imperative is that it arrives in the hands of the deserving government in a way that brings honor to Hashem and His nation.

It is inexcusable if we fail to collectively make such a resolution. It is about time.

[Rabbi Beckerman is a rebbi at Ohr Yerushalayim, and survived several years of galus in the western reaches of the medinah she chesed]

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12 Responses

  1. One Christian's perspective says:

    “In the case of organ trafficking, it is, if possible, far worse than that. It is repugnant, heinous.”

    As far as I am aware there is no halachik problem with selling organs except that it goes against federal law. If an adult is willing to sell his kidney in order to save someone else’s life it is neither repugnant or heinous. IMHO federal law should change to allow adults to sell their kidneys in order to save people’s lives – Comment by moshe

    Federal Law has wisdom. It is far better to donate an organ without expecting monetary gain. This is called a “gift” or “charity” or “love”. All of our parts belong to HaShem. We are created in His image. I am trying to understand how He is Glorified when what is His is sold for profit and He is left out of the picture.

  2. Doeon Beckerman says:

    Bitachon without hishtadlus (normal efforts such as training for a trade or profession) is dangerous.

    Fake Bitachon without Hishtadlus is dangerous. Emunah Ubitachon by the Chazon Ish:

    ואמנם בזאת יבחן אם פיו ולבו שוין, האם בוטח הוא באמת או אך למד לשונו לצפצף בטחון, בטחון, ובלבו לא קוננה, כאשר נפגש במקרה הדורש בטחון, ואשר בשעה זו תפקידו של הבטחון לנהלו, להחלימו ולרפאותו, האם בשעה הקשה הלזו פנה אל הבטחון ויבטח בו, או דוקא בשעה זו לא פנה אליו, ופנה אל רהבים ושטי כזב, אל אמצעים מגונים ותחבולות שוא

    Real Bitachon without what others may consider normal efforts of Hishtadlus depends on the level of the individual and is often praiseworthy, and deviating from one’s own level of Bitachon toward Hishtadlus can be cause for censure. This is what the Rambam is speaking of at the end of Hilchos Shmittah V’yovel.

    והלך ישר כמו שעשהו האלקים ופרק מעל צוארו עול החשבונות הרבים אשר בקשו בני האדם

    See also Yalkut Shimoni Yirmiyah 2

    שבשעה שאמר ירמיה לישראל מפני מה אין אתם עוסקים בתורה, אמרו לו אם אנו עוסקים בתורה במה נתפרנס? באותה שעה הוציא להם ירמיה צנצנת המן, אמר להם ראו אבותיכם שהיו עוסקים בתורה במה נתפרנסו, אף אתם עסקו בתורה והמקום מפרנס אתכם מזה

    BTW, there is virtually nobody today who doesn’t train for a trade or profession. There are some areas of employment that are correlated with Torah study. The question is whether there is enough evaluation as to individuals who should perhaps be seeking other avenues of gainful employment.

    Nathan’s idea is the theme of Tehillim 37:

    לדוד אל תתחר במרעים אל תקנא בעושי עולה
    כי כחציר מהרה ימלו וכירק דשא יבולון
    בטח בד’ ועשה טוב שכן ארץ ורעה אמונה

    וברש”י – בטח בד’ ואל תאמר אם לא אגזול ואגנוב או אתן לעני צדקה במה אתפרנס

  3. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    “If we all had 100% bitachon that G_d always provides for all of our needs, then we would never steal.”

    Bitachon without hishtadlus (normal efforts such as training for a trade or profession) is dangerous. From the Gemara, “many did like Rav Shimon Bar Yochai (Bitachon without hishtadlus) and were not successful.”
    On the other hand many did rabbi Yishmael (Bitachon with hishtadlus) and were successful.

    The events of last week show that “not successful” in this context does not just mean an individual failure, but great shame being brought on the entire community.

  4. Nathan says:

    If we all had 100% bitachon that G_d always provides for all of our needs, then we would never steal.

    I saw this in a mussar book, but I can no longer find the exact quote.

  5. another Nathan says:

    We have to understand that a pious appearance or title are not reliable indicators of yirat Shamayim.

  6. Yehoshua Mandelcorn says:

    Perhaps we need to encourage our children to go into the professions that help build and heal the world. They will then be much less tempted with dishonesty, and their accomplishments will also bring honor to the communities that they come from.

  7. Doron Beckerman says:

    CJ,

    I don’t have a generic answer to your question. But everyone can ask themselves whether they or their children are as repulsed by Sheker as by a ham sandwich. Then funny thing is that the אפשי ואפשי אבל מה אעשה is on the ham sandwich.

  8. Doron Beckerman says:

    Moshe,

    I agree with you in principle in terms of a private deal. If someone wants to save another’s life and make some money in the process – fine. It’s illegal, but I can certainly hear arguments for regulation. It would have to take care of concerns like selling organs of daughters or wives in countries where things like that can happen, but let’s assume we can get over those hurdles. You have heavily regulated agencies doing the Shadchanus, preferrably non-profit or very marginal profit, and I’m okay with that.

    My problem is with middlemen making bonanzas to the tune of 1600% profits off of dealing with human organs. It is begging for exploitative measures and tactics in procuring the organs (and reportedly such measures were employed, but I prefer to err on the side of caution and assume it isn’t true), dealing with human life in a very self-serving and, at best, cavalier way. You’re locating the poor people, offering them something of a pittance while putting them at some risk, and then turning around and making a killing off of someone else’s life-threatening or life-shortening ailment, when he is in a corner. Generally I’m a lasseiz-faire type of person, not a bleeding heart liberal at all – but to me this is way over the top. I understand that the profit margins are dictated by the risk factor of the law breaking. But that’s part of what makes it repugnant.

  9. CJ Srullowitz says:

    The question remains, lulei demistafina, whether these financial crimes are the result of individual failings or of systemic miseducation.

    If it is the former, then we have to accept that their will always be bad apples in our midst. But, if it is the latter, we will have to figure out a way to bring the system back in line with the words and dictates of Chazal.

  10. A frum Yid says:

    Agreed 100%.
    But –
    Without defending criminal activity, perhaps some limud zechus is in order for those accused of money laundering. IMHO money laundering is different from other forms of corruption in that it may not be obvious to the people involved that it is criminal. Let’s consider for a moment the 87-yr old rabbi who was arrested last Thursday. We can imagine that if a wily, crooked businessman comes up to him and says, “Look, rabbi, I’m having some issues with the tax authorities, and I was wondering if you maybe you could help…and I’ll give you $20,000 for your charities.” He then explains that he will transfer the money to the cahrity and the charity will hang onto it for a while until the “issues” are sorted out.

    I never met the rabbi in question. But it may at least be possible that he doesn’t really understand what laundering is, and really had no idea that he was helping someone evade taxes.

    Again, I am not defending laundering in any way. I’m just trying to reconcile my feelings of disgust with the kavod owed to talmidei chachamim.

  11. Ak says:

    Hi,

    The problem is that we are extrinsically motivated to get results rather than intrinsically motivated by the ‘ process of living.’

    Instead of helping kids develop a love for learning , enjoy what they do , we try to give them a taste of success and achievement , to get better results, build their self esteem – the focus on the self instead focusing on the process. We promote materialism , lo lishma , prizes , being number one, beating the others , in order to motivate kids to learn
    When they grow up and have wonderful goals of supporting yeshivas it is quite easy to justify a lo lishma, rationalizing taking from the zionists or the goyim, that trading in organs is not essentially against the torah and especially if the money is going to support talmidei chachamim.

    Kids are being brought up that working has nothing inherently of value , it is just a means to an end . So if there is nothing of value in work , there can be no Kidush Hashem or Chilul Hashem. We need to focus on the ‘ process of living’ , not the results , the ends. If we do that we will never justify the means to any end , the process itself will be a kidush or chilul Hashem. When the process of a demonstration is important , there will be kidush Hashem , when the results are important , the goal of closing down a parking lot or a street is important , what counts is the result , kidush or chilul Hashem is irrelevant.

    We have to reconnect to life , the process of living, the process of learning and not values like achievement , success, results , the no of pages learned.

  12. moshe says:

    “In the case of organ trafficking, it is, if possible, far worse than that. It is repugnant, heinous.”

    As far as I am aware there is no halachik problem with selling organs except that it goes against federal law. If an adult is willing to sell his kidney in order to save someone else’s life it is neither repugnant or heinous. IMHO federal law should change to allow adults to sell their kidneys in order to save people’s lives