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A Loan For Charity

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Giving charity is one of the best known precepts of “religious” life. Making loans, however, is not. The Torah instructs (Deuteronomy 15:7-8) that if there is a needy person within your gates, “…you shall surely open your hands to him and shall surely lend (v’ha’a’vayt ta’a’vee’tenu–literally “lend, you shall lend him”) him sufficient for his need in that which he wants.”

The sages use this verse to discuss how to “finesse” this mitzvah with someone who does not want to benefit from the charity of others. “The Sages said: It is given to him as a gift and then it is granted to him as a loan. As a gift? He, surely, refuses to take [gifts]! Raba replied: It is offered to him in the first instance as a gift [then, when he refuses the gift, as a loan].” (Ketubot 67b).

While this seems simple enough, the sages delve into the double language “lend, you shall lend him.” The first “lend” refers to money given to a person who has no means to earn money but does not want charity. Such a one is to be told “Bring a pledge and you will receive [a loan]–in order to raise his spirit” (Ketubot 67b). That loan, however, should be considered in the mind of its administrators as a gift (since it will probably never be repaid).

“You shall lend him,” on the other hand, refers to one who does have the means but does not want to maintain himself (a person who chooses not to work). To this person, the charity is given as a gift, but is considered a loan that must be repaid. The sages even state the true intention of this law: “If he is made to repay it he would surely not take again!”

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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