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Lending a Hand

We learn from this week’s parasha that granting an interest-free loan is not just a nice thing to do, it’s a mitzvah (Exodus 22:24). How much of a loan you might ask? As much as the borrower needs, or as much as you can afford. If a fellow Jew asks for financial assistance and the request is turned down for no good reason, which leads them to despair, the Torah says that there will be consequences for the needlessly tightfisted. On the other hand, we learn that with regards to a lender:, “You shall call and G-d will answer; you shall cry and He will say, ‘Here I am,’” (Isaiah 58:9).

Lending money interest-free is the highest form of tzedakah, charity, far greater than giving a free meal. A handout may preserve a life for a day, but a loan preserves that sense of self-sufficiency necessary for an individual to get back on his or her feet. That’s why every Jewish community is expected to support at least one interest-free loan society.

What if someone is not needy, but would like a loan to make more money? Though it is not of the same significance as helping a truly needy person, it’s still a mitzvah. Unlike tzedakah, interest-free loans are for both the poor and the rich.

In line with what we learn in this week’s parsha, I ask that you please consider supporting our local Hebrew Free Loan Society. Since first established in 1897 to provide assistance to Bay Area residents, they have remained dedicated to helping people become and remain financially self-sufficient. Over 1,000 people are currently receiving loans from the Hebrew Free Loan Society, totaling nearly $9 million dollars. However, the needs of our community are growing greater each day. With your help, we can fulfill this fundamental mitzvah and help get our fellow Jews back on their feet.

Some Jewish pointers regarding loaning money:

  • Don’t grant the loan if you believe that the money will be squandered and the borrower won’t have the means to repay his or her debt.

  • It is expressly forbidden for two Jews to transact a loan that involves any form of interest whatsoever. If the loan is for business purposes, a halachic contract can be drawn up that makes the lender a partner in the business, thus entitling him to some of the profits.

  • Don’t press a debtor if you know that he is unable to repay the debt. Don’t even appear before him, even without making any demands, lest he be frightened or shamed.

  • On Sabbatical years, all loans are voided - contact a rabbi to learn how to avoid this.

  • No loan should be made without either witnesses or a written contract.