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Behar(Leviticus 25:1-26:2)

Selfless Giving

In this week's Torah portion, God tells the Jewish people that if another Jew should become impoverished, not only should you help him by lending him money, but when you do make sure you:

"Do not give him your money for interest." (Lev. 25:37)

A LIFE LESSON

There are two powerful messages in God's decree to not lend money to a fellow Jew with interest. The first thing is to remember that all blessings - including how much money a person has - come directly from God. Therefore, when you lend someone money, you're simply giving him some of the money that God gave to you. And since it was technically "His" money to begin with, He has the right to tell you to not charge interest when you lend it out.

The second lesson is actually designed to make sure that you never forget the first lesson. We unfortunately live in a very selfish world and people often do things (or don't do them) for selfish reasons. Many people will unconsciously undergo a "cost/benefit" analysis to see what kind of payoff they can expect to receive for their actions.

So God wants to insure that when you lend money to someone, it will be completely about the person you're helping - and nothing at all to do about you. And the fact that any money you lend without interest would certainly earn you a better financial return if you put in into the bank helps to reinforce this point. Lending money to a fellow Jew interest-free makes it all about their needs and not about your own gain.

The powerful message that God wants us always to remember is to know that the ultimate form of giving is when it's done completely and totally selflessly.

No matter what you give to someone who's in need - whether it's money, your time, or advice - make it all about the other person. And ironically, when you give for the right reasons you'll experience something totally remarkable. You'll feel an enormous amount of pleasure. And that's the great paradox. The more selfless of a giver you are, the greater the return you'll actually receive.

Published: May 13, 2006

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Visitor Comments: 5

(4) Jacob Gold, May 3, 2013 1:26 PM

What Responsibility do the borrowers have?

Like many who loan money, I have loaned my brother money on several occasions. After 7 years, I dismissed the first loan of about $10k. Today, my brother owns a home, is traveling, investing in other businesses and is back on his feet while our family has been struggling. He never once, on either loan, began paying us back until I finally had to ask him about it. You hear stories like that all the time. Makes me want to ask him to pay back the first loan that I dismissed but I don't. What are the rules here?

(3) rachel, May 12, 2011 8:50 PM

on lending money

My father z"l taught me that when you lend money to anyone do not expect to get it back. Over the years, I've practiced this and Parshat Behar explains it. If we have money to lend to someone it is not ours and if Hashem wants he will return it to us, i.e., give us more.

(2) nina, May 4, 2010 8:40 AM

interest inflation

I have always wondered about the role of inflation in this commandment. When you lend without interest, you intend not to profit from the debtor. But you will get less than your original amount of money back, because there is (almost always) inflation. Are you obliged to lose money on this mitzvah? Also, if your community has set up an interest-free loan account, over time the money will diminish and there will be less to help the needy, because every debtor profited just a little. Is it not more ethical to take interest at the inflation rate, which is not really interest, but compensation? Please explain. Thank you.

Benny, May 3, 2013 11:48 AM

G-d will keep providing

I am not a schollar, but the interest free fund you refer will be replenished with further donations from individuals who will keep on givig tzedakah with what they have been provided.

(1) Anne, May 15, 2009 11:07 AM

Selfish giving

Sometimes people even though they don't charge interest feel a sense of entitlement over you. For instance, my sister-in-law lent my family money towards a down-payment of our house. Her intention was obviously not a selfless one because she inadvertently used it as we owed her something. She had an ulterior motive. As they say never toot your horn when giving charity. This was not charity, restitution was made and yet her heart was not in the right place! As the addage says, "Never borrow money from family"

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