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Taking Care of Business

By: Rav Jeremy Spierer

"You shall not cause your brother to take interest… You may cause a gentile to take interest, but you may not cause your brother to take interest, so that Hashem, your God, will bless you in your every undertaking on the land to which you are coming to possess it (Devarim 23:20-21)."


Why does the Torah repeat this prohibition of lending Jews money with interest? Why does adhering to this law bring particular blessing to our "every undertaking?" This law applies equally in Israel and in the Diaspora; why, then, does the Torah mention "the land to which you are coming to possess?" Finally, and perhaps most fundamentally, why distinguish between Jews and non-Jews? If taking interest reflects unfair business practice, we should avoid it categorically.

The answer is that charging interest, in fact, reflects legitimate business practice. Indeed, why wouldn't we, as creditors, charge interest? Lending money constitutes a service. In addition, letting someone use our money prevents our investing and profiting from that money. Why shouldn't we charge for that loss of opportunity? In this light, taking interest from a non-Jew represents the "default," the conduct we would expect. Indeed, we find ourselves asking the opposite question: why can we not charge interest to our fellow Jews?

The Torah repeats, "You shall not cause your brother to take interest." If our siblings come to us for a loan, we would (presumably) charge them no interest. If we own a restaurant, we certainly might give our close relatives "the family discount." Taking interest from a non-family member is good business practice; taking interest from my sibling is bad family practice.

When coming to our land where we would encounter Jews and non-Jews, the Torah charges us to distinguish between "regular people" and our family. Yes, all Jews form one family whether we look alike, act alike - or even like each other. Our Torah communities, taking their ideal form in Israel, must reflect achdut. Only this unity will bring blessing to our "every undertaking."

I write this at the end of our academic year, shortly after June 3rd has been designated as International Unity Day in memory of the three Israeli teens kidnapped a year ago – Gil-ad, Naftali, and Eyal. Our recent graduates still lived in Yerushalayim when the mayor, Nir Barkat helped inaugurate a new "Jerusalem Unity Prize." We hope to capitalize on this awe-inspiring unity to bring our people and redemption closer.

I write this also considering Chodesh Elul in which we find ourselves. Elul represents not only reuniting with our creator – אני לדודי ודודי לי – but also reconciling with our family members and fellow human beings – איש לרעהו ומתנות לאביונים. May we focus our energies this year on actions that will bring us all closer to Hashem, to our families, and to our fellow Jews.

Shabbat Shalom.









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