The Torah portion of this week has a mitzvah that teaches us to lend money to the poor and needy. The words used in the Torah are “im kesef talve,” which typically translates to “if you lend money.” Rabbi Eliezer teaches that there are four times in the Torah that the word “im” translates to “when.” This verse teaches us that it’s an obligation to lend money when you have it (interest free).
A person may think that he/she worked hard for their money, so why give it to others? The Torah tells us our money and everything we have belongs to G-d. G-d gave us the blessing of money to share with those who are less fortunate. In turn, G-d will continue to give you blessings of money many times over.
A story is told that Rabbi Yehoshua Heshel, know as the Apte Rebbe, was once asked by a Chasid/follower for financial help to marry off three of his daughters. The Rebbe told him to go to one of his Chasidim and tell him that the Rebbe said he should give him 300 rubles. The wealthy chassid, upon hearing the Rebbe’s words, became upset. He told the man the Rebbe shouldn’t mix into “my business. I’ll give 50 rubles.” The poor man said, “I’ll only take what the Rebbe asked of you and nothing less.”
The poor man returned to the Rebbe and told him what happened. The Rebbe told him to go to another Chasid, who was not wealthy, and tell him that the Rebbe said he should give 300 rubles.
This Chasid, not having the money, went to his wife and said, ‘What can we pawn off now to listen to the Rebbe and help this man?’ She took her candlesticks and some other items to the pawn shop and came back with 300 rubles for the poor man.
Not much later, the wealthy Chasid’s business took a turn for the worse. Slowly, he lost his entire fortune. At the same time, the second Chasid who pawned his valuables began to have success in his business and became quite wealthy. The once wealthy man connected his lack of giving the requested charity to the loss of his fortune. He came crying to the Rebbe to apologize. He told the Rebbe, “I’ll start giving more tzedakah” and to please bless him that his wealth shall return.
The Rebbe answered him, “It was destined for me, the Rebbe, to be wealthy. However, I knew that wealth will distract me from my holy work. I said to G-d, ‘Give the money to my Chasidim. When I’ll need money, I’ll send for it and they’ll give me what I ask for.’” He told the once wealthy Chasid, “You had my money and when I asked for it you didn’t give it to me, so I gave my money to another Chasid.”
This story teaches us that what we have is not ours and that we must thank G-d that we are on the giving end. We must help others even if we may lose some of the interest, may not get paid back or not get a deduction. If we give our 10 percent or lend money when we can to our fellows, G-d says you can test Him with this mitzvah and you will make 10 times more then what you gave.
We are fortunate in this state that helping the poor can also be a state tax credit of up to $800 for a couple filing jointly. At Chabad, we have Ten Yad, a 501(c)3 for the working poor to help those in need. We also have a separate fund that is an interest-free loan for the rabbis when they need help. This Saturday at 8:30 p.m. there will be a Melave Malka at the Phoenix Chabad Center to help us grow the Rabbi’s needs’ fund. All are invited. JN
Rabbi Zalman Levertov is the regional director of Chabad of Arizona.