Beit Midrash

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  • Ein Ayah
To dedicate this lesson

The Relationship between Rich and Poor


Various Rabbis

Mishna: If [a borrower] returns a loan during Shemitta, [the lender] should say "I absolve [you from paying the loan]." If [the borrower] said: "Despite this," he should receive the payment, as the pasuk says, "This is the matter [lit., the saying] of Shemitta."

Ein Ayah: The main purpose of absolving loans during Shemitta is because Shemitta was called for Hashem, which includes removing the heavy burden that is caused due to the rich having control over the poor. When a poor person at some point needed a loan from the wealthy person, a relationship developed whereby the poor person is subservient to the wealthy one to the point that there is an element of psychological servitude, based on the maxim that "the borrower is a servant to the lender" (Mishlei 22:7). This dominion is liable to cause the straight-hearted to be subservient to the forceful wealthy people who lend money. Therefore, Shemitta comes to "untie the knots" in a manner that declares so-to-speak that the foundation behind human ownership of property is connected to the general and higher purpose of the world, which is the common good of all mankind, the creations of Hashem.
On the other hand, the world does not come to its ultimate, lofty goal by means of uprooting the concept of individual ownership of property and riches. Rather, there should be a division of wealth in a manner that shows concern for the possible negative impact of one person’s advantage over another. All proper paths require vigilance so that those who embark upon them should not develop bad characteristics when they follow the path beyond its intended point. Therefore, the absolution of loans during Shemitta must be done with safeguards. Specifically, the borrowers must not lose the sensitivity to honesty and justice that should distance them from touching their fellow man’s property.
The balance was thus reached in the following manner. It is enough that the lender says, "I absolve you from paying the loan." This declaration eliminates the psychological anguish of subservience of the borrower to the lender. However, the Torah left a place for the feeling of honesty and purity that should continue to operate. The pure spirit that is appropriate for the Jewish person who is guided by the laws of Hashem’s Torah does not want to benefit from the wealth accumulated by another person through the latter’s toil. Therefore, the borrower should say "Despite this," and the lender should then receive the money from him. This shows that even in the special time of Shemitta, the boundaries of honesty are not totally moved. Rather they should be adjusted in a properly balanced and lofty manner whereby people will declare the principles of Shemitta in both its material and its spiritual aspects.
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