Beit Midrash

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A Matter of Interest

He handed the note to Reb Aryeh Leib. The latter looked at it and could not believe what he saw. It stated that the debtor agrees to return the loan with twenty-five percent interest. "This is a violation of the commandment not to charge interest!"


Rabbi Shmuel Holshtein

Adar 1 5768
The Torah prohibits giving or taking loans with interest, as it is written, "Nor shall you lay interest upon him." (Exodus 22:24)

With some reservation, Reb Aryeh Leib made his way to the house of one of the wealthiest residents of Posen. He realized that it would be unwise for him to pin his hopes on this particular individual, for he had a reputation of being very tightfisted when it came to charity. However, in light of the unbearable financial burden of his daughter's upcoming wedding, Reb Aryeh Leib felt he had no other choice.

The wealthy man listened to Reb Aryeh Leib's request with solemnity and responded that he would certainly be happy to help a dear brother in his time need. Reb Aryeh Leib's heart began to beat excitedly; it appeared that his salvation had finally arrived. A moment later, however, his excitement abated when he realized that the wealthy man had no intention of giving him the donation that would rescue him from his predicament; the man was only prepared to give him a loan.

Reb Aryeh Leib was not sure what to do. Should he take the loan? After all, at some point the money would have to be returned, and he had no reason to believe that he would be any better off in a few months than he was today. However, after thinking the matter over, he realized that he really had no other choice. By taking the loan he could at least defray his expenses in installments. Reb Aryeh Leib agreed, and the wealthy man took a booklet of loan notes out of his desk drawer and began to fill one out.

When he handed the note to Reb Aryeh Leib, the latter looked at it and could not believe what he saw. The note stated that the debtor agrees to return the loan within a year with twenty-five percent interest.

"This is an open violation of the commandment not to charge interest! Will you not help a fellow Jew in his hour of need without looking for some way to gain from his predicament?"

Reb Aryeh Leib tried to get the wealthy man to change his mind, but to no avail. He left with a heavy heart, hoping to find some other solution to his problem. When he related what had happened to him to friends, they were amused. They said he should have known better than to ask for charity from a person who had amassed all of his wealth through charging interest.

A few years later, the wealthy man passed away. Members of the burial society decided that at least in his death it would be fitting and wise for the rich man to "donate" some of his wealth to the poor of the city. They informed his inheritors that they would have to pay an extremely high fee if they wished to have their father buried in the city's Jewish cemetery.

Stunned, the inheritors tried to convince the burial society to reconsider, but to no avail; the members of the society were steadfast in their decision. They explained to the family that this was for the good of their father and that the merit of aiding the poor would certainly benefit him when he stood before the Heavenly Tribunal. This did not impress the family, and they decided to take the matter to the city governor.

The governor was very angered when he heard the exorbitant price the leaders of the Jewish community were demanding for the burial. He said that if they refuse to accept the demands of the inheritors, he would have the Jewish cemetery closed down completely.

However, before finalizing his decision, he called for the city rabbi, the brilliant Rabbi Akiva Eiger in order to receive some explanation regarding the outrageous price that was being demanded for this man's burial.

"Clearly," said the governor to the rabbi, "the price you are demanding is outlandishly high for a burial sight!"

The rabbi smiled and responded, "Ordinarily, a burial sight is not very expensive, for we Jews believe that the Messiah can come at any moment and the dead will be resurrected. This being the case, it is possible that a person will only need his gravesite for a very short period of time."

"However," continued the rabbi, "we have a tradition that one who gives loans with interest will not be resurrected. It follows that this rich man is in fact buying himself a plot for eternity. For such a long period of time it makes sense that he pay a large sum."

The governor, who now understood quite well why the inheritors were being asked to pay such a high sum, immediately approved the demand. He even ruled that a similar price be instituted in the city's non-Jewish cemetery.
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