א: וְאֵלֶּה הַמִּשְׁפָּטִים אֲשֶׁר תָּשִׂים לִפְנֵיהֶם
1. And these are the ordinances that you shall set before them (21:1)
The Yalkut Shemoni in the beginning of this week’s Parsha quotes Rav Alechsandri who gives a parable for this week’s Parsha. Two men, who hate each other, are leading their donkeys who are carrying large loads, along the way. One donkey stops walking, and crouches down, (for its load was too heavy) while the other (man and donkey) passes him by. The one who passes says, ”It’s written in the Torah (23:5), ‘Perhaps you will see the donkey of someone you hate lying under its burden, will you refrain from helping him?’ Immediately, the man returns and helps his brother unload his donkey. The man who is being helped thinks to himself how a moment ago they hated each other and now he is helping him! It must be that they aren’t really enemies at all! They then make peace with each other and all hatred is lost.
This is the meaning to ‘And these are the judgments’. Hashem knows what is moral and ethical, and what it takes to make this world a better place. We just have to do and learn His mitzvos and the rest will fall into place on its own.
There are a lot of different mitzvos in this week’s Parsha, so choosing one was very difficult, but here goes.
‘When you will lend money to my people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act towards him as a creditor; do not place interest upon him. If you will take your fellow’s garment as security, until the sun sets you shall have returned it to him. For it alone is his covering, it is his garment for his skin; in what will he lie down? So it will be that if he cries out to me, I shall listen, for I am compassionate’. (22:24-26)
Here the Torah teaches us three mitzvos. To lend money to poor people, not to act as a creditor when you know he has nothing to pay you with, and not to lend money with interest. The Kli Yakar points out that we refer to this pauper with three different names. In the beginning we call him in the name of ‘my people’, then we call him ‘the poor person who is with you’, then lastly we say ‘your fellow’s garment’. Why do we change his name and not just refer his to the poor person the entire time? Answers the Kli Yakar that the Torah was telling us three reasons why we are required to lend money to a poor person.
1. Since he is part of ‘my people’, that is Hashem’s people. Hashem is the King and whoever gives money and food to the King’s men has a guarantee that the King will pay him back. Thus the Pasuk, ‘Malveh Hashem Chonain Dal’, that he who gives to poor people is considered as if he lent to Hashem.
2. The Gemara relates how Turnus Rufus asked R’ Akiva that if Hashem loves us so much why does our nation have poor people? R’ Akiva answered that it’s so that we can give Tzedakah which will save us from the Din of Gehinnom (hell) (See Gemara Bava Basra 10a for the rest of the discussion). If Tzedakah is so powerful that it could even save a person from the Din of Gehinnom then we see that the poor person does a lot more than the giver. The giver gives money (i.e. Olam Hazeh – this world) for only a small part of this poor person’s life, whereas the poor person gives this giver Olam Haba – the world to come – which is an immeasurable reward. Therefore the Torah’s second lashon of this pauper was, ‘to the poor person with you’. Why was this person poor? So that you could give Tzedakah and go to Olam Haba. Thus he is ‘with you’, meaning this poor person is here for your merit.
The Kli Yakar says that with these two reasons, we can now understand the next two mitzvos in the Torah.
Why should one not act like a creditor towards the pauper? We use reason number one, that since a person should be secure that Hashem is going to pay him back for that which he lent, he must then not act like a creditor thus proving he doesn’t believe Hashem is going to end up paying him back.
Why can a person not take interest for his loans? We use reason number two, that the poor person already gave him a pass through the Din of Gehinnom and now this person wants to make even more money from his loan? He is poor to help you become righteous, and you want to take advantage of him by making more money?
3. If we are dealing with a person who lacks faith that Hashem will pay him back and will therefore ask for a collateral, the end result that he will be will be borrowing his ‘fellow’s garment’. Meaning that he will be this poor man’s ‘friend’ in poverty. So what does Hashem say to this person? ‘If you stray off the straight path you can always come back.’ Give the man back his cloak before ‘the sun sets’.