Dvar for Mishpatim (Exodus 21:1-24:18)
Parshat Mishpatim begins the daunting work of laying the law for the Jews. Hidden among the many laws is a law that states: “if” one lends money, it is required to be interest free (22:24). After detailing broad laws of slavery, injuries and damages, why would the Torah choose to mention a law that would only apply to a few people? Further, what’s wrong with charging interest? If someone can’t use their money because they lent it, don’t they deserve to be reimbursed for that loss?
Our first clue is Rashi (a major commentator) pointing out that this is one of only three times in the Torah that the word “Im” doesn’t mean “if”, but means “when”. This now clearly tells us that it’s not just a possibility that money will be lent, but it’s a requirement to lend money, whenever possible. That would explain why the Torah mentioned it, but still – what’s wrong with interest? Rabbi Chaim Shmulevitz explains that when someone does an act of kindness, such as lending, it should be without anticipating reward. Mixing a good deed with personal gain can confuse us into thinking that we’re doing something because it’s right and proper to do, while in fact we’re really motivated by the profits derived by doing it. The Torah is illustrating that a good deed should be pure and untainted, without even a doubt of its motivation. In our everyday lives, there should be at least ONE such deed, where there can be no doubt that it was done purely for another’s benefit. What’s yours?