Gain/Loss – It’s not about the Money by Rabbi Ezra Wiener


The prohibition of taking interest is discussed in several locations throughout the Torah, including in Parashat Ki Teitzei. The Gemara (Bava Metzia 75b) relays the severity of this prohibition by stating Rabi Shimon’s opinion that those who lend with interest are indirectly ridiculing Moshe Rabbeinu and saying: “Ilu Hayah Yodei’a Moshe Rabbeinu SheYihyeh Revach BaDavar, Lo Hayah Kotevo,” “If Moshe Rabbeinu would have known that there is profit in the matter of lending interest, he never would have written that it is forbidden.” Rabi Shimon makes another statement about those who lend with interest: “Malvei Ribbit, Yoteir MiMah SheMarvichim, Mafsidim,” “Those who lend with interest lose more than they gain.” Rashi explains what the word “Mafsifdim” means based on the Gemara earlier (71a). The Gemara quotes a Pasuk from Tehillim (15:5) praising one who lends money without taking interest and stating that such a person shall not falter forever - “Kaspo Lo Natan BeNeshech... Oseih Eileh Lo Yimot LeOlam.” The Gemara then infers: “Ha Lamadta SheKol HaMalveh BeRibbit Nechasav Mitmotetin,” “Anyone who lends with interest will have his possessions eventually falter.” Those who do not comply with this injunction will suffer a permanent downfall, and that, writes Rashi, is what “Mafsidim” means.

Ben Yehoyada questions Rashi’s interpretation of “Yoteir MiMah SheMarvichin Mafsidim” – “They lose more than they gain.” Such a prognostication implies not necessarily as Rashi writes, based on the Gemara on 71a, that he will lose the interest he has gained, but rather that he may profit in this endeavor but will surely lose in another business venture. “More than what they stand to gain here, they will lose elsewhere.” Additionally, the language of the other Gemara of “Mitmotetin” connotes that gradually his profits will falter and be lost. This may happen throughout the generations, even if the original sinner profited. It is thus difficult to assume that our Gemara’s statement that the one who lends with interest loses more than he gains refers to such a person. He indeed gains more than he loses, at least during his own lifetime. How could it be that such a person who takes interest can prosper, and only generations later have his family be punished for his actions?

Therefore, Ben Yehoyada offers a different interpretation of the phrase, “Malvei BeRibbit, Yoteir MiMah SheMarvichin, Mafsidin.” It indeed refers to the lender himself, and it also refers to the specific endeavor, business transaction, loan, etc. in which the interest is taken. He explains his opinion by relating a story of an exchange between two Jews: Reuven tells Shimon how profitable his carpentry business has been: “It’s due, by and large, to my ambitious, compulsive work ethic as I have a ‘no rest for the weary’ business philosophy. ‘MiMizrach Shemesh Ad Mevo’o’ I am working. I work through the night on various projects, not allowing myself to fall asleep, and I am even working with my hands as I chew my food during meals.” His friend Shimon responds: “I am also unceasingly profiting from my business but I have plenty of leisure time to sleep and to relax for recreation. I even have extra time to pray and study Torah. You can’t profit on Shabbat and Yom Tov or when you are in the bathroom, but I profit even at these times. In fact, when we are all beating our chests on Yom Kippur and confessing ‘Al Cheit SheChatanu Lefanecha BeNeshech UVeMarbit,’ I am still making money. My business is more profitable and affords me plenty of leisure time since I lend money on interest. No time is ever lost.”

The Midrash on the Pasuk in Tehilim (55:24), “Anshei Damim UMirmah, Lo Yechetzu Yemeihem,” “Men of blood and deceit will not live out even half of their lives,” remarks, “Eilu HaMalvim BeRibbit” – this Pasuk, which discusses the men who will live short lives, refers to those that lend with interest. How are we to understand this Midrash? After all, plenty of Jews who are charging interest from other Jews are living out their full life. Ben Yehoyada quotes the Gemara in Shabbat (89b) where Rav Shmuel Bar Nachmeiny, in the name of Rabi Yonatan, expounds upon a Pasuk in Yeshayahu (63:16). This Gemara tells us that in the future, Hashem will tell Avraham, “your children have sinned,” to which Avraham will respond, “let them be wiped out for Your name.” Unsatisfied with this reply, Hashem will say to Himself, “now I will ask Ya’akov, who had great Tza’ar Gidul Banim (pain raising children), the same question. But Ya’akov will respond the same way as Avraham. Once again, Hashem will be unhappy with this response, so He will say to Himself, “The older one lacks reasoning, and the younger one lacks good counsel; I will ask Yitzchak.” Yitzchak will reply to Hashem, “Why do You refer to them as my children, when they’re Your children as well. In fact, you call them ‘Beni Bechori Yisrael!’ Besides, how much could they really have sinned? How many are a man’s years? Seventy. Take away the first twenty since the Heavenly court does not punish one for sins committed before age twenty. So there are fifty years left. Take away half (twenty-five) of that during which the time is spent sleeping and resting. Take away half again (twelve and a half) for time Davening, eating, and being in the bathroom. Therefore, there a maximum of twelve and a half years in which there is potential to sin. If You will shoulder all of that time, good, and if not, we will split it, and at the very worst, I will bear it myself.”

Ben Yehoyada now explains: All of the years that have been subtracted, which formed the basis of Yitzchak’s vindication, resurface for the one who lends with interest. About him it cannot be said that his time in the bathroom, davening, and sleeping are not potential targets for the Satan to be used in his arsenal of evidence for prosecution of the Jew in the Heavenly court. The Malveh BeRibbit is proud of the fortune he has built with little effort on his part and unfortunately, his prohibited practices are accelerated and propagated by his success. The amenities afforded by his successful business, the affluence it brings, and the self-image buttressed by it create an allure for the youth who, when confronted with a conflict between Jewish law and the temporal bliss of material gratification, will fall prey to these formidable dangers, enticed by the materialism, reinforced by the acclaim afforded to the wealthy regardless of how it was earned and eviscerate Judaism from one of its fundamental precepts. This is what the Gemara in Bava Metzia is teaching: Those who lend with Ribbit lose more than they gain. They are under the impression that they profit more than others as they physically gain money even during down time eating, sleeping, etc. But it is precisely for this reason that they lose. This becomes the basis of the prosecution when one enters the Olam HaEmet, and this person who lends with interest is asked, “Nasata VeNatata BeEmuna,” “Did you conduct your business faithfully and truthfully?” His exploitative efforts and determination will be his ultimate downfall.

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