On today’s daf we find a discussion of the halachos of taking interest. Some people have a misguided conviction that all non-Jews are bad. This belief is not only very damaging for our relations with non-Jews wherever Jews live, it is also false. The Sefer Chasidim discusses davening for a non-Jew who is a good person.
One non-Jew was a very kind person, always helping his friends both Jewish and non-Jewish. He helped out one particular Jew in many ways, proving his friendship and earning his undying gratitude. When the non-Jew ran into financial troubles and asked his Jewish friend for a very large loan, the prospective lender was in a bit of a quandary. Although his friend had no way of knowing this, the lender’s finances were excellent; he could easily get along without charging interest. His greatest desire was to give his friend an interest-free loan. But he wondered if this was halachically permitted. In general it is forbidden to give an idolater a gift, including an interest-free loan — especially the astronomical sum the non-Jew required. But the Jew reasoned that this may be permitted in this case. After all, hadn’t his non-Jewish friend done so much to help him in the past? How could he be forbidden from responding in kind?
When this question reached Rav Shlomo Eiger, zt”l, he ruled that the lender was permitted to give his non-Jewish friend an interest-free loan. “Not only are you permitted to loan this non- Jew money interest free; if he did many kindnesses for you, you are obligated to give him a loan without charging interest. This is clear in the Radak in Tehillim 15:4, and is halachah l’maaseh!”
Daf Yomi Digest
Stories Off the Daf
I can only imagine that everytime I post a fairly large quote from Daf Yomi Digest or a similar source, that most Christians reading my blog tend to tune out (and probably a few Jewish people as well). It’s not easy to comprehend what the Rabbis are saying in these lessons and even when understood, the relevance may seem mysterious. Would it be that big a deal for a Jewish person to offer an interest-free loan to his non-Jewish friend without consulting his Rav? What tends to escape most of us is the need to be absolutely sure (if you are an observant Jew) that you are following the commandments in the proper manner. Certainly, this Jewish fellow wanted to do a kindness for his non-Jewish friend, but the path of Torah isn’t always easy to negotiate without correct halachic guidance and the desire is always to perform every action, including actions of charity and righteousness, in the manner that God has laid out for the Jewish people.
This is a detail that often escapes even those Gentiles who are Christians and believe they are to follow the commandments in the same way as the Jews.
After seeing some recent references of how some Jewish people view non-Jews as somehow “lesser” or lacking the ability to truly perceive God, reading this “story off the daf” was very refreshing. It also presented me with a minor mystery.
The PDFs I receive daily from the Chicago Center for Torah and Chesed (the source of my Daf Yomi lessons) provide footnote numbers but not the footnotes themselves. Their website isn’t particularly illuminating and I can only assume that the source from which they generate their PDFs has more information than survives the PDF creation process. For instance, when Rav Shlomo Eiger, zt”l cites “the Radak in Tehillim (Psalm) 15:4, and is halachah l’maaseh,” there is obviously more information available that interprets the Rav’s intent. How does Psalm 15:4 make it clear that the Jewish person in this story must give his Gentile friend the loan interest free?
A base person is despised in his eyes, and he honors the God-fearing; he swears to [his own] hurt and does not retract. -Psalm 15:4 (source: Chabad.org)
In whose eyes a reprobate is despised,
But who honors those who fear the LORD;
He swears to his own hurt and does not change -Psalm 15:4 (NASB)
It would help to read Psalm 15:1:
A song of David; O Lord, who will sojourn in Your tent, who will dwell upon Your holy mount?
So the person who is worthy to dwell in the Lord’s tent is the sort of person who “despises the base person” but “honors those who fear God”. Putting this back in the context of our commentary on the Daf, it seems as if the Rav is saying that the Jew (who is worthy of sojourning in God’s tent) must honor his non-Jewish friend, who obviously is God-fearing, in this case, by providing an interest-free loan.
I still needed the Radak’s commentary on Tehillim 15:4 but these sorts of references aren’t always easy to come by on the web. I did manage to find the following at DailyTehillim.com (print version only, though):
David here outlines the virtues that render a person worthy of dwelling in Hashem’s “tent” and residing in His “sacred mountain.” According to the Radak, David refers here to the resting place of the soul in the afterlife; it is thus here where we are told how a person earns his eternal share in the world to come. The Radak draws proof to this reading from the chapter’s final clause, where David exclaims, “he who does these shall not falter, forever.” The term “forever” implies that David refers here to eternal peace, which would suggest that he speaks of the soul’s reward in the afterlife.
In listing these virtues, David focuses first on proper interpersonal conduct: honesty and integrity (verse 2), and refraining from crimes such as gossip, causing others harm, and nepotistic protection of unworthy relatives (verse 3). In verse 4, he imposes an important qualification on the virtues of loving kindness and concern for others: “Nivzeh Be’einav Nim’as,” which Rashi translates to mean, “The shameful one is despicable in his eyes.” Although this prototype acts with love and sensitivity, he is at the same time prepared to confront evil and its advocates, rather than extend to them the same kindness and compassion he shows generally. He respects those who deserve respect, while condemning behavior that warrants condemnation.
The Ibn Ezra and Radak explain this verse differently, as meaning that the person sees himself as “shameful” and “despicable.” Despite his many fine qualities, he recognizes how much more he has to grow and accomplish in order to achieve perfection. Rather than falling into the trap of stifling complacency, he constantly strives to improve and to accomplish more.
The message conveyed by this Psalm is thus a dual one. On the one hand, David promises eternal life to everyone who lives in accordance with the basic values of honesty and Godliness; the world to come is not reserved for only the great Tzadikim who have reached the highest levels of spiritual devotion. At the same time, however, to earn eternal life one must spend his life in the pursuit of perfection, working each day to grow and become better than he is. This Psalm does not demand that everybody be perfect, but it does not demand that everybody work towards and strive for spiritual perfection.
This interpretation probably isn’t the one referenced in the Daf commentary, but it does give us more insight into the Psalm and it speaks to the character of both the Jew and his non-Jewish friend. My take on this is that a person who truly seeks to be worthy of God and to obey His desires, must honor others, regardless of who they are, who do the same. If you want to be a holy and honorable person, you must honor those who are holy and honorable. This crosses the Jewish/Gentile and hopefully the Jewish/Christian barrier (remember there are additional reasons why a Jew may object to a Christian Gentile as opposed to a more “generic” non-Jew) in “mixed” relationships but I think it could be justified based on our source story and especially on the line, “One non-Jew was a very kind person, always helping his friends both Jewish and non-Jewish.” Showing compassion and favor is not performing righteousness unless these acts are applied to everyone. Only helping those like you isn’t helping for the sake of God, at all.
For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? If you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? -Matthew 5:46-47 (NASB)
According to the Daf commentary, not all Gentiles “do the same”. Some Gentiles do better and live up to what Jesus was teaching. Marrying the “daf story” with the teachings of the Master, we understand what he meant when he said “salvation is from the Jews” (John 4:22). Where do we non-Jews get the idea to do kindness, charity, and righteousness? From our own souls? Perhaps, if we are listening to the voice of God as He whispers to us, but where is that voice expressed in its clearest form? The Bible. Where do we get the Bible? The Jews. Even the New Testament (or the vast, vast majority of it) was written by the Jewish disciples.
We see that despite some rather negative viewpoints about Gentiles that exist in modern Jewish commentary, a Jew is not limited to showing goodness just to his fellow Jew, and that Rabbinic judgment supports and even demands a good and kind Gentile be treated with the same compassion that he has treated others. Jesus takes it a step further and tells us to love our enemies (in this, he isn’t talking enemies in war but those who are in our own community but who are unlike us) and he re-enforces the message that it is not just those people who are like us who we must feed and clothe and visit when ill. It’s anyone.
If you are a Christian, you cannot ignore this. If you are a Christian who has been taught by your Pastor and your church to disdain and revile Jews because we (Christians) have replaced them and that they (Jews) are following a “dead” religion (how can something be dead that teaches so many lessons of life?), then you may want to revisit the Bible and revisit God in prayer. Something obviously has gone wrong with your faith and as a disciples, you are not following the lessons of your Master.