The following is an email exchange between a shliach and a constituent of his shul. The person asks a very profound question based from a secular mindset. The shliach responds by bringing his question back into a Torah perspective.
I was troubled by your d’var Torah this past Shabbat.
Did I hear correctly that you said “as important as it is to loan money to a poor Jew without interest, it is a similar mitzvah to loan money at the highest rates” to a non-Jew?
What is the source for this reference as it flies in the face of my deepest concepts of our religion and Judaism’s goals to be a torch of light to the world?
……..And if the mitzvah is so clear to avoid charging interest, then why do some Rabbis allow the loophole wherein interest can be charged?
Finally, I once asked you if the Golden Rule applies to Jew and non-Jew alike. I do not like your answer (that it only includes Jews), as this, as well as the above-mentioned interest rate issue contributes to the hurtful image of the insular, interest-rate overcharging Jewish stereotype in the real world. Since this id again contrary to my own values of treating everyone with dignity, respect and kindness – may I ask for references for these comments?
A final point – if you are firmly convinced that you are correct in making these comments – then shouldn’t we rename Tikun Olam – the repair of an imperfect world – Tikun Yisrael, the repair only directed to our own?
Very truly yours,
To answer the points you raised about –
-Charging interest to a non- Jew
-Treating all people with respect and dignity
-“tikun olam” as you see it
is not very practical in a letter, as a few brief lines cannot do justice to these topics. You ask about the source – the source is the Written Torah as well as the Oral Torah. These matters need to be studied at length. Nevertheless – I will give you some very general and basic principles, Torah principles, by which Jews have lived for thousands of years, since the giving of the Torah by G-d on Sinai, to help you understand somewhat.
The Creator of the world created an imperfect world and gave us a “manual” by which to work with the world and bring it to its intended perfection. In His manual, the Torah, G-d gives us clear and specific instructions on what to do and when to do it and the consequences of our actions – to reach this goal. There are 613 laws incumbent upon every Jew and 7 laws incumbent upon every non-Jew – all of mankind needs to work at reaching this goal.
Why did G-d create an imperfect world, a world that needs “fixing” /tikun – He could have created a perfect one? Because He wanted US to be involved, He wanted US to become His partners in creation! What an awesome privilege! Yet with this privilege comes our sacred duty to work, to put in the final touches, and do”tikun”/fix the world.
It only makes sense that the One who created the world knows exactly how best to complete His creation – how to care for the world, to refine it and to bring out its maximum potential. It is in our hands and within our power do this “tikun” – but only if we follow His instructions, on G-d’s terms, not ours. If we follow the careful instructions, the 613 precepts – each and every one of them, whether we understand them or not – we will be able to reveal the G-dliness in every part of our physical world and make this a perfect world. This is the true and only way we can do tikun olam/fixing the world. No other way.
What makes sense to a created human being – who by definition is limited – does not necessarily match the Divine wisdom in G-d’s Torah.
When we accepted the Torah at Sinai on Shavuos, in the year 2448- we all declared with a certainty: WE WILL DO AND WE WILL LEARN!
First we do and then we learn. The doing comes first – this is the critical part of tikun olam, doing the mitzvos, this is what fixes the world. We do mitzvos regardless of how much we know or don’t know or understand. We fulfill the commandments only because G-d said so, not because they make sense to us. Even very obvious commandments – do not steal, do not kill, respect your parents etc. – we do them because G-d says so and for no other reason. We unfortunately experienced in our recent painful history what happens when human beings take G-d’s laws into their own hands and understanding … man can easily reason away the law not to kill, by proving “scientifically” that certain sub-humans need to be eliminated. Or under certain circumstances one may steal or lie. Terrorists are “freedom fighters” etc.
Once we establish this basic premise: mitzvos are the Divine will and we do them because G-d says so, we won’t have questions or doubts. Divine wisdom is certainly more profound than human wisdom – so who am I to question the justice or fairness of the mitzvos? Of course man cannot fathom G-d or His will, so it is not surprising that we do not understand His mitzvos.
It follows, therefore, that there are mitzvos that make no sense to us (red heifer, kosher animals, shatnez etc.) and mitzvos that on the surface seem to us to be “cruel” or “insensitive” (annihilate the entire nation of Amalek, laws of a bastard, lending money to a non-Jew with interest etc).
This does not mean that we should not try to understand the mitzvos – on the contrary we should try to learn and understand them. Since we did declare, “We will do and we will learn.” Therefore – it is a mitzvah to learn and try to figure out why. This is what Jews are always doing – asking questions and trying to find answers! It is in our genes…
So I ask you dear friend – why do you think we have this law which you are asking about, charging a non-Jew interest? We could delve into it and try to find a reason. I have some thoughts on this matter, we can discuss it. This is what learning is about. Just as Jews have been trying to find reasons for other incomprehensible laws (some which I mentioned above) and have come up with very interesting opinions as to why kosher, red heifer, etc. When we do find a plausible and possible reason for mitzvos that don’t make sense to us – it might not necessarily mean that it is G-d’s reason. But G-d does love to see us discuss and try to figure it out! Let’s see what we can come up with.
As to your remarks about the non-Jewish view of the greedy and money hungry Jew … you have sadly bought into the secular and anti-Semitic mindset of the world around you.
It is not the Torah observant Jew who needs to be lectured about dignity and sensitivity. If you would learn the countless laws in the Torah that deal with our obligations to our fellow man, including non-Jews, to all living creatures and even to plant life and inanimate objects – you would appreciate why it is that Jews are called “compassionate, humble and doers of good deeds.” We have a heightened sense of sensitivity. You certainly know that Jews have always been in the forefront of charitable causes and great innovations for the benefit of mankind. Why is this so? Because we are Jews and we have always lived by the laws of the Torah. That is why. Even those Jews who are not necessarily Torah observant today – but their parents and grandparent were, so the Torah teachings stay with them.
Asking questions is a wonderful way to serious learning. Continue to do so.
May we do the mitzvos and learn the Torah – in the spirit of our ancestors at Sinai.