When the rich need Tzedakah

Friday, 17 February, 2023 - 3:26 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It happens every so often that in order to move the ‘wagon’ of Jewish life in Thailand forward, I take a short-term monetary loan to keep the ‘lights on’ and the activities funded.

Needing to take a loan does not make me discouraged, as the Torah teaches us the right frame of mind to have. Hashem wants us to be engaged in giving and receiving. There are times when I get the merit to help others, and there are times when I am grateful to receive help from others.

Hashem made his world in this ‘giving and receiving’ model, to allow for acts of interpersonal kindness between people.

It seems to me that sometimes Hashem puts me in a position of need in order to provide a ‘mitzvah’ to someone who may need that extra protection that the mitzvah of tzedakah provides.

For example, in April of 2021 within a few hours after I took a bridge-loan from a friend, that very friend  escaped unscathed from an armed robbery after having a gun pointed at his head.

Click here for that story

The story of the lifesaving qualities of Tzedakah is not a new one. It’s been going on since the creation of the world.

Our Sages taught that ‘tzedakah saves from death’ and tell the following detailed story:

Rabbi Akiba’s daughter once went to the market to buy things for the home. As she passed a group of star-gazers and fortune–tellers, one of them said to the other: “see that lovely girl? What a dreadful calamity is awaiting her! She is going to die on the very day of her wedding. Mark my word!”

Rabbi Akiba’s daughter overheard the words of the star-gazer, but paid no attention to him. She had often heard it from her great father that he who observes the Mitzvoth of the holy Torah need fear no evil.

As the happy day of her wedding approached, she had forgotten all about that star-gazer. On the day before her wedding, there was much to do, and at night she retired to bed, tired but happy. Before going to bed, she removed her golden hair-pin and stuck it in the wall, as she had done before.

The following morning, she pulled her pin from the wall, and in doing so dragged a small but very poisonous snake with it. Horrified, she realized that she had killed the snake that was lurking in the wall's crevice when she stuck the pin into the wall the night before. What a wonderful miracle!

Then she remembered the words of the star-gazer, and shuddered.

She heard a knock on the door. “Are you alright, daughter? I heard you shriek,” her father said. Then he saw the dead snake still dangling from the pin. She told her father what happened.

“This is indeed a miracle,” Rabbi Akiba said. “Tell me, daughter, what did you do yesterday? There must have been some special Mitzvah that you performed yesterday to have been saved from this.”

“Well, the only thing that I can remember was this. Last night, when everybody was busy with the preparations for my wedding, a poor man came in, but nobody seemed to notice him, so busy everybody was. I saw that the poor man was very hungry, so I took my portion of the wedding-feast and gave it to him.”

Rabbi Akiba had always known that his daughter was very devoted to the poor, but this was something special, and he was very happy indeed. “Tzedoko (charity) delivereth from death,” he exclaimed.

The above story as recorded in the Talmud happened a very long time ago. But it has not diminished. This immense power of the mitzvah of Tzedaka is ‘alive and well’ here and now. Earlier I told you a story from two years ago. A few weeks ago,  I got to see the lifesaving power of Tzedakah once again.

I once again needed a short-term loan for something very important. I contacted a friend C. L. He said he would think about it and would get back to me.

I didn’t hear from him and continued to look elsewhere for the loan.

C. L. called me back a week or two later and told me that he could give the loan and would promptly send it. He said he had wanted to tell me that he could do the loan shortly after we had spoken but it had slipped his mind.

It was only after he sent me the loan that I recalled that between the time that we had discussed the loan to the time that he sent the loan C. L.  had been in a traffic accident. Someone ran a red light and went right into him. He came out blessedly and miraculously unscathed.

(In a classic ‘Divine Providence’ story, the other driver who was also fine thank G-d, was a Jewish man and my friend invited him to wrap Tefilin which he was happy to do).

I don’t know why out of all the people I know; I had reached out to C. L. for this loan. To me it seemed that perhaps Hashem had Providentially brought C.L. this mitzvah of loaning a fellow Jew money, so that the G-dly protective shield would be activated for him.

You may be asking; we are talking about a loan which will be paid back in full. Why am I calling this a mitzvah?

Let’s have a discussion about loans.

Especially that the mitzvah of giving loans is instructed in this week’s Parsha of Mishpatim.

Sometimes people question whether borrowing money is a healthy thing to do.

It really depends on the reason one is taking a loan.

If expenses exceed current income and realistically potential income, then taking a loan is not a proper solution as it will build a level of debt that may prove insurmountable.

Credit card debt in particular is terrible as the interest that is incurred makes the loan swell and grow out of control.

Responsible loan taking though, is quite common. Taking a loan to keep the ‘lights on’ till you can find a way to cover the expense is quite a regular way of life in large corporations and even governments.

(Talking about governments. The United States of America is famous for racking up debt ever growing amounts of debt.

I took a peek at the national debt calculator, and I got dizzy watching the amounts go up every second.

One of the lessons to be learned from the USA is quite profound although somewhat out-of-the-box.

A Shliach wrote to the Rebbe that he was struggling with accumulating debt and this was pulling his mood down and causing his sluggishness and inactivity in certain aspects of the Jewish outreach activities under his responsibility.  

‘Take a look at the USA government and their debts and observe how the country is still humming with activity notwithstanding their debt’ responded the Rebbe.

Debt is not easy to service and it can be tiring, but the American debt story shows that it does not need to mean stopping to operate.

The rabbi was a bit surprised. He was hoping for a blessing to get out of debt, instead he was given a life-lesson about learning to operate even within the framework of being in debt.

If you are in debt, be heartened by the above observation. Do your best to get out of debt but don’t let it demoralize you or depress you. Rather work energetically at whatever you are meant to be doing).

Please understand that I am not advocating for overspending. Too many people have problems that could have been avoided if they had managed their spending to be in accordance with their earnings.

Common sense tell us that it is not a good fiscal policy to continually spend more than you have.

More importantly, the Torah teaches that one must be frugal with spending (even for Shabbat) rather than supplementing ones income by charitable gifts from others.

However, sometimes people get thrown into an unnecessary panic when their current incomes are insufficient for their expenditure.

Sometimes their crippling fear is redundant and a product of their own inner fears. For when one looks more deeply into the situation it is very possible that in a few weeks or months they will have additional income that will make up for their current shortfall. This is not always the case, but I have observed this in many instances.

What is a person to do if they are waiting for a paycheck that is sure to come but not till a few weeks from now? It’s a ‘catch 22’. If they have no money, they cannot pay for transportation to their place of work. If they don’t get to work, they will lose their job and not have any money.

If they go to a ‘payday-loan’ provider to take a loan against their future salary, a considerable amount will be charged for interest. Those who are the poorest land up spending the most on interest.

In this week’s Parsha, the Torah tells us about a unique form of Tzedakah.

In Hebrew it is called ‘Gemillat Chessed’ or in short ‘Gema’ch’.

Free Loan.

More accurately ‘Interest Free’ Loan.  

Yes, a loan must be repaid.

Is it a form of Tzedakah?

Emphatically YES.

The Rambam puts it at the top rung of the ‘eight levels of Tzedakah’.

It’s a unique kind of Tzedakah.

It helps people not to fall before they fall. It is much easier to prevent a fall than to pick someone up after they have fallen.

‘Rich’ people are also in need of this kind of tzedakah just as poor people.

Someone may be asset rich but just doesn’t have cash available to carry out a purchase they need to make.

By giving a person who is rich ‘on paper’ an interest free loan you are doing a great act of Tzedaka with him.

This is not possible with traditional Tzedakah which only applies to someone who is in needy.

About the greatness of the mitzvah of giving a ‘Gemach’ interest-free loan, click here and look at footnote 7 for incredible words about this mitzvah.

Every community should have a ‘Gemach’ fund’. A place where one can get an interest free loan.

The large cities and well-established Jewish communities have quite considerable and large free-loan opportunities. However, although we are a relatively small community, we too engage in the mitzvah of ‘gemach’.

For many years, Chabad of Thailand has operated a loan fund called ‘Keren Liba’ and been providing interest free loans to those who qualify. Feel free to reach out to me by email if an interest free loan is something that can help you.

On the side of the ‘givers’, if you would like to contribute money to be used expressly for this mitzvah of being loaned out, please contact me.

The Rebbe once related that certain chassidim of the Tzemach Tzedek used to lend each other money — not because they were needy, but because they appreciated the lofty standing of the mitzvah of giving interest-free loans!

The Rebbe concluded: May G‑d grant that loans be given not because of need, but only because people appreciate the lofty standing of the mitzvah of giving interest-free loans.

This week we take out a second Torah at the Shul and read the portion of Shekalim, which speaks about the giving of the half-shekel. A great time to be talking about ‘shekels’ and giving tzedakah and ‘Gemach’s.

On a practical note.

Look for opportunities to do acts of kindness and benevolence with others. Sometimes by giving a monetary gift or a gift of food and clothes or the like. And sometimes not by ‘giving’ but by ‘lending’.

Don’t overlook, and on the contrary, pay special attention to the opportunity to help someone by giving them a loan. A loan that is to be repaid in full but with no interest charged.

(A word of caution. When being approached for a loan, one should assess whether it is really a ‘gift’ of Tzedakah that is being asked for. If a person is asking for a loan but has no means, and thus no intention to pay it back, it would be better for you to give an amount that you could afford to give them as tzedakah.

I know some kind-hearted people who are resistant to giving ‘gemach’ loans because they have had an experience where they lent someone funds and it was not returned. This is why many ‘free loan societies’ responsibly require guarantors and other forms of security to ensure full repayment when the time comes).

I am not even talking about large sums. Giving a loan may sometimes be for a small amount.

A small deed with great effects.

The reverberations in the world are epic.

Every time we do an act of kindness, the forces of light gain traction and supremacy over the forces of ‘darkness’.

Let’s add LIGHT and do acts of kindness wherever and however we can, until Hashem does the great Tzedakah with us and brings us Mashiach NOW.


Shabbat Shalom & Chodesh Tov (Tuesday and Wednesday are Rosh Chodesh).

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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