Parashah of the week: Mishpatim

“If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them” Exodus 22:24


Parashat Mishpatim discusses the laws of lending among a wide range of other moral, ethical and religious imperatives. Although the verse starts with the word “if”, the commentators emphasise that offering financial support to someone in need is a direct Torah obligation.

Indeed, the Talmud writes that providing an interest-free loan to someone who is struggling is considered to be an even greater mitzvah than the mitzvah of giving charity (Shabbat 63a). The reason given for this is that it is less embarrassing for the recipient to take a loan than to receive charity.

Maimonides in his Laws of Loans adds that by providing a loan when needed, you can help an individual to stand on their own two feet with independence and dignity, so that they will not need to accept charity. 

The Mishnah in tractate Pe’ah writes that giving a loan to a person in need is one of the few mitzvot for which a person receives a reward in this world as well as in the world to come. We recite that mishnah every morning at the beginning of our prayers as a reminder that we must fulfil our obligations to our community before we can fulfil our obligation to our Creator. 

Rav Hirsch (the 19th-century German Jewish leader) writes that lending to someone in need is a privilege and in fact the lender should be grateful to the borrower for allowing them to fulfil God’s will.

Financial success is fickle. We are all aware of those who have worked incredibly hard and achieved meagre financial reward, while others seemingly get rich overnight. The Torah wants us to remember that any assets we have are ours by the grace of God and sharing them with those in need is a way of reinforcing our deep gratitude to Hashem.

Many communities have free loan funds; these are wonderful institutions and those who donate money to these fund are performing one of the most admirable forms of charitable giving. Their donations are “recycled” many times over and the impact of their generosity can have an impact for many years to come.

In the current financial climate, with so many around us struggling to meet their basic obligations, we should do our utmost as a Jewish community to support and bolster these loan funds (sometimes known as loan gemachs). These funds generally operate with complete discretion and are a beautiful fulfilment of the community obligation to support those in need. 

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