What’s Wrong With Charging Interest
The Torah does not see interest as unlawful or immoral. If that were the case, it would not also have prohibited with equal severity the act of paying interest, nor would it have limited the prohibition to Jews.
Rather, ribbis proclaims that Hashem owns all our possessions, just as shmittah and yovel show His rule over our property. Interest is not incompatible with justice, but it is incompatible with the ideas on which Jewish society is built.
If we were the owners of our money, and our loans came entirely from our own free will, then ribbis would be neither neshech for the borrower nor tarbis for the lender. After all, the borrower may have made a profit, so interest does not take a bite, neshech, out of his assets—it would represent only part of the fruit the money yielded in his hands. By the same token, it would not represent an increase, tarbis, in the lender’s assets—from a business point of view, he is under no obligation to lend any money. The capital could just as well have made money in his hands. Hence, interest is only compensation for the profit that might have been lost by lending out the money. This is the non-Jewish view of interest.
The Jewish point of view, however, is that our money is not really ours. Control over it belongs to Hashem, and He commands us to give some of our assets—which are His, but happen to be in our hands—to our brother, to enable him not only to survive but to support himself. Until now, it was our money. Now, by the Will of G-d, it is his.
The money the borrower spends is not ours. It is his. His earnings are a product of his own work, with his own money. If we charged interest, we would be taking a bite from what belongs to him. At the same time, it would not be compensation for what we could have earned, as we have no right to use the money ourselves. G-d, the owner of all things, has placed the money at his disposal.
By fulfilling this mitzvah, we acknowledge that Hashem is the master of all our assets. For this reason, the Torah concludes the laws of lending with ”Ani Hashem elokeichem asher hotzeisi eschem mei’eretz Mitzrayim.”
When Hashem took us out of Egypt and gave us the right to own property, as human beings and free people, he bound us together into a community. It is not the poor who must seek out the wealthy; it is the duty of a wealthy man to seek out a neighbor who can benefit from his wealth.
All the poor man can get from the rich is material help. But for the rich man, the poor are the means to carry out his spiritual task—paying G-d the tribute He expects in return for every penny He gives us.
Have a wonderful Shabbos,
Director, Ani Maamin Foundation
Please note: The “Gem of the Week,” is based on excerpts from Rav Shamshon Raphael Hirsch zt”l’s commentary on Chumash, with permission from the publisher.