This Parasha contains 53 Mitzvos and there are also 53 Parashas in the Torah. This is to teach us that any of this Mitzvos is valued like the entire Torah. Someone who accomplishes them is deemed as accomplishing the entire Torah, and adversely transgressing one of them amounts to denying the entire Torah. As an example, let us delve in the proscription of lending with interest to another fellow Jew. The level of importance attached to this commandment can be illustrated by the fact this prohibition is repeated three times in the Torah and in three different formats. In our Parasha it says: “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. If you take your neighbor’s garment in pledge, you must return it to him before the sun sets; it is his only clothing, the sole covering for his skin. In what else shall he sleep? Therefore, if he cries out to Me, I will pay heed, for I am compassionate.” [Shemos 22:24-25]. The Sifra [Vayikra 5:3] explains: “Whoever accepts the yoke of lending without interest, receives the yoke of Heaven; And whoever lends with interest, denies the yoke of Heaven. “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt” [Vayikra 25:38]. On such terms I brought them out of the land of Egypt; On condition that you accept the proscription to lend with interest. Whoever abides by this Mitzva believes in the Exodus from Egypt, and whoever denies the Mitzva reneges the Exodus from Egypt.” The Tosfos [Sota 5a] expounds: “The Midrash teaches us that a usurer will not deserve the afterlife.” Basically, just for trying to make easy money a person trades his Olam Haba. It is a very serious punishment for transgressing a single prohibition. What is the reason the Torah is so stringent about this particular Mitzva? The Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer [Perek 33] details the miracle performed by the prophet Ezekiel in the valley of Dura, when he revived all the dead people buried there. Thus, one person did not revive. The prophet turned to Hashem and prayed: “Master of the Worlds, why did this person not deserve to revive? Hashem responded that it is because he used to lend money to the poor with interest. Rabbi concludes, a usurer will not deserve to resurrect after the coming of Mashiach. His death is eternal! In the Chut Hameshulash [p 212]: The grandson of Rabbi Akiva Eiger recounts a story that occurred with his grandfather in Pozna where his was the Rabbi. One of the wealthiest people of the city, who was also a well renown miser, had died. The burial society [Chevra Kadisha] asked for an exorbitant price to provide a plot and perform the last rituals. The heirs were very upset about the price and complained to the governor. The latter summoned the Rabbi to come and explain the reason behind that bullying. Rabbi Akiva Eiger arrived and found an angry Governor that addressed him harshly; “why are you trying to exploit the heirs?” Rabbi Akiva answered calmly; “Mashiach will arrive soon and the dead will resurrect, so the rental of the land is cheaper, however this person will not resurrect as he was a usurer, therefore the sale is forever, which explains the price.” The Maharsha [Shabbos 119b] laments because the Temple was not yet rebuilt and writes an awakening rebuke; All the iniquities mentioned in the Gemara were committed by the generation of the destruction of the Temple. Even nowadays they are done and therefore the Temple is not built. Only individuals of virtue keep Shabbos properly, because the multitudes of people do not know the laws of Shabbos. Moreover, many celebrate Saturday night until late in the morning and do not wake up on time to recite the morning prayers. Moreover, ordinary people want to live like the rich, and this causes them to steal and to transgress many proscriptions to make money, under the pretense one can resort to any mean for his livelihood. The Ksav Sofer [Mishpatim] explains that the punishment is measure for measure for lending money with interest. He who gives charity and supports the destitute, he revives and sustains his soul. Similarly, lending to the poor in times of need so that he can support and sustain himself, he revives him. The Talmud [Nedarim 64b] instructs that the poor is considered dead, as his life is so difficult, hence, the rescuer is considered a resurrecter. However, lending him with interest will ultimately make him poorer, therefore Hashem is so stringent with someone that shows no heart. The Zohar reveals what has the poor done to deserve such a lot. In his previous life he was rich and failed to help the poor. To correct his misdeeds, he will suffer an impoverished life. Hashem wants us to realize that all the money is His. On Rosh Hashana, during the blows of the Shofar, a specific amount of money is allotted to every member of the congregation. Work and intelligence have no impact of one’s income, one will earn only what Hashem decided. Since we studied the stringency of lending with interests, here’s a common case that people fail to realize that it is forbidden. One taking a bank loan for a sibling or a friend, he is forbidden to charge his friend the interest charged by the bank. Therefore, prior to any financial transaction between two Jews a Dayan should be consulted. Here’s a cheerful story: Hunger was a familiar guest in Reb Shabsai’s home. Work did not come by so often for the bookbinder, and since Reb Shabsai and his wife, Perel, refused to collect charity, they regularly went to bed enduring the throbs of an empty stomach. Once, before Shabbat, they had not a single coin in the house – not for wine, challah, or even two stubs of wax for candles. Despair cut through Reb Shabsai’s heart like a fiery poker. Although the image of a barren table smothered in darkness was heartbreaking indeed, the couple agreed to follow the Talmudic adage, “Better make your Shabbat profane than to rely on the largesse of others.” On Friday afternoon, Reb Shabsai left for the synagogue, where he, as usual, spent the rest of the day reading Psalms and the weekly Torah portion. This, coupled with the peaceful silence, helped somewhat ease his burdened mind. When the sky turned orange tinged with red, Reb Shabsai began to prepare to welcome the Shabbat while the synagogue around him filled up. As much as Reb Shabsai would have preferred that they last forever, the evening services eventually drew to a close. He remained in his seat and stared blankly at his siddur, sneaking occasional glances at the others leaving – he did not want anyone pestering him as to why his windows were dark. The synagogue fell quiet as before, and Reb Shabsai finally decided it was time to come home. Something, however, was not right. The sight of candles twinkling warmly from behind the grubby window made Reb Shabsai’s heart sink. He was quite sure that was his home. Had Perel really been unable to contain herself from borrowing the candles? Or perhaps worse – money? His bewilderment grew further as he crossed the front door to discover Perel beaming next to a table laden with a bottle of wine, two glazed loaves of fluffy challah, and an assortment of delicacies. He studied all this quietly. A demand for the meaning of this would undoubtedly distress Perel, so Reb Shabsai resolved to simply leave it unaddressed. He returned Perel’s smile. “It was a miracle, Shabsai,” said Perel, discerning her husband’s unasked question. “While you were gone, I began to clean the house and came across a pair of gloves I didn’t know we even had. The gloves, Shabsai, had big golden buttons! They were quite expensive, too, because once I snipped them off, they sold for a sizable amount. Everything you see here—” she motioned to the lavish table “— was bought with that money.” A sudden surge of gratitude warmed Reb Shabsai’s heart; G-d had delivered in their time of need. He danced around the small table, clapping his hands with a spontaneous song on his lips. Perel laughed, the worries of poverty usually etched on her face now gone without a trace. Miles away, sitting at his own Shabbat table, the Baal Shem Tov also began to laugh. The hearty sound reverberated around the room, despite the large crowd of students gathered there. This prompted a few of them to exchange curious stares, but no one attempted to inquire about the reason, nor did the Baal Shem Tov explain. After Havdalah the next day, Reb Ze’ev Kitzes asked the Baal Shem Tov for the meaning of his Friday night laugh. The Baal Shem Tov provided no answer, instead requesting his wagon driver to ready the horses for himself and his students. With a respectful silence, the students piled into the wagon after the Baal Shem Tov; they were accustomed to the occasional mysterious outing. The wagon did not stop until it had arrived in the Polish city of Apta the next morning. By the order of the Baal Shem Tov, one of the students hurried off to find Reb Shabsai, a bookbinder. A wide-eyed Reb Shabsai soon stood in the front of the Baal Shem Tov. “Tell me what happened on Shabbat night,” said the Baal Shem Tov gently. And so, Reb Shabsai did: he recounted the couple’s grim certainty that they would fast that Shabbat, the unexpected gift from Above, and his dance around the table to praise G-d. The Baal Shem Tov nodded along, his beard failing to hide a wide smile. “The entirety of Heaven rejoiced in your moments of pure joy,” smiled the Baal Shem Tov. “Now tell me, what do you want to be blessed with?” Reb Shabsai thought for a few moments, scrunching up his face wistfully. “I don’t need silver or gold. It’s obvious the one thing Perel and I want is children . . .” The Baal Shem Tov blessed the couple with a child, and one year later, he arrived in Apta once more to serve as sandek for the baby boy at his brit. Yisrael—named to honor the Baal Shem Tov—would later serve Jewry as one of its most inspiring leaders: Rabbi Yisrael, the Maggid [preacher] of Kozhnitz.
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