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. (Shemot/Exodus 22:24)
This week our Torah reading is Mishpatim, which means laws or rules. The chapter teaches us how to live in a just and caring society, a text book for judges and lawyers in civil and criminal codes. One of the mitzvot, commandments, of Mishpatim, is to lend money to the poor without charging interest.
The law is listed here, and again, in a different way, in Vakiyra (Leviticus) 25:25:
If your kinsman is in straits and has to sell part of his holding, his nearest redeemer shall come and redeem what his kinsman has sold…(The paragraph continues with instructions to rescue the poor person.)
Both of these commandments teach us the importance of helping people help themselves, the highest form of tzedakah (charity, righteousness), as taught by Maimonides, one of our most influential Torah scholars and sages.
Sometimes we read commandments in Torah and wonder how they are applicable to our modern lives. Sometimes it is obvious; sometimes more obscure. This one is obvious!
The implementation of this commandment has been part of American Jewish life for more of than 100 years, in the form of the Hebrew Free Loan Association (HFLA). HFLA provides loans to those in need, including education, first time home buyers, adoption, debt consolidation, unemployment and small business. The loans are 100% interest and fee free. They are not grants, and are expected to be repaid; the repayment rate is over 99.5%, enabling HFLA to make new loans. Throughout their history, they have assisted people in helping themselves.
This Shabbat is Hebrew Free Loan Shabbat. I encourage any of you who may benefit from this service to go to https://www.hflasf.org/. If you want or need my guidance and/or assistance, please do not hesitate to call me in confidence.