SALT - Friday, 24 Shevat 5778 - February 9, 2018

  • Rav David Silverberg
            Yesterday, we discussed the prohibition introduced in Parashat Mishpatim (22:24) of “lo tiheyeh lo ke-nosheh,” which has been understood as forbidding claiming a debt if one knows that the borrower is unable to repay.  This prohibition is codified by the Shulchan Arukh (C.M. 97:2), who writes, based on the Gemara (Bava Metzia 75b), that if the lender knows that the borrower does not have money with which to repay the loan, he may not even intentionally appear before the borrower, as this causes him shame.  We also noted the comments of the Sefer Ha-chinukh (67) indicating that the prohibition is defined as intentionally seeking to cause the borrower pain and anguish.  If the lender knows that the borrower is unable to repay, then approaching him serves no practical purpose whatsoever other than embarrassment and intimidation, and for this reason, it is prohibited.
            In light of the Sefer Ha-chinukh’s comments, it would appear that this Torah prohibition has broader implications beyond the narrow context of loans.  Whenever we demand or even ask something of a person which lies beyond his capabilities, we cause him to feel inferior and insecure.  Every such request reinforces in that person’s mind his limitations, and thus causes a degree of anguish and frustration.  Thus, the Torah prohibition against claiming a loan knowing that the lender cannot repay perhaps conveys a broader warning against asking things from people which we know they are incapable of, as this causes them pain and aggravation.
            A common form of this violation is harsh reactions to people’s mistakes and indiscretions.  Too often, we subconsciously demand or expect perfection from the people in our lives – such as family members, coworkers, neighbors and friends – and we thus resent their faults and their mistakes.  The prohibition of “lo tiheyeh lo ke-nosheh” warns us not to harbor unrealistic expectations, to recognize that all people are, in one sense or another, “poor” – limited in their abilities, plagued by certain flaws, and error-prone.  Just as it is wrong to demand payment from a borrower which he cannot repay, so it is wrong to demand from people strict standards of perfection that they cannot maintain.  In all our interpersonal dealings, we must take people’s imperfections and limitations into account, and ensure not to demand more of them than can fairly and realistically be expected.