We read in Parashat Re’ei (15:10) the command to lend money to a person in need, and the Torah’s stern warning against denying requests for such loans, even shortly before the shemitta year, when outstanding debts are cancelled. The Torah instructs, “Naton titein lo” – using the emphatic repetitive form of “naton titein.” Rashi explains that this repetitive form indicates that the command requires granting loans “even one hundred times,” meaning, as often as the pauper needs to borrow money and as long as one is in a position to lend. The Gemara in Masekhet Bava Metzia (31b) interprets “naton titein” to mean that one is required to lend money to the poor even if all he can afford is a matana mu’etet – a modest amount. One might have presumed that offering financial assistance to the needy constitutes a mitzva only if one is capable of providing a considerable sum that brings significant relief to the pauper’s state of poverty. The Torah therefore emphasized, “Naton titein,” alluding to the fact that any amount given to assist a needy individual fulfills the charity requirement, and the mitzva is not restricted to large sums.
Rav Shlomo Gantzfried (author of Kitzur Shulchan Arukh), in his Apiryon, suggested a different reading. Sometimes, he writes, giving is actually a means of receiving benefit. The Gemara in Masekhet Kiddushin (7a) establishes that in certain situations, a woman can be betrothed by giving a gift to the groom, if giving this gift brings her benefit. The halakhic act of betrothal is defined by a man giving something of value to the woman, and so if the man is a person of prominence, such that his acceptance of a gift brings benefit to the giver, then the woman can be betrothed through his acceptance of her gift. Since he does the woman a favor by accepting her gift, he can betroth her through that benefit. (See Shulchan Aruch, E.H. 27:9.) Rav Gantzfried thus suggests that the command of “naton titein” requires us to assist the poor even when this brings us no benefit. Often, charitable donations and acts of kindness bring a person respect and notoriety. People feel honored to grant assistance to prominent individuals and institutions, and people often receive honor and prestige through their charitable activities. The Torah command of “naton titein” obligates us to do what we can to alleviate the plight of those in need irrespective of whether we stand to benefit by providing this assistance. The idea of kindness is to do what is beneficial for our fellow, not what is beneficial for ourselves. And so the Torah emphasizes, “naton titein” – that we must give purely for the sake of giving, and not as a means of receiving benefit.
Significantly, the command of “naton titein” appears in the specific context of loans granted shortly before the shemitta year, such that the lender risks losing his money if the borrower is unable to repay before debts are annulled at the end of shemitta. When we do somebody a favor, we oftentimes anticipate the beneficiary’s indebtedness. Part of our motivation is for the beneficiary to feel grateful and express his appreciation and admiration for us. Our sincere desire to help is combined with a desire to earn the recipient’s respect and fondness. The command to lend even as the shemitta year approaches underscores the importance of giving and helping without expecting anything in return – not even the recipient’s debt of gratitude. Of course, beneficiaries of kindness should feel indebted to their benefactors, and are required to express gratitude. However, even if their indebtedness and expressions of gratitude are not forthcoming, we are nevertheless required and expected to help. Kindness must be performed as an act of giving, not with the intention of receiving, and so even when there will be no “debt” that will be repaid, we must be willing and happy to grant assistance to those who need it.