The residents of the city Mezhibuzh had become accustomed to having a venerable tzaddik in their midst. For decades, they had merited that the saintly Baal Shem Tov, zy”a, had resided in their town. Later the Degel Machane Ephraim, zy”a, a grandson of the Baal Shem, lived there for the last 12 years of his life. After his petirah, his brother, Harav Baruch of Medzibuzh, zy”a, moved there and lived there for 12 years, until he was niftar in Kislev 5572/1811.
The Jews of Mezhibuzh then invited one of the oldest, most respected Rebbes of the generation, Harav Avraham Yehoshua Heschel, the Apter Rav, who was living at that time in Yassy, Rumania, and asked him to move to their town.
When the Apter Rav first arrived in Medzibuzh, there were some among the close circle of Harav Baruch’l who found the Apta Rav’s derech in avodas Hashem to be very different from that of their Rebbe, and they chose to stay away from his court.
Some time passed and one of these Chassidim, about to marry off his daughter, was in desperate need of a large sum of money. Embarrassed to go to the Apter Rav himself, he asked Rebbetzin Udel, a”h, the daughter of Harav Baruch’l, to intercede on his behalf.
The famed tzaddekes acceded to the request and visited the Apter Rav. She told the Rebbe that this Chassid had been particularly close to her father, who held him in very high regard. Therefore, she asked, would the Rebbe please help him in his time of need?
“To give I do not have,” the Apter Rav replied. “I can lend him money, though. However, since I know that he is a poor man, I must have a mashkon, a guarantee. With a mashkon I can lend him 100 rubles.”
The Chassid brought the only valuable item he owned, a copy of the greatly valued Slavita Shas. The Apta Rav examined the Shas and declared, “Such a Shas is worth more money; with this as a guarantee I can lend you 200 rubles.”
The Apta Rav gave him 200 rubles, which was a very large sum of money. The Rebbe then turned to the Yid and added, “My house is always open, with people coming and going. I cannot keep such a valuable item here. Take it back home; it will be my mashkon — only it will be in your possession.”
The Yid happily agreed and returned home with the money and the Shas.
It was then that the Apta Rav’s intention became clear. The Rebbe knew that the Yid would feel much more comfortable accepting the money if it was called a “loan” rather than a donation. The Yid never managed to pay back the “loan,” but there was no need to, the Rebbe had already anticipated that.
The Torah instructs us this week about the obligation to lend money to the needy; the prohibition of charging interest; the laws of taking a security; the prohibition to demand payment, embarrass or intimidate a Jew when you know that he cannot pay.
The halachos of these mitzvos are complex, and it is imperative that individuals who lend as well as those who borrow carefully study the relevant halachos and as needed, consult a posek for guidance.
Many in our community are struggling to make ends meet and provide their family’s most basic needs on a daily basis. Despite their best efforts, they are unable to put anything away in savings to marry off their children, or for other, often unexpected major expenses.
They take out second mortgages, bank loans, and rack up large debts on credit cards. They pay exorbitant amounts in interest but barely make a scratch in paying up the actual loan.
We are fortunate that within our community there are numerous gemachim that allow individuals to borrow significant sums of money interest-free. Some philanthropists and many others — including individuals who are far from wealthy do so as well.
Yet there is always more that can, and should be done in helping needy members of our community obtain interest-free loans instead of paying interest on credit cards.
In addition, there are many instances when a struggling individuals who would be mortified to take tzedakah, would happily accept a very long term “loan” — that the lender subsequently forgives.
Those who have the ability to do so, accrue great zechuyos when instead of waiting for a struggling individuals to come to them for help, reach out to someone making a simchah and offer a loan or a financial assistance. Every efforts must be made to help minimize the searing humiliation that inevitably comes along with such requests.
As the story of the Apta Rav illustrates, when it comes to helping another Jew while simultaneously guarding his feelings, we must use creativity and ingenuity.