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Tuesday, 19 January 2016

Your best investment

Daf Yomi Gittin 37

The Canadian dollar is in free-fall, having dropped over 25% in the last year and a half, the fastest decline in history.  Our strongest resource, oil, has fallen from a high of $120 to less than $30 also in less than two years.  The TSX Canadian stock-market, once on par with the Dow, now trails by thousands of points.  Tomorrow, the Bank of Canada will decide whether to cut interest rates to zero.  That means that your money in the bank is losing value at an alarming rate, once inflation is factored in!

Is there anywhere safe and secure to place your money that will still reap some return?

Concerning the release of loans in the sabbatical year, the Torah declares, “Every creditor shall release that which he has lent unto his neighbour; he shall not exact it of his neighbour and his brother; because Hashem’s release has been proclaimed. . . Take care, lest there become a wayward matter with your heart, saying: the sabbatical year is approaching, the year of the release.  And your eye will become wicked concerning your poor brother and you will not give him.”
Mishnah: Hillel instituted the Pruzbul for the benefit of society.
Gemara: Hillel noticed that, with the approach of the sabbatical year, people would stop lending money to one another, thereby transgressing the Torah’s admonition, “Take care, lest there become a wayward matter with your heart . . .” And so he arose and instituted the Pruzbul.  This is the text of the Pruzbul, “I hereby convey to you judges, in this place, that any debt I have owed to me from this person, I shall be able to collect it whenever I desire.” The judges then sign at the bottom.
What is the meaning of the word Pruzbul?  Rav Chisda taught: An enactment for the rich and poor.
Rashi explains: It is an enactment for the rich so that they do not lose their money.  And it is an enactment for the poor so that the door of credit will not be shut before them.

Hillel noticed that the people of his generation were becoming less and less eager to lend money in the sixth year, as the sabbatical year approached.  They were worried that their loans would be cancelled.  Being that only private loans are cancelled and not institutional loans, Hillel enacted a system for individuals to transfer their debts to the court.

But think about how Hillel would have felt had he lived today.   Forget about people’s hesitation to lend money in the sixth year – how many people offer interest-free loans, as the Torah asks us to do, even during the first through fifth years?!   We’re not talking about lending to your children or siblings; the Torah instructs us to give to “your poor brother,” meaning our Jewish brothers and sisters who are truly lacking!

Our Sages tell us that the mitzvah of lending money interest-free is, in many respects, greater than giving tzedakah!  Why?  Firstly, tzedakah is an obligation, we are required to tithe ten percent of our earnings.  In other words, it’s not your choice because it’s not really your money.  You are simply a custodian of the money to choose how best to allocate it.  But secondly, and more importantly, charity doesn’t really help people get back on their feet.  Lending money gives them the opportunity to start a business or make an investment that will empower them to become self-sufficient.  That’s the ultimate.

But what if you don’t know any poor people to lend money to?  Unfortunately, every community has poor people – those who have lost their jobs and fallen on hard times.  Fortunately though, most major Jewish communities – including ours in Edmonton – have public free-loan societies.   They’re not charities, they don’t give away your money.  The trustees assess every application and lend money on behalf of the participants according to need and their plan for repayment.

When you give money to the free-loan society (known as a Gemach), it’s not a donation.   You don’t get a tax receipt.  You can’t allocate it from your tithes.  It’s like a bank – you make a deposit and someone else borrows the money you’ve deposited.  Only difference is, the return is far greater than any interest rate offered by the banks today!  Your return is unlimited spiritual reward in this world and the next!  Now that’s what I call a great investment!

Our Edmonton Gemach is still only in its early days.  It offers emergency loans, but they are capped quite low, because the coffers are still only beginning to fill up.  With time, we will get to a point where we can afford to offer serious business loans to help people get on their feet.  But to make that happen, you need to be a part of that and take a sum of money and apportion it as loan money.  Not charity.  But a loan.  You can ask for it back whenever you choose.  But in the meantime, know that it is earning a better return than any other investment out there by far!

Hillel was upset that once every seven years people stopped lending money and so he took a radical halachic step and created the Pruzbul.  Today, the problem is not that people have stopped lending; most haven’t even started!  May you invest in the mitzvah that is even greater than tzedakah and may you merit receiving incredible returns on your investment! 

I end this Life Yomi today with a heavy heart.  We have now reached the milestone of two years of Life Yomi together.  I want to take this opportunity to thank you all for your support and for taking time each day to learn the Daf with me and make it relevant to our lives.  But for now, Life Yomi is taking a break.  I have looming Ph.D. deadlines that will wait no longer.  I look forward to joining you all once more on this journey, G-d willing, in the not too distant future.  Thank you, b’hatzlacha, and l’hitraot!