Rabbi Irwin Wiener, D.D.


February is Jewish Free Loan Month


What is Jewish Free Loan and why do we commemorate it in a particular month?

There are several lessons in these questions.

First, traditionally, we expound on the admonition found in Exodus, Chapter 22, verse 24, “If you lend money to any of my people, even to the poor, you shall not act as a creditor, neither shall you charge him any interest.”

Interest can be exacted in many ways – such as charging money, requiring a person to beg or insisting that they thank us.  Maintaining the dignity of the person is the ultimate in the performance of this Mitzvah.

The Jewish Free Loan Associations throughout the country and the world were founded primarily to aid and assist Jews in need for various and sundry reasons.  It is the community coming to the aid of the individual, it is the community ensuring that the needy among us are not compromised, it is the community enabling each and every person to maintain his or her dignity; for it is the gravest of sins to embarrass another human being.  In fact, the Talmud insists that the embarrassment of an individual is tantamount to the spilling of his blood.

Second, during the week, we pray for assistance.  The Amidah –(Shemoneh Esrei) contains petition to God, while the Amidah on the Sabbath contains words of praise for God; however, the common bond is the beginning and the end of this set of prayers.  We begin each Amidah with words “Adonai S’fati Tiftach” (“O Lord, open my lips”) and we end these prayers, “Elohai N’tzur L’Shoni M’ra” (“O Lord, guard my tongue from evil and my lips from speaking guile”).  The middle of these prayers is in the plural.  And the reason is quite simple.  Prayers deal with us collectively as a people, but the beginning is our way of introducing ourselves to God and the end is our way of taking leave of God, indicating that as single human beings, we can with one voice speak for all Israel

There is no disgrace in seeking help.  The only disgrace is when we refuse to hear that plea for help.  The Torah does not refer to the needy; it talks about your needy, which means that those who are in need are our responsibility, and God reminds us that their welfare is in our hands.  It seems that most often we are content to talk about the needy and their plight but we don’t seem to do anything about it.  The Jewish Free Loan does something about it.  And they do it because of the generosity and concern of the entire Jewish community.  When is the right time, we ask, to lend a helping hand?  Now.  If not now, when?

We have a moral obligation to encourage others to not only avail themselves of this service, but to contribute to it. 

Third, at the end of the Amidah, whether weekday or Sabbath, we sign off - our signature, if you will.  Each person is assigned a sentence from the Tanach that contains the letters that form our names.  It indicates that we are individuals who have needs and desires that require the dignity of an answer, and we stand and say, “Here I am.  This is my name.  Don’t forget who I am.”

So as we participate in remembering our societal obligations, our prayer should be that all will understand who we are and that our deeds will continue to be a blessing to many and that our hands will continue to prosper because we have never lost sight of our purpose or resolve.  That is the “We.” The “I” is that I will do everything in my power to see that this comes to pass.  That is not only what is in between the beginning and the end.  It is the beginning and the end.

The Jewish Free Loan of Greater Phoenix: 3443 N. Central Avenue, Suite 707, Phoenix, AZ 85012.  602-230-7983.