By Jennifer Starrett
From an early age, most Jewish children are taught about the importance of tzedakah and giving to those in need. Whether it was making a tzedakah box in Hebrew School or volunteering as a family, I remember these values being instilled in me as long as I can remember. Every night before Shabbat, we put coins into a tzedakah box and when the box was full, we would decide as a family where the money would be donated. There was even a little song that we would sing when we put the coins in each Friday night (my favorite part being about shoes for their feet).
These traditions later on turned into a strong desire to give back to my community and to others. This need to give back led to some of the most meaningful and important parts of my life including the service trip to Israel where I met my husband just over 10 years ago. Little did I know, however, that this commandment of giving to those in need was part of what would draw me to become a part of our local Jewish Free Loan, an organization that is rooted in this week’s Torah portion, Mishpatim.
Last week’s Torah portion included the story of G-d giving the Israelites the Ten Commandments. This week, in Mishpatim, G-d speaks to the Israelites and gives 53 new commandments including laws about slaves, manslaughter, kidnapping, holiday observances, idolatry and many others. One of these laws is about money and not charging interest to fellow Jews.
The Torah says in Exodus 22:25: If you lend money to My people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; you many not charge them interest.
Reading this, I understand that when you lend money to others, it is to help them and not to help yourself by charging interest. When giving to others, you also need to act as if everyone is equal because you or someone you know may be in that same position later on.
The interpretation of this part of the Torah portion often uses the analogy of a snake. Interest is like a snake bite secretly attacking your bank account. When you first get a traditional loan or borrow money, you may not feel or even notice the interest, but soon the interest will grow and add up making your debt much worse in the end. The interest swells up just like a snake bite. Instead of charging interest and helping ourselves, we are commanded to give without interest in order to truly help others.
Since 1950, our local Jewish Free Loan has fulfilled this biblical directive by providing Jewish Arizonans with interest-free loans to enhance their quality of life. Since the organization began, thousands of individuals and families have been able to continue their education, travel to Israel, start a business, tend to medical/dental needs, experience Jewish summer camp, adopt a child, provide a loved one with a Jewish burial, avoid eviction and navigate numerous other life experiences without the worry or burden of compounding interest.
As a Jewish Free Loan board member, I have been able to personally see the impact that the loans have had for members of our community. It is an honor to hear their stories and spread the word about this important resource in our community. If you or someone you know could benefit from an interest-free loan, please contact Jewish Free Loan by calling 602-230-7983 or visit jewishfreeloan.org.
And we are only able to give these loans because of the generous donations from donors including through the Charitable Tax Credit Program. If you are able to, please help contribute by donating online or calling the office. Giving what you can when you can is essential because you don’t know when you might need the hand up later on.