This week’s Torah portion repeatedly instructs us to be mindful and generous with a kinsman who has fallen on hard times, even to the extent of paying to redeem him from indentured servitude or to restoring him his forfeited property. This could get expensive, so naturally kinsmen of means will have to be persuaded to step up. In this regard, the rabbis compare two verses from the Book of Proverbs. Here we find “One who is generous with the poor makes a loan to the Lord, who will repay it” (19:17) Therefore, the amount given to charity is considered as though the giver “loaned” it to God. Also,“A borrower becomes a slave to the lender” (22:7). When we “owe” someone a debt, that someone holds a kind of power over us. Astonished, the midrash concludes that it seems God has obligated God’s self to repay the giver and thus has committed to becoming the “slave” of anyone who bails out a victim of misfortune!

In Pirke Avot we read the advice “Make God’s will your will so that your will becomes God’s will.” That is, if I desire God’s favor, I should first submit to God’s will. This sounds like the opposite of what we have just learned from the Torah portion. There it is implied that through our generosity we may bend God’s will by forcing God to be indebted to us. The answer, of course, is that our being generous with those less fortunate has been God’s will for us all along. Doing God’s will as though it were our own has the happy consequence of making God’s will as if it were ours.

B’Yedidut (w/friendship),

Rabbi Mitch Levine