Mishpatim: The best way to give financial help
What is the best way in which we can give financial help to another?
The Shulchan Aruch in Chosen Mishpat tells us that when one gives a loan to a needy person, of course the Torah tells us we may not receive interest, but when giving that loan, one should have a contract, and there should be witnesses. This is in order that the receiver should not claim at a later time, that he wasn’t given the money. You need to have proof in order to protect yourself.
However, the Shulchan Aruch also tells us in Yoreh Deah that if you’re giving charity to a poor person, the finest way to do it is in secret. In fact, the ultimate form of charity is when the receiver doesn’t even know who the giver is.
So how is that possible? On the one hand, we need witnesses, and on the other hand, it needs to be done in secret.
The Chida derives an answer from a verse in Parshat Mishpatim. It is a seemingly clumsy verse. The Torah says, “Im kesef tarveh et ami, et heani imach,” translated literally as, “If you give a loan of money to someone within the people, the poor are in your midst.”
What sense can we make of these words?
The Chida tells us to read it as follows:
“Im kessef tarveh,” – If you are giving a loan,
“Et ami,” – if you would like to receive that money back, and you want to have proof, it must be done ‘et ami’, in the presence of other people within the nation, in order that you should be protected. However,
“Et he’ani,” – “if you’re giving money to a poor person, as an outright gift or perhaps even as a loan just to save his dignity, so that the person feels better but you don’t ever expect to get it back, then
“Imach,” – it should be just with your knowledge only. No announcement, no contract and no witnesses.
So therefore in our rich, God-given heritage we can see how within Jewish tradition, the rights of those who give are always protected and at the same time, we should go the extra mile in order to preserve the dignity of those who are receiving.