Money Makes Money
Adapted from Parasha VeLikcha by Rabbi Moshe Grylak
Adapted by Braha Bender
“Do not take from him interest and increase, and you shall fear your G-d, and let your brother live with you” (Leviticus 25:36): the Jew is prohibited to take interest on money leant to other Jews. This prohibition has no economic basis. As it makes sense to receive payment for any possession rented out, so too does it make sense to receive payment for money loaned over a period of time. Why, then, is it prohibited?
Our great love, our great obsession, our great temptation, our false idol…is money. Nations and individuals bow down before it as one. The Torah, well aware of human avarice, hits exactly where it hurts. It is not our car, nor our homes, nor even our food that the Torah prohibits us from lending out for a profit. It is our money. Money is the one item we are not allowed to use to make more money. We are prohibited to benefit from lending it out at interest.
Thanks to these commandments, the Jew gains a certain mind-set when it comes to finances. For all practical intents and purposes, the limitations of his ownership become quite obvious. The Torah observant Jew integrates an awareness that capital has a different Owner, an Owner who kindly allows us to make use His financial resources so long as we are doing so on His terms: to help others.
They say that money makes money. But what else does money make? Money used to make more and more -- and more -- money, for nothing but it’s own sake, feeds a corrupt obsession leading nowhere but deeper into in to the hole. These prohibitions serve as an efficient check to curb the almost uncontrollable desire to perpetuate the cycle.
If money isn’t used to make money, what is it used for instead? An aspect of the human personality usually entrenched in self-absorption, the aspect involved with money, is suddenly redirected like a river flowing in an entirely new direction. Where does the human engagement with money flow if not stymied by the cycle of exploitation? For one thing, the Jew is commanded to use his money to help the needy, something Jews have excelled at and continue to excel at far beyond normative standards. Besides writing checks, however, financial capital can lead in many other creative directions. The possibilities are almost endless.
This is the message of the Torah. Money must not just make money, because when that happens, man ceases to be a creative force improving his world. The Jew is encouraged to increase and contribute his assets by the labor of his hands, his head, and the many other creative faculties he was blessed with.
Interest doesn’t discriminate. It collapses small companies and large corporations, individuals and governments. But imagine a world unpolluted by exploitative capital. Imagine investing in projects that generate partnerships, creative enterprise, and profit for everyone involved.
Uninhibited capitalistic economies use the concept of “free market” as a convenient cover-up phrase for hostile takeovers. Communist economies completely wipe out the identity of the individual, smothering personal initiative and creativity. Neither pole serves humanity well. Imagine the results of an “anti-interest economy”. Despite the tens of thousands of individuals that remained faithful to this idea over the course of the generations, society as a whole never embraced the high level of morality implicit in such an economic system. However, in our own personal lives and societies, we can.