לא תהיה לו כנשה
הרב דני זוקרמן
אם כסף תלוה את עמי את העני עמך לא תהיה לו כנשה לא תשימון עליו נשך
We learn in our parsha of the great mitzva to lend money. Along with that mitzva, the Torah also places two restrictions on the lender. While the end of the passuk explicitly prohibits lending with interest, the immediately preceding phrase is less clear.
What exactly is the prohibition of being a נשה? The term is generally understood to mean “creditor,” but if so, how is one supposed to fulfill the mitzva of lending money without becoming a creditor? Aren’t the two inseparable?
Rashi explains that the prohibition is not the passive state of being a creditor, but rather the creditor’s adoption of a pressuring or intimidating posture.
רש"י- לא תהיה לו כנשה, לא תתבענו בחזקה אם אתה יודע שאין לו אל תהי דומה עליו כאילו הלויתו אלא כאילו לא הלויתו
If this is indeed the behavior the Torah means to proscribe, why does it choose the seemingly neutral language of לא תהיה לו כנשה?
Another question about this mitzva is that there is a similar, but distinct, prohibition found in Parshat Re’eh.
וזה דבר השמיטה שמוט כל בעל משה ידו אשר ישה ברעהו לא יגש את רעהו ואת אחיו כי קרא שמיטה לה'
There is a mitzva mideoraita for a lender, as the shemittah year comes to a close, to relinquish his right to claim payment of outstanding loans. In this context, the lender is called a "בעל משה", a term which linguistically overlaps with the "נשה" in our parsha. However, unlike in our parsha, the prohibition there is not merely for being a "בעל משה", but rather for the lender to do the act of נגישה, collecting debt after the shemittah year has already ended. What is the nature of that prohibition and how does it relate to the issur in our parsha?
The Torah, under the mitzvah of לא תהיה לו כנשה, commands creditors to refrain at all times from certain types of pressuring activities. At the culmination of the shemitta year, the Torah commands creditors to “release their hands,” to relinquish the very claim which they naturally deserve to exercise over their borrower. In addition to the mitzvat aseh to relinquish claims, the Torah adds a mitzvat lo taaseh for shemittat kesafim as well, לא יגוש את רעהו ואת אחיו. This prohibition is violated when one collects payment of a debt even after the shemittah year has passed.
Beyond the Chumash’s linguistic linkage, is there any other overlap between the perennial mitzvah of לא תהיה לו כנשהand the unique mitzvah of shemittah- לא יגש את רעהו ואת וחיו?
The Rambam writes,
כל הנוגש את העני והוא יודע שאין לו מה יחזיר לו עובר בלא תעשה שנאמר לא תהיה לו כנשה (הל' מלוה ולוה א:ב)
In codifying the mitzva of לא תהיה לו כנשה, the Rambam bypasses more conventional terms such as תובע and strikingly uses the term נוגש instead. The issur of לא יגש is detailed in a far different context, hilchot shemittah viyovel perek 9, but the Rambam understood that there is a significant relationship between the general issur of לא תהיה לו כנשה, and the special issur of לא יגש. To understand that relationship better, we must first define the terms נושה and נוגש.
While the verb ישה could be a neutral term meaning to lend (as in כי ישה את רעך משאת מאומה), and even בעל משהcould be a neutral term meaning to have rights of collection (as in כל בעל משה ידו), we find the term נשה can be used to convey a withering critique of an abusive lender.
ואשה אחת מנשי בני הנביאים צעקה אל אלישה לאמר עבדך אישי מתואתה ידעת כי עבדך היה ירא את ה' והנשה בא לקחת את שני ילדי לו לעבדים (מלכים ב' ד:א)
In this context, the נשה is not merely one who lent money, or who has legitimate rights of collection, but who abuses his power to torment the woman who borrowed from him.
By phrasing the prohibition as לא תהיה לו כנשה, the Torah instructs to beware of the slippery slope that can lead one from the laudable act of ישה, to the legitimate right of בעל משה, to the abusive posture of a נשה.
נגש, meanwhile, is a term we first find in Parshat Shemot when Pharaoh issues his decree that, while straw will no longer be supplied, the quota bricks will remain the same. Who is charged with enforcing this decree?
ויצאו נגשי העם ושטריו (שמות ה:י)
Two groups go out to oversee the Jewish slaves’ production, but there approaches are diametrically opposed:
והנגשים אצים לאמר כלו מעשיכם דבר יום ביומו כאשר בהיות התבן...ויכו שטרי בני ישראל (שם ה:יג-יד)
The נוגשים pressure the slaves to keep up with Pharaoh’s cruel demands, while the שוטרים not only refuse to do so, but even bear the brunt of Pharaoh’s anger. They are beaten in the slaves’ stead, an act of heroism for which they will later be rewarded as נשיאי בני ישראל. By initially juxtaposing these two groups, it seems the Torah wants to call our attention to how divergent these seemingly similar positions are. The שטרים’s heroics only highlight נגשים’s perfidy.
This story tells us that the definition of a נגש is one who forcibly extracts fulfillment of a demand even when that demand is unreasonable and immoral.
Given this background, when the Torah in Parashat Re’eh characterizes the prohibition of collecting a loan post-shemittah as לא יגש, it calls our attention to the severity of the prohibition and the chiddush that collecting payment- which until shemitta’s conclusion was a completely reasonable and expected course of action- has been tarred as not only prohibited, but unfair and even cruel.
We see that נשה and נגש are distinct terms, but each can be used to describe not only prohibited, but morally reprehensible behavior of a cruel lender. The נשה claims payment of that which is rightfully his, but in a rude and callous manner, and the נגש demands payment of that which is not even his to claim.
The Rambam rules that one who presses a poor man for payment even when he knows the borrower can’t afford it is not only in violation of לא תהיה לו כנשה, he is characterized as a נגש too. Based on the above analysis, the Rambam’s insight is that demanding payment from one who can’t afford it is the moral equivalent of demanding payment of a forgiven debt. In the Torah’s value system, a lender is certainly entitled to claim reimbursement, but only in a dignified and dignifying manner.
The halacha of לא תהיה לו כנשה, together with the other halachot governing the lender-borrower relationship, contributes towards the development of the ideal civil society depicted in our parsha. The Ramban explains at the beginning of our parsha why Mishpatim is taught in the immediate aftermath of Kabbalat Hatorah. At the end of Parashat Yitro, the Torah expands upon the first two dibrot. Now, the Torah expands upon the last of the dibrot, lo tachmod:
ואלה המשפטים כנגד לא תחמד כי אם לא ידע האדם משפט הבית או השדה ושאר הממון יחשוב שהוא שלו ויחמדהו ויקחהו לעצמו לפיכך אמר תשים לפניהם משפטים ישרים ינהיגו אותם ביניהם ולא יחמדו מה שאינו שלהם מן הדין
Indeed the first 60 pesukim of the parsha address many of the foundational civil laws in halachic society, ensuring to a great extent that one who is mindful of these laws will be careful to not even desire what doesn’t justly belong to him.
However, the Torah doesn’t stop there. With the halachot of moneylending, including לא תהיה לו כנשה, the Torah teaches us that not only should we not covet what is legally not ours, but we sometimes are expected to forego even that which legally should be ours. To achieve the Torah’s ideal society, it is not enough to say שלך שלך, we must add שלי שלך as well.
 It is possible that Tanach pairs these terms before the Rambam. See Tehilim 109:11- "ינקש נושה לכל אשר לו". Mefarshim debate the meaning of the term ינקש in that context, but it may be similarly translated as- and linguistically related to- the term נוגש. See Rashi there and in Parshat Re’eh 12:30.
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