The Snake’s Illusion

Kli Yakar Leviticus: Behar


The Snake’s Illusion

“A banker is a fellow who lends his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain.”

Mark Twain

The Torah assigns two descriptions to the sin of lending or borrowing with interest (usury): “neshech” and “marbit.” The Kli Yakar (Leviticus 25:36) explains that the two languages correspond to the two parties of the loan and their accompanying dangers.

“Neshech” is the snake’s poisonous bite and applies to the poor man, the borrower. At first, the bite seems like just a small innocuous puncture. It doesn’t hurt much. But soon enough the poison courses through the veins, and unnoticed, eventually kills its victim. So too, the borrower. He tells himself it’s not a big deal and he’ll be able to pay back his loan. But before he knows it, he’s in a mountain of debt with no clear way out.

“Marbit” is multiplication of assets that the rich lender imagines he creates by the loan. According to the Kli Yakar, such financial efforts are a mirage, muddying ones true assets, which will eventually be destroyed because of his usurious practices (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia 71a).

Both types of borrowers suffer from a lack of faith. Interest, for borrower and lender is a poisonous illusion. In typical commerce, one prays to God for success in his efforts, that his merchandise will sell, that his crops will grow, that the value of his investments will rise – there are many variables outside our control and hence the reliance and development of faith in God. In lending at interest, ones profit is (generally) assured. There is a fixed, determined interest rate. There is typically some type of collateral that insures payment. God and faith are ostensibly removed from the equation. For the borrower as well, he may calculate that the loan will save him from his troubles and smooth sailing will ensue.

The Kli Yakar argues that by sticking to straightforward (non-interest) lending and borrowing practices, one demonstrates greater faith in God’s financial machinations on our behalf.

May we have financial success and not have to get entangled in usurious practices.

Shabbat Shalom,



To Professor Eliezer Jaffe and TheIsraelFree Loan Association.

The Israel Free Loan Association is the largest interest free loan organization in the world. Since its inception in 1990 it has lent out over $135 million to over 50,000 low income families, the working poor and struggling small businesses. Currently it lends out $15 million every year to Israelis of all backgrounds.


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