THE LEAP OF FAITH
One of the many mitzvot enumerated in this week’s parashah is the prohibition of causing a fellow Jew to take interest (ribit) – i.e., borrowing money on interest. (The prohibition of lending on interest is stated in Shemot 22:24 and VaYikra 25:35-38.) However, the Torah explicitly permits a Jew to give interest to (and take it from) a Gentile: You may pay interest to a Gentile, but you may not pay interest to your brother (Devarim 23:21). At the end of this verse, the Torah sets forth the reward for keeping this mitzvah: So that the Lord your God will bless you in all that you do, in the Land to which you come, to possess it.
What is the connection between the prohibition of ribit and Eretz Yisrael?
I already cited the Maharal’s answer to this question in Parashat BeHar (“The Great Unifier” – see there). The Netziv gives a practical explanation as to why the Holy Land is mentioned specifically in our verse. According to him, it has less to do with the prohibition of ribit than the reward mentioned in its context:
Even though there is no difference between Eretz Yisrael and Chutz LaAretz [in terms of fulfilling this mitzvah], nonetheless, the reward for mitzvot, and [all] the laws of the Torah, are greater in Eretz Yisrael. This is why [the Torah] is called “The Law of the God of the Land.” We already explained this in the Book of Shemot, on the verse of honoring one’s father.
In my humble opinion, though, the most beautiful (and applicable) answer to our question is found in the Malbim. The Sifrei comments on our verse: “IN THE LAND TO WHICH YOU COME TO POSSESS IT – In reward for your coming, you will possess it.” The Malbim explains:
Usually, when the Torah mentions taking possession of the Land, it says, which the Lord your God gives you. Here, however, it mentions nothing about God giving it. Therefore, [the Sifrei] explains that if the Jews have faith in HaShem and come to the Land, in reward for that, they will possess it, instead of [merely receiving it] as a gift.
Scriptures hint to this in the section dealing with interest, because it states there that one who refuses to take interest, due to his faith in HaShem, will be rewarded with a blessing.
Allow me to explain. One who refrains from taking interest shows that he understands that his financial prosperity is in God’s hands. He realizes that no matter how much he gains from unlawful loans, he will eventually lose out. He has complete faith that if he keeps God’s laws, he will be rewarded. One must have considerable faith in HaShem to withstand the temptations of unjust monetary gains.
The same is true of Eretz Yisrael, says the Malbim. Living in this Land requires great faith. One can easily fool him- or herself into thinking that it is better to remain in the Diaspora. After all, “I can make more money here and, therefore, have the means to fulfill more mitzvot, like charity.” “I can give my children a better education here.” “There are so many bad influences in Israel.” “It is so difficult to live in Israel, especially now with all that’s going on.” Etc. In reality, all of these arguments (and the like) are false, but this is how people perceive things, unfortunately. It takes great faith to say: “I don’t care what people say. All I know is that God commanded us to live in His special Land; He must know what He’s talking about. He will protect me from harm, as long as I come for the right reasons – to be closer to Him.”
This is what the Sifrei means when it says, “In reward for your coming, you will possess it.” That is, if you take the leap of faith, leave the lands of exile, and come to Eretz Yisrael, HaShem will help you flourish in the Land.
Let us all show HaShem how much we truly believe in Him and make His Chosen Land our permanent dwelling place. Then, He will surely help us defeat our enemies (from without and within) and take full possession of the Land. So may it be His will, speedily in our days. Amen.