Talmud Tips

For the week ending 3 December 2016 / 3 Kislev 5777

Bava Metzia 65 - 71

by Rabbi Moshe Newman
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“A rental fee is due to be paid only at the end of the rental period.”

With this halachic teaching regarding when rental payment must be paid, the gemara makes a distinction between two cases which seemingly appear the same, and yet one case is permitted while the other case is prohibited.

Our mishna states that a person is permitted to rent out his courtyard in the following manner. He may set the rental price at 10 sela’im to be paid in advance for the year, or 12 sela’im — one sela for each month — if the renter prefers to pay monthly. However, the mishna also teaches that if a person is selling his field, he is prohibited by the laws of ribit (usury) from offering this same choice of the method of payment. What’s the difference?

In the case of a rental, the lower price (10 sela’im for the year) is a discount for paying in advance. The market price for the courtyard is one sela per month. No ribit interest is being paid since the rental fee is due to be paid only after the property has been used that month. This is permitted. On the other hand, in the case of sale the entire payment from the buyer is due right away at the time of sale. Therefore, if the price for up-front payment is 10 sela’im, then charging 12 selai’m for paying in monthly installments is considered a type of ribit interest, since it is as if the seller has lent the buyer 10 sela’im at the time of the sale, and is then proceeding to collect 12 sela’im during the year, which constitutes a gain on his original “loan” of 10 sela’im at the original time of the sale.

  • Bava Metzia 65a

“A person who increases his wealth by means of usury and taking forbidden interest on a loan actually gathers this wealth for someone else who is gracious to the poor.” (Mishlei 28:8)

This verse from the Book of Proverbs teaches a clear message that one who takes money unjustly will find that the money will not remain with him, but instead will be saved up for someone else who will use it to be gracious to the poor. The gemara on our daf asks: Who is this one who is “gracious to the poor”? The Sage Rav offers the example of “Shvor Malka”. Shvor Malka was a Persian king who would take money from Jews and give it to his non-Jewish servants, who are the “poor” mentioned in the verse since they are lacking in mitzvot (Rashi).

The Maharsha cites Rashi’s commentary on the verse in Mishlei: “The government hears about him, that he is becoming wealthy through illegal means, and they confiscate his money, with which they build bridges and repair highways. This is being gracious to the poor.” The Maharsha states that Rashi’s explanation is based on the Midrash of Rabbi Tanchuma.

The Maharsha adds that this reference to Persian kings who built bridges is in accordance with a teaching at the beginning of Masechet Avoda Zara (2b). There the gemara states that at the time of “future judgment” the Persian kings will disingenuously claim their righteousness by bragging that they built bridges for the sake of helping the Jewish People learn Torah and fulfill mitzvot. Of course this was not true, since they did it for their own gain to collect tolls and taxes in order to increase their own wealth and strengthen their own power.

  • Bava Metzia 70b

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