May 28, 2024
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Ben Ish Hai’s Beautiful Opportunity to Fulfill Shemitat Kesafim

Rabbi of Congregation Shaarei Orah, the Sephardic Congregation of Teaneck

The Jewish people love performing mitzvot just as, in the words of Shlomo Hamelech in Kohelet, one who loves money is never satisfied with the amount of money he possesses. The Jewish people are naturally drawn to mitzvah observance and seek opportunities to fulfill mitzvot. For example, men are obligated to wear tzitzit only if they are wearing a four-cornered garment. In today’s environment, when four-cornered garments are rare, men specifically go out of their way to wear a four-cornered garment in order to be able to fulfill the mitzvah of tzitzit.

Since the time of Hillel, the mitzvah of Shemitat Kesafim, the end of the seventh year canceling loans, has been sidestepped using the tool of the prozbol document. Moreover, most people do not have disposable funds with which they can loan money. How are they to fulfill the mitzvah of Shemitat Kesafim?

The Ben Ish Hai presents a beautiful custom that he introduced to his community in Baghdad. After writing the community’s prozbols, the Ben Ish Hai would encourage community members to lend a small amount of money to each other, before the conclusion of the Shemittah year. After Rosh Hashanah, each borrower, in turn, approaches the lender and offers to repay the loan. The lender, following the protocol outlined in the Mishnah (Masechet Shevi’it), responds, “Meshameit ani”—the loan has been canceled at the end of the prior year. The borrower then states, following the Mishnah, that he nonetheless wishes to redeem the loan.

Similar to men specifically wearing a four-cornered garment to generate an opportunity to fulfill a mitzvah, so, too, the Ben Ish Hai advocates engineering a situation where the mitzvah of Shemitat Kesafim can be easily fulfilled on a very large scale. We plan on conducting such a wholesale fulfillment of the mitzvah of Shemitat Kesafim at Shaarei Orah following in the footsteps of the Ben Ish Hai.

In between Rosh Hashanah and Kippur is the perfect time to complete this process. This facilitates the fulfillment of yet another mitzvah, which might be the mitzvah which tips Hashem’s scale of judgment in favor of a heavenly decree for a good year for the individual and community.

One last note, Hacham Ovadia Yosef rules that women are fully included in the mitzvah of Shemitat Kesafim. Thus, the Ben Ish Hai practice is most appropriate for women as well as men.

Tizku l’shanim rabot!

By Rabbi Haim Jachter,

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