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Fair Borrowing

Mishpatim (Exodus 21-24 )

by Nesanel Yoel Safran

It happens all the time. We borrow something from someone, or someone borrows something from us. But what if something breaks... who's responsible, and under what circumstances? This week's fascinating Torah portion discusses lending, borrowing and other money matters and teaches us the fair and the right thing to do in all these situations.


In our story a kid who borrows something struggles to 'return' to the truth.


"Can I borrow your bike, Joel, just for a little while?"

"My bike? Yeah, I guess so. But just for half an hour, and be careful with it, okay Andy?"

"No problem, you got it. Thanks!"

With that, Andy took off on the bike. Freedom at last! He'd been waiting a whole week for his bike to be fixed. He'd been eyeing his neighbor Joel's bike longingly, until finally he got up the nerve to ask - and the kid agreed!

And now he was off. He didn't have anything special to do - he just loved the ride. Andy was cruising along, faster and faster, whipping by trees and telephone poles like they weren't even there. He knew he was going faster than Joel would want him to, but it just felt so good! Then suddenly he felt a bump and heard a strange popping sound coming from the back wheel.

He got control and stopped the bike, jumped off and bent down to have a look. "Just my luck," he groaned. In his great enthusiasm - and high speed he rode over a board he didn't notice lying in his path. One of the nails sticking up from the board somehow got stuck in the tire. But Andy was familiar with bikes, and he knew that this type of leak wouldn't blow out the tire for a good while.

So he got back on the bike and soon his struggle began.

'Joel will never know that it was me who got the nail stuck in the tire. He rides it all the time. When it goes flat a couple of days from now, he'll think it was his own fault.' Andy thought that argument sounded pretty good - until another voice inside piped up and said:

'But that's not the truth. The truth is that I should have been more careful. It was because I was going so fast and I wasn't paying attention that I ran over the nail. Why should he have to pay when I was the one who caused it to get flat?'

Andy's face started to pucker a little, like he was eating something sour, as the first voice returned:

'But still, why should I care? It's not my bike. Plus, it'll probably cost me a month of allowance to pay for it. Better to just forget it.' He nearly convinced himself to drop the whole thing when a clear picture of his super-honest father's disappointed face appeared in front of him, quoting one of his favorite sayings, "You borrow it - you're responsible for it."

'C'mon, guy,' Andy chided himself, finally. 'Enough excuses. Just do the right thing.'

He turned the bike around and headed back to Joel's house.

"Here you go, pal," said Andy. "And, um, here's ten dollars. I ran over a nail while I was riding and you'll need to replace the tube. Sorry about that..."

Just then Joel's little brother, Kenny, came running in out of breath. "Hey Joel! Did you lend your bike to Andy? I just saw him run over a huge board with all kinds of nails sticking out. For sure it got ruined!!"

To everyone's great relief - especially Andy, who would have been in real hot water right now if he'd tried to blow it off - the matter had already been taken care of.


Ages 3-5

Q. How did Andy feel at first about what happened to the tire?
A. He felt like not telling Joel, since he could get away with it.

Q. How did he feel in the end?
A. He felt like he had to be responsible and tell him, and was glad he did.

Ages 6-9

Q. What life lesson do you think someone could learn from this story?
A. Borrowing things is a big responsibility, which a person should take seriously. Although it wasn't easy for Andy to own up for the flat tire, he did a great thing - and the right thing - by doing so.

Q. What if something unusual - that wasn't Andy's fault - had happened to the bike ? Do you think he should have had to pay even then?
A. It depends on the exact situation. When it comes to borrowing and lending, there are many factors that can make a person either responsible or not. The Torah, especially the Talmud - which records the explanations that God gave to Moses of the written Torah - goes into fascinating detail about exactly what's fair and when.

Ages 10 and Up

Q. Do you think it might make life simpler if a person just never lent his things out?
A. It might seem that way, but he'd actually be making the world into a crueler, more selfish place. The Torah way is to lend freely to others, both our money and possessions, whenever we can. Of course, we're allowed to take reasonable precautions so that we shouldn't lose out or get taken advantage of.

Q. Is there any ethical problem with borrowing?
A. As long as we take responsibility, no. However, the spiritual ideal is to, on the one hand, give and lend freely of our own things, while on the other hand to avoid asking things of or taking from others.


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