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The Interesting World of Ribbis

So what is ribbis exactly? And why is it such a serious sin?

For his tenth birthday, Sender received an exciting gift — balloons of various shapes and sizes with a special balloon pump. Sender proudly demonstrated to the boys in his class how he could blow up the balloons and twist them into all kinds of interesting shapes. Several of his classmates begged Sender to let them try, too, but he refused. In an effort to persuade Sender to lend him a few balloons, his friend Meir promised that in addition to buying back the balloons, he would also tell Sender a secret, information that only he, as the son of the principal, was privy to. He disclosed where their class was going for their school trip.

In the evening, Sender told his older brother about the secret he’d learned. To his surprise, his brother looked dismayed. “I think the two of you just transgressed a serious aveirah,” he said.

“What on earth—?” Sender sputtered.

Ribbis,” his brother said. “One of the gravest sins in the Torah.”

Ribbis?” echoed Sender. “Isn’t ribbis something only connected to businessmen?”

Ribbis: Relevant for Everyone — Men, Women, and Children

So what is ribbis exactly? And why is it such a serious sin?

To find out, Jr. turned to Rav Pinchas Vind, one of the foremost experts and poskim in Eretz Yisrael on hilchos ribbis. The author of several seforim on the subject, and the founder of the beis din tzedek — Beis Ha’Horaah L’Inyanei Ribbis, which fields between 600 and 700 calls a day, Rav Vind is an extremely busy man. Nevertheless, he graciously gave many hours of his precious time to explain this mitzvah, which is so dear to his heart, because he feels there is a huge lack of awareness, even downright ignorance, about the issurei ribbis that adults and children can transgress every day without realizing it.

So what is ribbis? Simply put, ribbis is the Torah prohibition of charging or paying interest on a loan. If you lend a fellow Jew $100, he may only return $100 to you. You may not charge him more than that, and he may not give you back more of his own accord, either.

Want to Be Successful? Be Careful with Ribbis!

The Gemara assures us that a person careful not to transgress with ribbis will be very successful in his dealings and see tremendous brachah in his finances. On the other hand, the Gemara warns, one who lends with ribbis will lose all his money. He will also not return to life at techiyas hameisim!

An interesting story took place during the times of the gaon Rav Akiva Eiger. A wealthy merchant had recently died and the chevra kaddisha charged his sons three times their regular fee for the burial plot. As they had to bury their father, the outraged heirs were faced with no choice and were forced to pay the money. As soon as the shivah was over, however, they hastened to summon the burial society to the governor of the town, where they protested the way the chevra kaddisha had extorted such a huge sum of money from them. For their part, the chevra kaddisha explained that their father had made a living by lending money to people and charging them a lot of interest. Now was payback time, they claimed. The governor summoned Rav Akiva Eiger and asked for his opinion.

(Excerpted from Mishpacha Jr., Issue 790)

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