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Lending a hand
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Lending a hand

The Torah portion to be read in synagogue this Shabbat, Mishpatim, includes the following verse: “Im kesef talveh et ami et ha’oni imach lo k’no’she lo t’see’mun aleiv neshech” — “If you lend money to my people, to the poor among you, do not act toward them as a creditor; exact no interest from them.”

The verse became the basis of one of Judaism’s most profound responses to society’s inequities: the gemach, or Hebrew free loan society, making free credit available to the poor and disadvantaged. Taking their cue from Torah and the medieval sage Maimonides — who famously regarded interest-free loans as the highest form of tzedaka — free loan societies allow individuals to meet an emergency payment, seed a new business, or meet their obligations with dignity. Surprisingly or not, the “default” rates are virtually nil: Lendees almost invariably pay back their loans. Those who donate to free loan societies regard their gifts as an investment, not charity.

Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey was founded in Newark to help immigrants build their lives in America. Reestablished in 1995 throughout MetroWest and beyond, it now provides interest-free loans of up to $5,000 to eligible applicants. Loans can be made for reasons that range from medical expenses, legal support, and adoption costs or to launch a new business. The lending process is totally confidential. Since its inception, HFL has provided nearly $1,000,000 in loans.

By their nature, free loan societies do their good work quietly. But Shabbat Mishpatim is a chance for their mission to be heard and celebrated, and for people throughout the community to offer their financial support. It’s a mitzva that will continue to pay dividends, generation upon generation.

For more information, contact Hebrew Free Loan of New Jersey at 973-765-9050.

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