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Motherhood on Loan

Thursday, 23 January, 2014 - 6:00 am

Say I am in need of some eggs for the meal I am in the midst of preparing. No time to run to the supermarket – it’s nearly dinner. But the recipe calls for eggs and the guests are coming soon.

So I run to the neighbor and borrow a dozen eggs. The next day I’ll go to the supermarket, purchase a dozen eggs and drop them at my neighbor’s home - and everyone is happy.

But let’s say my car broke down and I need to get somewhere urgently. Once again my neighbor comes to the rescue. She happily offers me her brand new Lexus so I can get to my appointment on time.

What do you think her reaction would be if I showed up a few hours later with a 1995 Chevrolet instead of her Lexus? What if I showed up with a similar Lexus, but not hers?

***

When we talk about lending and borrowing, the Torah classifies this undertaking in two distinct categories.

One is הלוואה (halva’ah), which is when a person loans someone else money or other replaceable items, expecting the value therein to be repaid according to the terms of the agreement. Essentially, the loaner is a creditor and the borrower is a debtor. The loaner expects the actual funds or items to be spent or utilized, never to be returned. So long as their equal is repaid, the creditor is happy.

 The other is שאלה (she’elah), referring to the loan of a particular item. In such an instance, the loaner expects the actual item to be returned – and in the same condition as when it was dispensed.

***

In the commandment to offer loans to the needy, the Torah stipulates in this week’s parsha Mishpatim, that lenders may not charge interest.  So long as you get the funds back, you cannot have any complaints against the borrower.

Our Sages teach that G-d is asking us to follow in His footsteps. He offers us everything we have on loan and does not charge interest. We must follow suit and treat others the way He treats us.

However, it’s important to note that the Torah compares G-d’s behavior toward mankind as a creditor/debtor loan and not as an item being loaned for its use.  Why is G-d’s relationship to humanity personified by the creditor (albeit a kind one that doesn’t charge interest) and not by the friendly neighbor offering use of his screwdriver?

***

As mentioned, a fundamental difference between these two relationships is whether the actual item must be returned. When it is not necessary for the actual item to be returned (i.e. creditor/debtor relationship) a bigger favor has actually occurred. Not only are you free to use the item/funds; you are free to do with them as you please. So long as you replace them. This means you are given full ownership and authority over them to put your unique imprint upon them. If it’s a dozen eggs – you can choose to fry them, boil them or use them for decorations.

In our relationship with the Almighty, we are given many loans. G-d gives us talents, material items, family, friends and community – all entrusted to our own decision-making.  We are free to put our personal imprint upon them, so long as we stay within the confines of His contract.

G-d does not expect us to return everything to Him exactly as we received them. He expects us to leave our mark. Not only does He allow us to alter these items, He expects us to. He desires our unique contribution to His world. That’s why He puts them in our custody.

***

There are certainly times when we feel like we have let Him down.  That’s usually when we feel we have nothing to offer Him. We see ourselves as unworthy of connecting with Him. Simply put, after we slip up, we don’t feel like He is interested in our mitzvahs. G-d doesn’t want our tainted goods, we tell ourselves.

The Torah’s message is clear: G-d gives us full ownership of our lives – knowing that we may, at times, falter – and still desires the return of His loan.  We may not be perfect. But it is precisely our imperfect offerings that He knowingly signed up for.

***

In our relationships with others we face the same dilemma. ‘I know I cannot cook as well as she does.’ ‘I know I cannot speak as eloquently as he does.’ I’d better just sit it out rather than fall short.

Wrong.

In fact, I’ve been facing this challenge this week. As Rebbetzin Esther is currently in New York attending the International Conference of Shluchos (Chabad Lubavitch women emissaries), I am doing double duty as a parent. In addition to playing my constant role as father, Esther has also lent me her role of mother.

I know I will never be as good a mother to my children as Esther is. It’s simply not possible. Only women can be true mothers.

But that does not mean I can’t step up to the plate and be the best ‘mother’ that a guy can be.

You see, Esther did not gift me the role of motherhood (for this my children are extremely grateful). Nor did she simply hand it to me to be returned intact (she’s far brighter than that).

She recognizes that things won’t be the same when she returns (and how!). But so long as I follow instructions and do my best – she will gladly accept the motherhood package I reimburse to her.

***

I may not be perfect. But my wife – and certainly my Creator – will eagerly accept the repayment of her loan that has my name written all over it.

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