Rabbi Simcha Feuerman, DHL, LCSW-R
Our Gemara on amud aleph mentions the institution of Prosbol. Since this year many have written prosbols on erev Rosh Hashanah, I thought reflect on this remarkable takanna. In a magnificent utopia blend between capitalism and socialism, the Torah accepts fair trade and commerce but also places certain limits to protect people from sinking into irrevocable poverty. The Torah asks that creditors forgive debts at the end of the Shemittah year. However, this can lead to a reluctance to lend, especially close to the Shemitta year. The verses in Devarim (15:9-10) describe this problem and ask us to trust in God, and behave in this generous counter-intuitive fashion.
הִשָּׁ֣מֶר לְךָ֡ פֶּן־יִהְיֶ֣ה דָבָר֩ עִם־לְבָבְךָ֨ בְלִיַּ֜עַל לֵאמֹ֗ר קָֽרְבָ֣ה שְׁנַֽת־הַשֶּׁ֘בַע֮ שְׁנַ֣ת הַשְּׁמִטָּה֒ וְרָעָ֣ה עֵֽינְךָ֗ בְּאָחִ֙יךָ֙ הָֽאֶבְי֔וֹן וְלֹ֥א תִתֵּ֖ן ל֑וֹ וְקָרָ֤א עָלֶ֙יךָ֙ אל ה׳ וְהָיָ֥ה בְךָ֖ חֵֽטְא׃
Beware lest you harbor the base thought, “The seventh year, the year of remission, is approaching,” so that you are mean and give nothing to your needy kin—who will cry out to Hashem against you, and you will incur guilt.
נתוֹן תִּתֵּן֙ ל֔וֹ וְלֹא־יֵרַ֥ע לְבָבְךָ֖ בְּתִתְּךָ֣ ל֑וֹ כִּ֞י בִּגְלַ֣ל ׀ הַדָּבָ֣ר הַזֶּ֗ה יְבָרֶכְךָ֙ ה׳ אלקיך בְּכׇֽל־מַעֲשֶׂ֔ךָ וּבְכֹ֖ל מִשְׁלַ֥ח יָדֶֽךָ
Give readily and have no regrets when you do so, for in return your God will bless you in all your efforts and in all your undertakings.
Hillel the Elder saw that people began to hold back from lending money despite the scriptural warnings, which in the end was causing needy people even more deprivation. Therefore, he created a legal structure that turned the debt over to Bais Din, allowing for it to still be collected. (Gittin 36b)
This was a remarkable takanah, as Hillel was essentially circumventing a Torah law through technicalities and legalities, in response and in adjustment to, the nation’s inability to live up to God’s standard. This speaks for itself as a lesson of the power and responsibility of a proper Jewish Sanhedrin that is able to make needed modifications instead of doubling down and insisting on holding to a now impractical standard. It was not always taken so well, indeed the great Amora Shmuel (ibid) declares:
דְּאָמַר שְׁמוּאֵל הָא פְּרוֹסְבֻּלָא עוּלְבָּנָא דְּדַיָּינֵי הוּא אִי אֲיַישַּׁר חַיִל אֲבַטְּלִינֵּיהּ אֲבַטְּלִינֵּיהּ
Shmuel said: This Prosbol is an insult of the judges; if my strength increases I will nullify it.
Regardless, Prosbol remains in practice to this day.
I wonder, if the Torah encourages the periodic cancellation of debt, what about emotional debt? That is, why does the Torah not encourage offering forgiveness of grudges and other matters every Shemitta year? The answer is, it does. Not every seven years, but right away (Vayikra 19:17-18):
לֹֽא־תִשְׂנָ֥א אֶת־אָחִ֖יךָ בִּלְבָבֶ֑ךָ הוֹכֵ֤חַ תּוֹכִ֙יחַ֙ אֶת־עֲמִיתֶ֔ךָ וְלֹא־תִשָּׂ֥א עָלָ֖יו חֵֽטְא׃
You shall not hate your kinsfolk in your heart. Reprove your kin but incur no guilt on their account.
לֹֽא־תִקֹּ֤ם וְלֹֽא־תִטֹּר֙ אֶת־בְּנֵ֣י עַמֶּ֔ךָ וְאָֽהַבְתָּ֥ לְרֵעֲךָ֖ כָּמ֑וֹךָ
Indeed, in the famous Tefillah Zaka that we recite before Kol Nidre, there is a clause where we grant forgiveness to everyone – except for those who owe us money and we can extract via litigation. We see from here that though monetary forgiveness can be held back, other forms of forgiveness should still be granted.
We may not be able to let go of our loans, and we are offered a loophole thanks to Hillel the elder. However, Hillel never gave us a free pass on emotional debt, which kal v’chomer we should forgive, whenever possible.
Translations Courtesy of Sefaria, (except when, sometimes, I disagree with the translation .)