Lending Money with Interest Delays the Final Redemption
It is written, “Do not take from him interest and increase … I am the L-RD your G-d Who took you out of the land of Egypt” (Leviticus 25:36,38). From this passage, we see that there is a connection between charging interest and the exodus from Egypt. Rashi gives an explanation on the verse in question, and we may also consult the book Mitzvat Habitachon (p.130).
We shall attempt to give our own explanation as to the relationship between these two concepts. When the Children of Israel were in Egypt, they never stopped believing that in spite of their harsh enslavement, the Holy One, blessed be He, would save them. They held this belief because they received an assurance from Jacob and Joseph that they would be saved by means of the expression “G-d will surely remember you” [Genesis 50:24] (Shemot Rabba 5:13), and that they would leave the crucible in which they had stayed for 210 years (Bereshith Rabba 91b). This in fact is what happened: When Moses came to announce the news of their liberation with the words “I have surely remembered you” (Exodus 3:16), the Children of Israel believed him and “bowed their heads and prostrated themselves” (ibid. 12:27). They prostrated themselves to give thanks for the announcement of their deliverance, their entry into Eretz Israel, and the foretelling of their having children (Mechilta Shemot 12:27). It was therefore by the merit of their faith that the Children of Israel were freed from slavery and left Egypt.
In addition, while in Egypt the Children of Israel had already taken upon themselves some mitzvot to reinforce their faith and facilitate their deliverance, mitzvot such as Passover, Shabbat, and Tefillin. They also accepted to circumcise themselves (Pesikta Zutah 6:6) with joy and love for G-d. [Note: Since the Midrash actually says that they were not circumcised (Pesikta Zutah Bo 12:6), this issue remains open]. The Sages have said that the blood of the Passover sacrifice and that of their circumcision became mixed, as it is written: “Then I passed you and saw you wallowing in your blood, and I said to you, ‘In your blood you shall live’; I said to you, ‘In your blood you shall live’ ” (Ezekiel 16:6). G-d said it twice, signifying the Passover sacrifice and circumcision (Perkei D’Rabbi Eliezer 29). Why were they circumcised? It is because concerning the Passover sacrifice, “No uncircumcised male may eat of it” (Exodus 12:48). Hence they would not have been able to eat of it if they had remained uncircumcised. Besides that, it is obvious that they must have circumcised themselves to have been able to escape the 49 gates of impurity (Zohar Chadash Yitro 39a) and reach the 49 gates of holiness and be delivered from Egypt.
Above all, the Children of Israel believed in G-d, as it is written: “They had faith in the L-RD and in Moses His servant” (Exodus 14:31). It was only through the merit of their faith that the Shechinah rested upon them as they sung praises when crossing the Sea of Reeds (Shemot Rabba 23:2). In addition, they were united together in harmony, according to the principle by which “all the Children of Israel are responsible for one another” (Sanhedrin 27b). This principle enabled them to leave Egypt, for they could only have been saved when they truly supported one another. (Tanhuma Nitzavim 1). Moreover, it was the Holy One, blessed be He, Who Himself delivered them, without using the intermediary of an angel or a seraph, for these could have accused the Children of Israel, whereas with Hashem’s personal involvement, no one could have accused them. Hence the Children of Israel had only merits.
All this allows us to understand the connection between charging interest on loans and the exodus from Egypt. In fact, when a Jew lends another money with interest, he acts contrary to having faith in G-d by showing that he feels forced to take interest because Hashem is not powerful enough to make him profit from His generosity. He also harms the unity of the Jewish people, for shared responsibility for one another implies helping the other, whereas by taking excessive money (the interest) when lending, a person aggravates his situation. This goes without mentioning the fact that by charging interest, he harms the sanctity of circumcision, for the word ribit (“interest”) is composed of the same letters as the word brit (“circumcision”). Now the merit of circumcision was one of the reasons for which the Children of Israel were delivered from Egypt. Therefore the one who lends money with interest harms the Jewish faith, the unity of the Jewish people, and the concept of circumcision, and by consequence the exodus from Egypt. That is the connection between the prohibition against charging interest and the exodus from Egypt.
We may also say that when the Children of Israel left Egypt, G-d reveled to them that they would receive the Torah on Mount Sinai (Shemot Rabba 3:4), as it is written: “When you take the people out of Egypt, you will serve G-d on this mountain” (Exodus 3:12). They would receive the 613 mitzvot, and as a result the person who lends his money with interest renounces G-d and the exodus from Egypt (Bava Metzia 75b), for he renounces the Torah. In addition, the numerical value of ribit (counting the word itself) is 613, which clearly indicates the connection between the exodus from Egypt and lending money with interest, the latter which delays the Final Redemption.
We recite Psalm 145 (“A psalm of praise by David: I will exalt You, my G-d the King, and I will bless Your Name forever and ever…”) three times each day in the daily prayers (Berachot 4b). By way of allusion, one of the reasons that we recite this Psalm is because the word tehillah (“psalm”) has the same numerical value as the word tam (innocent, wholehearted), as it is written: “You shall be wholehearted with the L-RD your G-d” (Deuteronomy 18:13). How can we conduct ourselves with G-d honestly and with integrity? By placing all our confidence in Him without trying to complicate matters or be insincere. Three times a day corresponds to a person’s three daily meals, and if such a person lends his money with interest, it is because he is not wholehearted with G-d nor does he trust Him. Far from behaving in this manner, a person should demonstrate absolute confidence in Him, and in so doing he will bring the Final Redemption closer, speedily in our days. Amen.