Ben-Tzion Spitz
Former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay

The Snake’s Illusion (Behar)

"Snake's Illusion" (AI image by author)
"Snake's Illusion" (AI image by author)

A banker is a fellow who lends his umbrella when the sun is shining and wants it back the minute it begins to rain. -Mark Twain

The Torah assigns two descriptions to the sin of lending or borrowing with interest (usury): “neshech” and “marbit.” Rabbi Shlomo Ephraim of Prague, the Kli Yakar (1550-1619), on Leviticus 25:36, explains that the two languages correspond to the two parties of the loan and their accompanying dangers.

“Neshech” is the snake’s poisonous bite and applies to the poor man, the borrower. At first, the bite seems like just a small innocuous puncture. It doesn’t hurt much. But soon enough the poison courses through the veins, and unnoticed, eventually kills its victim. So too, the borrower. He tells himself it’s not a big deal and he’ll be able to pay back his loan. But before he knows it, he’s in a mountain of debt with no clear way out.

“Marbit” is multiplication of assets that the rich lender imagines he creates by the loan. According to the Kli Yakar, such financial efforts are a mirage, muddying one’s true assets, which will eventually be destroyed because of his usurious practices (Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Bava Metzia 71a).

Both types of borrowers suffer from a lack of faith. Interest, for borrower and lender is a poisonous illusion. In typical commerce, one prays to God for success in his efforts, that his merchandise will sell, that his crops will grow, that the value of his investments will rise – there are many variables outside our control and hence the reliance and development of faith in God. In lending at interest, one’s profit is (generally) assured. There is a fixed, determined interest rate. There is typically some type of collateral that insures payment. God and faith are ostensibly removed from the equation. For the borrower as well, he may calculate that the loan will save him from his troubles and smooth sailing will ensue.

The Kli Yakar argues that by sticking to straightforward (non-interest) lending and borrowing practices, one demonstrates more faith in God’s financial machinations on our behalf.

May we have financial success and not have to get entangled in usurious practices.

Shabbat Shalom,



To the memory of Ilan Cohen hy”d, a lone soldier from Buenos Aires, killed in action. May his family be comforted among the mourners of Zion and Jerusalem.

About the Author
Ben-Tzion Spitz is the former Chief Rabbi of Uruguay. He is the author of six books of Biblical Fiction and hundreds of articles and stories dealing with biblical themes. He is the publisher of Torah.Works, a website dedicated to the exploration of classic Jewish texts, as well as TweetYomi, which publishes daily Torah tweets on Parsha, Mishna, Daf, Rambam, Halacha, Tanya and Emuna. Ben-Tzion is a graduate of Yeshiva University and received his Master’s in Mechanical Engineering from Columbia University.
Related Topics
Related Posts