This letter was sent to a Rabbi whose name was not published together with the letter.

Wednesday, 11 Kislev, 5704

Greetings and blessings,

Your letter and the enclosed dollar was received. [Therein,] you complain that you are being disturbed by [having] books sent [to you].

There was no intent to disturb you. As is well known, our Sages (Chulin 7b) comment: “The Jewish people are holy. There are some who desire, but do not have....”1 And thus it is explicitly stated in the letter which was sent concerning the book that anyone can return it, if, for any reason at all (see Sotah 44a: “Therefore the Torah gave the other options...”2 ), he does not desire it.

I am enclosing your dollar and sending it back — based on the passage in Chulin cited. You need not return the text Kuntres U’Mayon. It may remain in your possession; for it was also sent to several people without any financial obligation. I am certain that if you look into it, you will find desirable concepts. [There is no need to elaborate for] the text does not require my appro­bation.

I was amazed at your letter, because with regard to [our] sending of books [without an order having been made], you made reference to the Shulchan Aruch (Choshen Mishpat 97). It would seem that your intent is law 2 which states: “It is forbid­den to pressure a borrower to pay when one knows that he does not have any [resources]. It is even forbidden to appear before him, because he will be embarrassed to see the lender when he is unable to pay.”

Since you mentioned a point of law, [I feel the need to respond]. In my humble opinion, your words are astonishing, and I see fit to elaborate to clarify the matter. My astonishment at your words stems from several factors:

a) [The directive of] the verse3 — “Do not be like a collec­tor” — and that of the Shulchan Aruch applies only when [the lender] knows that [the debtor] lacks resources. This is also reflected in the wording of the Talmud and the halachic authorities.

The question of whether a lender should act stringently in a situation where he is unsure whether or not the borrower pos­sesses resources is spoken about by the Minchas Chinuch (Mitzvah 67). [He writes that] from the wording of the Shulchan Aruch (loc. cit.), it appears that there is no prohibition at all. Note the logical explanations which he offers there. Certainly, this would apply with regard to the situation at hand.

b) What is more surprising in your reference to the prohibi­tion against acting as a debt collector is that this law applies only with regard to a borrower and a lender.

The distinction [between that instance and the case at hand] is obvious. Firstly, with regard to the person being asked for payment, it is said: “A bor­rower is the servant of the lender.”4 (Note the commentary of the Ramban to Shmos 22:24.) With regard to this situation, Bava Metzia 75b applies the verse:5 “You have positioned a man over our heads.”

A connection can also be drawn to the concept: “A person will not act brazenly to someone to whom he is indebted,” which based on Rashi’s version of the text (Bava Kamma 107a) applies because the creditor did the debtor a favor. This concept also applies with regard to pressing for payment and embar­rassing a person. Also, this stems from the fact that [the debtor] is obligated to pay [the creditor].

It is obvious that neither of these concepts apply in the pre­sent situation.

Moreover, even with regard to tzedakah, which one is com­manded to give, [this prohibition does not apply]. [To explain:] The obligation to give tzedakah does not resemble the obligation to pay one’s creditor. In the latter instance, even if the person does not possess financial resources, he is under obligation [to pay] at that time.6 With regard to tzedakah, in contrast, if a per­son does not have a means of sustenance, he is not obligated to give tzedakah. See the Tur and the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah, the beginning of ch. 246 and ch. 251; here is not the place [for a detailed discussion of that issue]. Nevertheless, [even] with regard to tzedakah, [when there is an obligation to give], because the concept of “a borrower is the servant of the lender” does not apply, [the prohibition] “Do not be like a collector” [also] does not apply.

[This is obvious from] Bava Basra 8b which requires the verse:7 “I will focus attention on those who pressure him” [to teach that one should not pressure a person who lacks means to give tzedakah].8 [This prohibition] stems from tradi­tion and is not from the Torah [itself]. Moreover, with regard to tzedakah, the prohibition applies only when the collector de­mands payment, as the Rambam states (Hilchos Matanos Aniyim 7:11, quoted by the Shulchan Aruch, Yoreh De’ah 248:7). With regard to a borrower, in contrast, it is forbidden for the lender to show oneself to him.

On the basis of the above, we can understand simply the incident concerning Rabbi Eliezer mentioned by the Talmud Yerushalmi (Horios 3:4) [which states that] “he saw our Sages and despaired concerning them. He then ascended to his home.”9 On the surface, a question arises. [According to your logic,] they should not have shown themselves to him, for as the passage continues: “They prayed for him.” This implies that they knew that he lost his wealth.

This resolution can be questioned, for perhaps they did not know that he was not at all financially capable. In particular, [this interpretation appears correct] according to Bereishis Rab­bah 4:8 which quotes a slightly different version, stating: “He told them: ‘Pray for me.’” Nevertheless, from the wording of the halachic authorities, it is clear that the law applies only when the collector demands payment. Surely, this applies with regard to a sale, and how much more so when the person is informed at the outset that he has the option not to make the purchase.

c) In several places in the Talmud and the works of the hala­chic authorities, it is evident that one of the ways of selling one’s merchandise was to go from house to house with that mer­chandise [and offer it for sale] (Bava Basra 22a, et al.). There is no one who objects or raises any questions about this. How much more so does this apply [when] the seller makes his ap­proach by mail and not verbally, in which instance, it is much easier to refuse. Thus there is no room at all for objections.

With the blessing, “Immediately to teshuvah, immediately to Redemption,”

Rabbi Menachem Schneerson

Chairman of the Executive Committee