Monday, November 24, 2008

The Letter of the Law

In the town of Dvinsk, a certain member of the Ohr Someach’s minyan arrived without a coat. Since the man always wore a fur in winter, Rav Meir Simcha inquired why he had none.
He replied, “Every year I take a loan from a certain wealthy man here in Dvinsk and use my overcoat as collateral. Until now I have always had enough business to repay my yearly loan before the advent of winter. Unfortunately, this year business was not as good and I can’t yet afford to repay the entire sum. The gevir is not willing to relinquish my coat until every cent is repaid. So I am forced to go out in the cold without it…”
Rav Meir Simcha was clearly very upset. “Summon him to a din Torah before me,” he recommended.
When the two arrived, Rav Meir Simcha asked the gevir, “Why haven’t you returned his coat?”
“I gave him an interest free loan,” the wealthy man replied. “Why should I relinquish the coat until it is repaid to the penny? I don’t intend to compromise. According to the letter of the law I am right.”
The poor man said, “I will repay it all when business picks up, G-d willing. At the moment, business is slow—but I am in dire need of my coat…”
Rav Meir Simcha turned to the wealthy man and said, “On Gittin 58 we find that Shulia the carpenter told his teacher slander about his wife. This teacher agreed to divorce her but couldn’t afford her kesuvah. Shulia offered to lend his teacher the required amount of money and the teacher accepted it and divorced his wife. The student immediately married her.
When the time came to repay the loan, the teacher could not cover the sum. So the student took him as a worker to pay off the loan.
Shulia would eat and drink with his teacher’s former wife, while the poor man waited on them with tears rolling down his cheeks the entire time… The gemara tells us that as a result of this cruelty, the Churban Beis Hamikdash was sealed.”
The Rav concluded, “Do you see the result of insistence to follow the strict letter of the law without mercy: a tremendous gezar din!”
Rav Meir Simcha’s heartfelt words made a deep impression on the gevir and he immediately returned the coat!

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