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Friend Owes Money

Friend Owes Money


Dear Rachel,

A while back, I loaned some money to an acquaintance who was in a really desperate situation. It was not a huge sum of money, but it was significant, and I was promised that I would be paid back. I didn't ask for it until I knew the situation was better, and then I emailed. I was told that the check would be sent in the mail. It never came. I emailed a few more times and then left a few phone messages. I never heard back. I am furious that I was taken advantage of and really would like my money back. I know Judaism teaches that you shouldn't bear a grudge, but don't I have the right to be angry?

Jerusalem, Israel

Dear S.C.,

There is no question that you are right that you are owed money. But there are times when being right and doing the right thing are not necessarily the same. We are taught that we should judge others the way we would like to be judged. When we judge with severity, according to the letter of the law, we are held to that standard as well.

I do not know this person or this person's situation, but let's give her the benefit of the doubt for a moment and try to think of what else could have happened. You write that she was in a really desperate situation. Can you be certain that the situation passed? That it was resolved? Perhaps it happened again? It is possible that this woman had very much wanted to pay you back, but then something else occurred and she was too embarrassed to tell you about it. Perhaps she kept hoping that she could mail that check, but time after time, she wasn't able to and was afraid you would be angry.

We can all think of times when we should have said or done something, but we didn't. As more and more time passed, we started rationalizing that too much time had passed and that it was too late to do what we had originally intended. I am not saying you have ever done something like this with money owed, but think about other things you did not handle properly, and that even years later you wish you had done differently.

You have assumed that this person has no intention of paying you back and is purposely ignoring you. You could be right. But again, it could be just the opposite. It could be that your loan has been eating away at this woman and she is filled with guilt about what she owes you and what you must be thinking about her.

We are now ending the month of Elul, the month preceding the start of the New Year. Elul is the month of rachamim, of empathy and mercy, and we are heading into Tishrei, the month of scales, of justice. But it is not justice we seek, but believing that there is Divine justice, and that ultimately, we will receive what is rightfully ours.

Think about how you would feel if the tables were turned. Be grateful for the fact that you are in a situation where you do not need to ask others for such help and you do not need to borrow money. Imagine what it must feel like to need to feel so desperate that you need to turn to mere acquaintances for help. And then think about how you would want someone to treat you if you were in her situation.

There is ultimately nothing you can really do to get your money back. You can continue to wait and hope that one day she returns it. You can continue to call and email and harass her hoping that she will give it to you (if she has it to give). I guess you could take legal action, but as you state, it wasn't a huge sum, so I doubt that is practical. Or you could do something completely counter-intuitive. You could do the incredible mitzvah of tzedakah.

As Jews, we are responsible for giving maaser, which is ten percent of all of our earnings, as tzedakah. Now tzedakah is translated as "charity," but in truth, its roots are in the word "justice." Why is the term "charity" misleading when it comes to maaser? Because charity implies that we are giving something to another that we don't need to be giving. However, when we give ten percent, the idea is that it is not our money to begin with. It is not ours to give. That is what we owe, that is what is just, which is why it is called tzedakah.

Furthermore, we are taught that if we want to be blessed with material wealth, the way to achieve that is to be generous in how we give to others. We are heading into Rosh Hashanah, and we all want a year filled with revealed blessings, physically, materially and spiritually. We also want to be judged with loving-kindness and to be forgiven for our mistakes. And it is a mitzvah, as Rosh Hashanah approaches, to we nullify all debts and promises.

It seems like it is no mere coincidence that you write this question at the most auspicious time of the year, when we have special directives to be generous and forgive debts. I would strongly consider looking at the tzedakah you gave this year and perhaps you will see that maybe you fell a little short. Maybe you will remember that you didn't give as much as you really should have. Or maybe you have, but giving a little more can only help! And if you do, then you have a tremendous opportunity to help this woman. You can email her one more time, and let her know that she doesn't need to worry about the money she owes you. You can tell her that you know things were tough in the past and she should consider it a gift.

Now, I realize this might seem out of left field as there is the possibility that she is fine, maybe even doing well, and you were really just taken advantage of. But that is her problem. Not yours. If this woman is doing something wrong, that is for her to deal with. You, however, are responsible for doing what is right, and sometimes even more than what is right!

I hope you are able to forgive this woman and her debt, and in doing so, you should be treated with the same loving-kindness. Ketiva v'chatima Tova! May you be inscribed and sealed for a good New Year!


"Dear Rachel" is a bi-weekly column that is answered by a rotating group of experts. This question was answered by Sara Esther Crispe.

Sara Esther Crispe, a writer, inspirational speaker and mother of four, is the Co-Director of Interinclusion, a non-profit multi-layered educational initiative celebrating the convergence between contemporary arts and sciences and timeless Jewish wisdom. Prior to that she was the editor of and wrote the popular weekly blog, Musing for Meaning. To book Sara Esther for a speaking engagement, please click here.
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Anonymous UK January 3, 2016

I have seen the unhappiness and harm that is caused by lending and borrowing especially in the family. I was brought up to live within my means;to save for what I needed and to wait until I could afford it. I have made it a rule never to lend, but, if I could afford it, I would give. In giving, I let go and do not even hope for any return; that way I find peace of mind. If someone chooses to reciprocate that is a bonus, and a pleasant surprise. Like some others on this page, I am thankful to HaShem that I am able to do so. Reply

Anonymous Cornwall, UK February 5, 2012

Friend Owes Money I was brought up to manage with what I had but never to borrow or lend. In my life, I have seen the terrible effects of lending and borrowing on friendships and within families. I am so grateful for my parents' wise guidance. No-one has ever owed me money BUT, while I will never ever lend, I will always give what I can afford and ,when I do so, give thanks to HaShem for enabling me to do this. I so admire the wisdom of Chaya Nava and her husband. Reply

Lisa Providence, RI January 22, 2011

Friend Owes Money You need to cut her off completely, because she's NOT a real friend!

I NEVER lend or borrow money because most people take advantage of it, and I think your so-called "friend" took advantage of you! Reply

sue Kanata, ON October 11, 2008

loans A terribly rich lady once loaned an amount of money to me. I had moved elsewhere and ran into financial misfortune. As a single parent, I never had enough. I sent her a hand-embroidered cushion, and when I wrote her, later, saying that I could now repay her some of the $, she never wrote back. I wrote to her several times, but nothing. So, I could not repay her. I have lived with the burden of guilt upon my shoulders for so long, yet I ardently give what I have to the community as often as possible. So, the answer is simple. A man once gave me $10, saying just pass it on when you can, to someone else in need. Perhaps you can ask your embarrassed friend to do that, and skimp upon organized charity until you, yourself, feel flush enough to "pass it on". Reply

Chaya Nava Augusta, GA October 6, 2008

Let it be to her blessing We are told to give to those who are in need. At the time of her need you were there. I used to think that whenever I 'loaned" someone money they would pay it back when they had the money, and as you may have guessed, they never did. So now, when someone asks for financial assistance. My husband says to them, do not promise to repay us, do not promise to G-d you will try to pay us back, and do not ask us to set up a repayment plan...take this money, do with it what you must, we are going to bless you and the situation with this money. All that we ask is when you are able to help someone, do so, and you will then have paid us back. The gates are open, and before they close, repent, and return to a state of well being. Reply

Anonymous October 2, 2008

what a great advice! I also don't think it was a coincidence I read this today. As I was driving to the office, I was thinking about someone who owes me money, and how much I would like for this person to pay me back. Reading this has really struck a cord with me, because I know I have fallen short with my tzedakah obligations in the past year. Thank you so much for this! Reply

Anonymous September 29, 2008

forgive and forget I really believe that you should never lend money that you cannot be prepared to forgive and forget if it is not returned. You need to get past this. And who knows, maybe one day you will be surprised by a check in the mail. Reply

Chana Silberstein September 28, 2008

Pruzbul According to Jewish law, at the end of the shemittah year, all debts are assumed forgiven, unless you sign a "pruzbul." If you do not choose to forgive this debt, make sure to speak to your local rabbi about this.

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