In the portion of Behar, the Torah says that when giving a loan to a fellow Jew, one should not charge interest, concluding with, "I Am G‑d your G‑d who took you out of the Land of Egypt … to be for you as G‑d."1

The Sifra2 explains: "From here [our sages] said, 'Whoever accepts the yoke of [not taking] interest, accepts the yoke of Heaven, and whoever removes the yoke [and takes] interest, removes the yoke of Heaven... for anyone who admits to the mitzvah of [not taking] interest, admits to the Exodus from Egypt, and anyone who denies [and takes] interest, denies the Exodus from Egypt.' "

What is it about the mitzvah of not taking interest that is specifically connected to accepting the yoke of Heaven and to the Exodus from Egypt?

Rashi3 explains the connection between taking interest and the Exodus from Egypt: just as by the Exodus, G‑d differentiated between a firstborn and a non-firstborn, so too does He know when someone lends of their own money with interest, claiming that the money belongs to a non-Jew.

The difficulty remains that Rashi's explanation is only on a specific circumstance, when a Jew claims that the money belongs to a non-Jew. However, from the Sifra it seems that taking interest, in any situation, is a denial of the Exodus. How is the general idea of charging interest a denial of the Exodus?

It is also strange to equate the taking of interest to casting off the yoke of Heaven. Instead, it seems to be more of a lack of trust in G‑d. He is afraid that if he doesn't invest all his money, he may run out. On the other hand, one who lends money to another Jew without any gain displays a great trust in G‑d, because he is showing that he is certain that G‑d will take care of him, even without that money invested. Why, though, does taking interest equal throwing off one's yoke of Heaven?

Accepting the yoke of Heaven expresses itself mostly in the performance of mitzvot. Why do you do a mitzvah? Because G‑d said so. That is the simple definition of accepting the yoke of Heaven. When you do a mitzvah in this way, G‑d participates in your mitzvah. That is one of the reasons why we say in the blessing before a mitzvah, "He sanctified us with His commandments," and not "the commandments." They are G‑d’s commandments, since He himself does them.4

How does this work? There are two ways.

First, there is when G‑d does the mitzvah before us, as our sages say, "What He does, He tells Israel to do." Then there is when G‑d does a mitzvah as a result of a Jew doing a mitzvah, as our sages say,5 "Whoever reads the Torah, G‑d reads and responds opposite him." The same is true regarding every mitzvah.

The fact that we affect what occurs above doesn't mean that we are in some way comparable to G‑d. Of course we are not, as nothing is. So why do we affect above? It is only because G‑d wanted it to be that way. And therefore it is so. But we have to ask: Why does G‑d want our service to Him to have an effect above?

To understand this, we first have to answer a more general question. Why does G‑d want us to serve Him at all? One of the reasons G‑d created the world is "in order to do good to His creations,"6 because it is "His nature to do good."7 If so, why doesn't He just fill our needs without our service to Him, from the top down, according to His nature?

Because of His nature to do good, He would want us to feel good about what we receive from Him—to feel like we earned it. No one feels satisfied with a handout. When you get something that is not earned, it is called "bread of shame." G‑d has us serve Him so that we earn what we receive from Him.

Now that we understand why G‑d has us serve Him, we will also understand why our service affects above. When we do our work, we feel good about it when it is meaningful and it actually accomplishes something. If someone were to give you a meaningless job that was work for the sake of keeping you busy, without any outcomes, it wouldn’t feel good. It is still bread of shame, because you know that it is a handout. G‑d made our service make a real difference above, so that it would be truly satisfying and meaningful.

There was a landowner that loved the motion of a sickle being swung in the field. So he hired a peasant to swing his sickle in his room for the same pay he would receive in the field. After a short while, the peasant quit, saying, "I don't see any accomplishment."8

The fact that our service makes a difference above also helps us overcome the yetzer hara (the evil inclination), knowing how much our service to G‑d accomplishes, we are strengthened and are able to win the battle.

Now that we know how we affect the world with each particular mitzvah that we do, there is also the general concept of how we affect above, symbolized by the mitzvah of not taking interest.

What is interest? It is making a profit off money that you once had that is now in the borrower’s possession. You are not involved at all, but you are taking the profit. It is different than an investor who risks his capital and gains and loses with the success of the venture. When one takes interest, no financial risk or effort is assumed.

G‑d treats us as we treat others. If we give loans with interest (we are not involved in our work), G‑d, in turn, will not participate in our mitzvot, which is what happens when we accept the yoke of Heaven. Now that one charged interest, he threw off the yoke of Heaven, and G‑d doesn't participate in his mitzvahs.

This will help us understand the connection between taking interest and the Exodus from Egypt. The Exodus represents becoming free of all restraints. When we accept the yoke of Heaven, G‑d becomes our partner. When you have G‑d as your partner, you are freed of all restraints, you are free from your internal Egypt.

This is a lesson for us. It is not enough what you have done in the past. Even if you established great ongoing things, you must be an active participant in your relationships, and in the good things you have already gotten going. You shouldn't think, "I have already done my work, teaching others to run the Torah institutions and the charitable organizations. I will now be involved in my own growth and my own pursuits, and I will enjoy the residual income of my past involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness." In a sense, this is akin to taking interest. Rather, you should continue to be involved, and the reward for this is that G‑d will be your partner. This will fill your life with blessing and free you of all restraints. 9

In the merit of our involvement in spreading Torah and doing kindness, we will surely break free from the restraints of this exile, and hasten the coming of Moshiach. May he come soon.