Summary: The list of positive mitzvot continues with a number of commands of chessed, acts of kindness. First is to return stolen objects to their owners (#194), and relatedly there is a mitzvah to return lost objects (#204). Then is the mitzvah to give to charity (195), and for a master who has freed his slave or maid to present them with gifts on their way out of servitude (196). The next mitzvah is to lend money to the Jewish poor, interest-free. This is followed by a controversy: When it comes to lending to gentiles, interest is charged. It must be noted that not all hold this to be a Torah mitzvah. The great Ra’avad (Rabbi Avraham ben David, 1125-1198), for instance, disputed this and did not consider it one of the 613 commandments. Mitzvah #199 is to return the collateral or security deposit of a poor person if they need that item. For example, if it is their “night garment” which they need to sleep, it should be returned before their bedtime, and then it can be taken again in the morning. The next mitzvah is to pay a hired worker on time, and the one that follows is to allow a hired farmhand to consume of the produce he is harvesting or assisting with. Mitzvot #202 and 203 are to help a fellow unload a burden off of his animal, and also to help him load a burden onto his animal. (The Ra’avad did not consider these distinct mitzvot!) There are three more important mitzvot bein adam l’havero: to rebuke a fellow who is sinning, to love your fellow, and to love a person who converted to Judaism. Mitzvah #208 is to ensure one has correct weights on their balance (and is honest in sales and business). To honour the elderly and the wise (and rise before them), as well as to honour one’s father and mother, and to revere them, are the next three mitzvot.
Insight: One of the wonderful institutions that Jewish communities always made sure to have is a gemach, a contraction of gemilut chassadim, “acts of kindness”. This is an interest-free loan fund from which Jews in need can receive a certain portion of money to help them in hard times. The funds are collected from donations within the Jewish community, and someone is put in charge of distributing these funds as necessary, and collecting repayment, too. Today, there are still Jewish free-loan societies in Jewish communities around the world. In America, the first official such group was the Hebrew Free Loan Society of New York, established in 1892 when 11 Jewish friends raised a total of just $95 to start the fund. They gave out money in $5 and $10 increments. Over the years, that fund has grown substantially and is now distributing millions of dollars to help countless people in need. Today, one can also find other forms of gemach that are not necessarily financial. For instance, there are gemachs that lend wedding dresses, or even gemachs that lend baby supplies! These are yet another excellent example of Jewish unity and support that has allowed Jewish communities to survive and flourish through the toughest of times.