Shabbos 79 No-one is immune from financial temptation 

On our daf, we continue dealing with the question of whether a loan document ( שטר חוב)  that has already been paid back has any residual use to the lender or not. 

This will of course impact on liability for transferring it on Shabbos .

Typically, a person who borrows money will sign a document together with witnesses which the lender will then keep as proof of the loan. 

When the borrower pays back the loan, the document could be returned to him, or destroyed , or a שובר ( type of receipt ) could be signed and given to the borrower.

Given that documents were  written on animal hides   and involved a degree of expense (paper was not cheap and readily available as it is today,)  it stands to reason that the lender might wish to keep the document to use to cover a container with, or for some other use.

Yet we see an opinion that this is forbidden, presumably even if the borrower trusts him and agrees.

One opinion goes further and says that it is forbidden even if a שובר is written !

Rashi brings a passuk in Iyov as a source for this prohibition , which says “Corruption  should not dwell in your tent .”

Without discussing the propriety of using verses in the Navi or Kesubim as basis for laws, and whether this is a דרשה גמורה or a  kind of אסמכתא, It is clear that Rashi understands that even though someone is honest, and even trusted by the other side, it is forbidden to bring oneself into financial temptation.

Financial temptation  is one of the things that no-one is immune from – ” as bribery blinds the eyes of the wise and corrupts the words of the righteous ” ( Devarim 16/19,)  and although this is far from actual bribery, the temptation to claim back a repaid loan a second time, coupled with the chances that the borrower might lose his receipt , is enough reason to forbid the lender from retaining the loan document , even though it has some permitted  financial utility to him.

It could be noted that  according to Rashi at least, this is not a concern of חשד, or that people will suspect him of corrupt intent, as there is already an accepted source in the Chumash itself for the need to avoid any suspicion, namely ” and you shall be clean with regards to Hashem and Israel ” ( Bamidbar 32/22).

Rather, the passuk in Iyov is revealing to us that even if a person would not be suspected of wrong doing , he is not allowed to bring himself to any temptation to be corrupt .

It can be illustrated from various sugyas that the need to stay away from any financial temptation, or even the slightest financial suspicion,  applies to the greatest of people- in fact, the greater one is, the more squeaky clean one is expected to be.

In Brachos 5b , we are told how Rav Huna had 400 barrels of wine turn to vinegar. 

When his colleagues came to visit him, they told him to look into his affairs to see what he might have done to deserve it (important to note that this is not the way one should normally talk to people who are suffering and it might be a transgression of the prohibition of אונאת דברים – see Bava Metzia 58b)

After some give and take , he asked them if they heard anything negative about him, and they replied that they had heard that he did not pay his sharecropper his share in the yield.

Rav Huna replied that the sharecropper  stole more than the value of his share already, so he had no claim .

They replied that despite this, when one steals from a thief, one tastes the taste of theft ( see Rashi there.)

He then agreed to pay the sharecropper and the vinegar became wine again ( or was sold for the price of wine.)

The message seems to be that even though Rav Huna was within his legal rights , after all , the law is that  one is permitted to take  back what is his himself without going to court ( see Bava Kama 27b  re עביד איניש דינא לנפשיה ), someone of his level certainly has to be completely above any chance of suspicion – the mere fact that people suspected him of wrong doing was reason for him to lose a fortune of money . 

There is another law which prohibits lending money without witnesses, as one could be causing the borrower to sin by defaulting on the loan (  Bava Metzia 75b.) 

The Gemara tells a story where Ravina  asked if that even applies to someone who lends him money, given that he is honest and would never default. 

He was told that it applies even more so to him, as he is extra busy and could “forget.”

Although some of these cases refer to suspicion and some to temptation or even forgetfulness, all of them show that no matter how great one is, one cannot rely  on his greatness to take even the smallest chance of financial impropriety or suspicion.

If only we could live up to even part of these high expectations!

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