I spent virtually all my working life investing to make money for my clients. Some of those investments were loans where significant due diligence was undertaken to ensure that those loans were going to be repaid.
The sixth section of Re’eh (Devarim 15:1) begins by discussing the shemittah year which occurred every seven years. It reminded the Children of Israel that people who had borrowed money because they had fallen on hard times were released from their obligations to repay when the shemittah year arrived.
As we continue to read, we come to “Beware in case there is a lawless thought in your heart saying ‘The seventh year approaches, the year of release’ and you will begrudge your brother and you will not give him – then he will call out to Hashem, and there will be a sin upon you.” (Devarim 15:9)
Well hang on a minute. We’re not discussing giving charity here; the conversation is about lending. How can it be appropriate to invest in such a way? Surely it can’t be right to invest someone’s money and take unnecessary risks that might lead to loss. Even charities must invest in a sensible fashion.
Devarim 15:10 continues “Giving, you shall give him, and let your heart not feel bad when you give him, for because of this matter, Hashem, your God, will bless you in all your deeds and in your every undertaking.”
If we needed another reason, King David provides one when talking about the people giving gifts for the building of the Temple. “Who am I and who are my people, that we should have the means to make such a freewill offering; … all is from you [Hashem] “(Chronicles 1 29:14)
It appears that it is not necessary to be a billionaire to be a philanthropist. We should all have a go.
In the middle of this section there is a verse seemingly at odds with the others. “However, there shall be no destitute among you” (Devarim 15:4). If that’s the case what is the point of the subsequent verses?
Rashi and others commentate on this apparent contradiction. There will only be no destitute amongst us when we follow the ways of Hashem. They believe that, unfortunately, Hashem is being realistic in setting out what needs to happen when we deviate from that path.
In the UK in 2016, The Charities (Protection and Social Investment) Act became law. It defined a Social Investment as one which furthers the purpose of the charity rather than just making a good financial return. You don’t have to be Jewish to make the world a better place, but we can set a good example!