Rabbi’s Torah Thoughts

Torah Thoughts – Mishpatim 5777

My maternal great grandfather, Mike Lock, came to this country from Russia in the 1910s as a young man. Like many Jews immigrated at the time, he and his family came with nothing and did whatever they could to make a living in this new land. One of his first jobs was delivering meat for a butcher in Harrisburg, PA. The only problem was that he didn’t know English and he didn’t know how to get around the city. “Don’t worry,” the butcher told him, “your horse knows the way.” And sure enough the horse did, stopping at each and every house there was a delivery. To which my great grandfather is said to have said, “better to have a smart horse, then to be smart yourself.” Later, he did an assortment of odd jobs, selling junk, overseeing rental properties, and eventually starting a plumbing supply store that my grandfather and my great uncle helped to run.

I mention my great grandfather this week for a number of reasons. First, this week we read from Parashat Mishpatim, a section of Exodus having to do with tort law. While there are many laws, one in particular stands out in helping many Jewish immigrants make it in America. The law says simply, “when you lend money to My people, to the poor person who is with you, do not act toward him as a creditor; do not lay interest upon him.” It is this very law that led to the advent of the Hebrew Benevolent Loan Association (HBLA) an association that helped my grandfather and many others Jews by providing interest free loans to start-up businesses. The HBLA still exists in Buffalo allocating money to help local Jews start businesses, finance cars, pay for college tuition, or go to Israel. It is one of my favorite Jewish institutions in our area. If you or someone that you know needs a loan, I would be happy to help you connect with the HBLA.

Secondly, in this time when immigrants in our country are increasingly at risk of deportation, I encourage you to learn your own family’s story of how you arrived in America. I feel so grateful to my great grandfather and all he did to help pave a life for my family in this great beautiful country we call home. If you have immigrant/refugee stories from your own family please send them my way.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Alex

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Last updated: February 24, 2017 at 8:20 am