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Parshas Yisro - Interest vs. Interest                   19 Shevat 5783

02/10/2023 09:31:35 AM


Have you come across words that are spelled the same but have different meanings? Or words that are spelled differently, but sound the same? These words are called homophones, homographs, or homonyms. Let’s have a quick look at their differences  Homophones are words that sound the same (Greek phonos – sounds) but are different in meaning or spelling. Homographs (Greek graphein – writing) are words which are spelled the same but differ in meaning or pronunciation. Homonyms (from Greek onyma – ‘name’) can be either homographs or homonyms or both homonyms and homographs. Homonyms are words that have the same spelling and pronunciation but typically have different meanings. For example, ‘quail’ meaning to cower, to cringe in fear, and ‘quail’ meaning a type of bird. are homonyms. Many homonyms differ in meaning when the word could be used as a noun or a verb, or as an adjective or a noun. The easiest way to distinguish and know how to emphasize the pronunciation is to look at it within the context of the sentence. Although homonyms have different meanings, I often found there is a connection between the two usages of the word. Let me explain.

Surfing the web I found many homonyms, but the word “interest” did not make the list on many websites. I found the word “interest” is very interesting (excuse the pun), especially in connection to the economy and to Torah. During my junior year of high school, I started working and saving my meager earnings. As a high schooler I did not have expenses that were in any way similar to the expenses of adults.  I had no car payments, home mortgage, or school loan paybacks. I had the advantage of not only saving my money, I could make more money by putting it in the bank and earning interest on my savings.  . For those with loans, the interest rate was so high it was difficult to get out of debt, but that which hurt others helped me. So much so that shortly after I turned seventeen, that July interest rates were a staggering 19%! I had no idea that it was not a good thing for the economy or for the general population; I was simply happy that my money was making money.

Fast forward almost forty years. In early 2020, the Federal Reserve cut interest rates from 1% to 0% as an emergency measure to stimulate the economy due to the negative economic effects of Covid. The U.S. economy then jumped back from its shortest recession ever recorded, partially supported by a massive policy stimulus. Just about everyone lost  ‘interest’ in interest-bearing accounts. By 2022, however, as the inflation rate hit 40-year highs, the central bank had to make its first rate increase in over two years. Following Federal Reserve meetings, interest rates were hiked 50 basis points, followed by 75 basis points increases two times shortly afterwards. With rates rising, there is a renewed interest in “interest”. As you can see, as the rates rise people become interested again. The word ‘interest’ follows its dual meaning: people are interested in interest. And then, there is yet another understanding of the word “interest”. 

The definition of “interest” is the state of wanting to know or learn about something or someone. What is a personal interest? Personal interests are activities enjoyed during a person's free time. Such interests can include hobbies, sports, artistic expression, leisure activities, volunteering, cultural activities, spiritual practices, learning pursuits, and personal development. The most significant common thread is an interest in learning or in doing something new. There is no question in my mind that the most beneficial interest a person can have is the pursuit of knowledge.  This intellectual pursuit especially applies to the Jewish people, known as the “People of the Book”- meaning the Torah. We learn, attempt to observe and practice the moral, ethical and ritual teachings of the Torah. The Torah is our conscience, our moral code, and the law of the world. Unfortunately, not everything in the Torah resonates with us on a platform of physical understanding;  at times we prefer to observe only those Mitzvos that we personally understand or happen to agree with. Logic dictates that knowledge which we find interesting and relevant finds a place in our memory.  We must be interested in what we study for it to stick with us. Nevertheless, a Torah lecture, class and the like, no matter how profound, inspiring, witty, or engaging, will never make us into better people unless we have or consciously develop a spark of self- motivation upon which the words of Torah can build. The Talmud writes similarly: One learns only a Torah topic which interests his heart (Avodah Zarah 19a). I find this true not only for myself but, I feel confident, for many others as well. The Gemara Avoda Zorah 19a brings a passuk:  "כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו" א"ר אין אדם לומד תורה אלא ממקום שלבו חפץ, שנאמר (תהלים א, ב) כי אם בתורת ה' חפצו the passuk is interpreted: “But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord”.  Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi explains: A person can learn Torah only from a place in the Torah where his heart desires and shows interest.  It is stated in Tehillim 1:2: ‘But his delight is in the Torah of the Lord’, meaning his delight is in the part of the Torah that he wishes to study. A person often studies and learns topics which are of personal interest.

In this week’s Parshas Yisro we read of the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten Commandments, which, according to the Shela”h HaKadosh, one can find all 613 commandments. The Torah states in Shmos 19:1: "בחודש השלישי לצאת בני ישראל מארץ מצרים ביום הזה באו מדבר סיני"  “In the third month after the Israelites left Egypt, on this day [the first of the month], they came to the desert of Sinai”. Rashi explains the words ביום הזה  - the same day - being the first of the month, the New Moon. It was only necessary to write  ‘on that day’; what is the meaning of ‘on this day’? It is to emphasize that the words of the Torah should be new to you as though He gave them to you today. This idea is highlighted by Shlomo HaMelech’s (King Solomon's) words in Koheles 1:9: "ואין חדש תחת השמש" - “There is nothing new under the sun.” Later in Koheles, Solomon says that the Torah is compared to a tree to those who take hold of it. The Gemara Chagiga 3b compares the Torah to a tree that is planted and is continuously growing and producing new leaves and flowers, and from those flowers come fruits. Since the time of Matan Torah (the Giving of the Torah), we have continued to delve deeper and deeper into the Torah, expounding upon its wisdom to no end. The Torah is given to each of us in the present, in the here and now, constantly deepening and broadening its roots and branches for all who cling to it, continuously causing renewed interest in growing and learning Torah.

The lesson is clear. As we invest our physical money, we are interested in the interest it will bear. In the intellectual realm of the Torah, the more interest we show in the Torah the more we are drawn to it, gaining ever-deeper interest in its newness. Through this interest, our investment continues to profit in both the physical and spiritual worlds of Olam Hazeh and Olam Habah, in this world and in the world to come!

Thu, March 23 2023 1 Nisan 5783