Dear Rabbi Brody,
My next-door neighbor is constantly borrowing things - a pint of milk here, a couple eggs there, etc. etc. Sometimes - especially before Shabbos or a holiday - she knocks on my door three times a day. Each time, her request is "minor", but the stuff adds up to tens of dollars every month, because she "forgets" to return what she borrows. My husband is a salaried employee and we're certainly not wealthy, so we feel the loss. I'm careful about telling the truth, so I don't want to say, "sorry, I don't have what you need" when I really have it in my cupboards. I'm building up a lot of inner frustration and animosity toward the neighbor, yet I'm afraid to ruin the peace. Would should I do? Thank you, D.W., Brooklyn
First of all, as a rule of thumb and good practice, always write down what you lend a person, the exact amount or item, and the date...
A gentle reprimand will release the pent-up frustration. When you don't express yourself, as you yourself have seen, you accumulate animosity. The Torah forbids us to harbor hate in our hearts toward another person. The only way to avoid the hate trap is to tell your neighbor - gently but candidly - exactly how you feel.
The next time your neighbor shows up, invite her for a cup of coffee, sit her down, and explain that according to religious law, one who fails to return a loan is called a wicked person. All the crying and chest-beating in synagogue on Yom Kippur can't rectify the crime of one unreturned potato. Also, the Zohar says that a person cannot achieve his or her rightful place in heaven unless they've repayed all outstanding debts. A person must suffer an entire reincarnation for a debt of a few pennies or more, and who says that your next go-round on this earth isn't going to be twenty times worse that this go-round? Also, religious law requires that a loan should be given only upon signing an IOU in front of two witnesses. Why? Many times people conveniently "forget" the money and/or items that they owe others.
Finally, explain to your neighbor that with all good intentions, you and your husband simply can't afford to be a free-aid society to the entire neighborhood. Unless the neighbor repays and returns all her outstanding debts, tell her that you won't be able to continue lending, for her own good.
If the neighbor accepts what you say, you will have done her a phenominal spiritual favor in this world and in the next. If she walks out in a huff, then at least she won't have the chutzpa to continue asking for things. Either way, you're the winner, and you've taken the load off your chest. The important thing is to avoid negative feelings toward another human at all costs.
If you don't want to confront the neighbor, you can always deduct whatever she borrowed from your maaser (tithe) money, but then you must forgive her with a complete heart. Yet, if she goes back to borrowing from you with no intention of returning things, that's probably not a good idea. With blessings always, LB