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The Red Sea’s Argument
‘Relatives Of A Guarantor’
(Makos 7a)

 

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Our daf opens with a query: May a relative of an arev (a guarantor of a loan) testify before beth din concerning the case? At present, he is unrelated to either the debtor or the creditor, but if the debtor defaults on the loan, he will, in fact, be related to the new debtor – the guarantor.

An interesting case involving an arev will give us greater perspective on this question.

 

The Yam Suf, The Duke, And The Loan

During our difficult sojourns in Europe, we were often forbidden to own land or join different professions. Consequentially, many Jews earned their livelihood by lending money to gentiles. But collecting debts from often-belligerent gentiles was no simple matter.

On one occasion, a Russian nobleman approached Reuven, a Jew who lived in his province, and asked for a large sum of money as a loan. Reuven realized it was very unlikely he would ever see the loan repaid and that demanding payment would be dangerous. Yet, refusing his request now was also dangerous. So he approached his “friend,” Shimon, and asked him to loan the money to the nobleman. Shimon expressed the same concerns that Reuven harbored, but Reuven quickly assured him he would sign as a guarantor to the loan.

Sure enough, the nobleman failed to repay the loan. When Shimon approached Reuven and asked him to make good on his guarantee, Reuven refused, offering the following excuse. The Gemara outlines two kinds of guarantors: an arev and an arev kablan. When a cosigner agrees to be a simple arev, the lender must first demand his money from the borrower. If the borrower fails to pay, the lender may then approach the arev. When a cosigner agrees to be an arev kablan, however, the lender may go directly to him to demand his money without first confronting the borrower.

Reuven claimed that he never agreed to be an arev kablan. “Go demand your money from the nobleman,” he said. “If he refuses to pay, I will gladly make good on my guarantee.” This was of course a hollow offer since Reuven knew that Shimon would never dare confront the nobleman.

 

Arev And Arev Kablan

Shimon replied that he had obviously intended to make Reuven an arev kablan. The whole reason Reuven did not want to lend the money himself was because he knew that he could never confront the nobleman. Shimon too was scared to confront him and only agreed to issue the loan, he said, because it was understood that in effect Reuven would be an arev kablan.

Their case was sent to Rabbi Shalom Mordechai Shwadron, author of Teshuvos Maharsham and grandfather and namesake of the famed darshan of our own generation, Rabbi Shalom Shwadron. The Maharsham (Responsa II:158) answered by citing a fascinating aggadata (Pesachim 118b) in which we find a debate between the Yam Suf and Hashem, as it were. Whether we are meant to understand this debate literally or metaphorically (masking a deep secret of the Torah) is beyond the scope of this article. But we can infer a halachic rule from it to resolve the question at hand.

The Sea Rebels

The Gemara interprets the verse, “They rebelled at the Yam Suf” (Tehillim 106:7) to mean that the Yam Suf itself hesitated to fulfill Hashem’s command. After the Egyptians had drowned in the Yam Suf, Hashem commanded it to spit out their bodies on the seashore so that Bnei Yisroel see their oppressors dead and not fear that they were still being chased.

“Does a master give a gift to his servant and then ask for its return?” asked the sea. The Yam Suf wanted to keep the bodies of the Egyptians as food for its fish (Rashi s.v. “Shenassan”). Hashem assured the Yam Suf that He would repay it with one and a half times what He took.

Later Repayment

“Does a servant dare demand payment from his master?” asked the sea. Hashem then assured it that the Kishon River would be His guarantor. The Yam Suf agreed and spat out the bodies of the Egyptians. Years later, when Sisera waged war against Eretz Yisrael, Hashem caused a giant wave to drown his soldiers and carry them down the Kishon River into the Yam Suf.

The Gemara does not specify that the Kishon River was an arev kablan. Rather, it seems that the river was a regular arev. If so, how did its guarantee appease the Yam Suf which had complained, “Does a servant dare demand payment from its master?” Unable to demand payment from Hashem, it would seemingly also be unable to make a demand of the river.

The Maharsham deduces from his story, therefore, that in cases where the lender cannot demand payment from his master, any guarantor to the deal is automatically assumed to be an arev kablan, even if he did not explicitly agree to be one.

Therefore, although Reuven never explicitly agreed to be arev kablan, he in fact became one when he agreed to be a guarantor for Shimon’s loan to the duke since he knew that Shimon would not be able to approach the duke to demand payment.

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Rabbi Yaakov Klass, rav of Congregation K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush, Brooklyn, is Torah Editor of The Jewish Press. He can be contacted at yklass@jewishpress.com.
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