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Honoring A Father’s Wishes
He Shall Give It To Whom He Has Trespassed’
(Bava Kamma 40b)

R. Nathan rules that a creditor can collect payment for a loan from the debtor of his debtor based on the words (Bamidbar 5:7) “venassan la’asher asham lo – and he shall give it to him against whom he has trespassed.” Thus, if Shimon owes Reuven $100 and Levi owes Shimon $100, Reuven has can go directly to Levi for payment, bypassing Shimon (if Shimon, for example, doesn’t currently have the funds to repay the loan). This rule is known commonly as “Rabbi Nathan’s lien” (Shi’buda deRabbi Nathan).


This rule is based in part on Tehillim 37:21, as well, which states, “Loveh rasha ve’lo yeshalem – The wicked borrows but does not pay back.” Usually, a righteous individual does not want to be classified as a wicked person and wishes to repay whatever he owes. At times, however, his money may be tied up because of loans he has advanced to others, and he is unable to repay his own debt. He is happy, therefore, if his creditor goes to his debtors directly to collect.

A Note As An Asset

The Ran (Kethubbos 19a, cited by Aruch HaShulchan, Choshen Mishpat 86:2) questions the necessity of R. Nathan’s exposition of the law from “venassan la’asher asham lo.” Since Shimon owes money to Reuven, all of Shimon’s assets are applied to the repayment of his debts, including whatever is owed to Reuven. The loan note is obviously considered one of Shimon’s assets. Thus, if Reuven secures that note, he should be entitled to present it to Levi and demand payment.

A Mere Paper

The Ran (as well as the Rashba in his chiddushim at the end of Tractate Kiddushin) maintains that one cannot use a loan document as payment for a debt because the note has no intrinsic value. It is not considered either money or property; it has no value of its own. That is why R. Nathan used Bamidbar 5:7 to rule that Levi’s debt to Shimon is owed directly to Reuven.

Cash Or The Like

The Ketzos HaChoshen (86:1) points out that according to biblical law, only that which is in the debtor’s possession at the time a loan is made is subject to the lender’s lien. Thus, if Shimon borrowed money from Reuven after he lent money to Levi, Levi’s debt would not be subject to Reuven’s lien. Therefore, were it not for R. Nathan’s derivation, Reuven would not be able to collect his debt from Levi directly.

The Ketzos HaChoshen proposes another explanation as well. If Shimon offers to settle the debt by paying Reuven in cash, Reuven would not be entitled to refuse it and demand payment in real property from Levi (which might be more valuable) were it not for R. Nathan’s rule.

Forgive And Forget

The Ritva (Kesubbos 19a ad loc.) remarks that were it not for R. Nathan’s rule, Shimon would be able to waive Levi’s debt to him in spite of the fact that he himself is indebted to Reuven. (This, of course, would cause a loss to Reuven if he himself does not have the means to repay the loan.)


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Rabbi Yaakov Klass is Rav of K’hal Bnei Matisyahu in Flatbush; Torah Editor of The Jewish Press; and Presidium Chairman, Rabbinical Alliance of America/Igud HaRabbonim.