Mr. Gold planned to be with one of his children for Yom Kippur. Two days beforehand, though, his plans fell through and he had to stay at home. He approached the gabbai of his shul to ask whether there were any seats still available.
“We’re almost at 100% capacity,” said the gabbai. “All the regular seats, including where you usually sit during the year, are sold. I’ll see what I can do. There is one seat toward the back of the shul with a question mark that might be available.”
Mr. Gold looked at the seating chart. The seat with the question mark was right next to Mr. Fine.
“This will be interesting,” Mr. Gold mused to himself. “Mr. Fine borrowed money from me almost a year ago and claims that he cannot pay. I know that he’s in an extremely difficult financial situation, but perhaps my sitting next to him on Yom Kippur will pressure him to pay. I don’t see how he can bear facing Hashem when he has that debt to me still outstanding!”
Later in the evening, the gabbai called Mr. Gold. “I checked, and the seat in the back is available,” he said.
Mr. Gold thanked the gabbai for arranging the seating. He mentioned casually that Mr. Fine owed him money and that perhaps some additional good would come out of the seating. The gabbai listened attentively. “Hmmm,” he said quietly. “I don’t know that Yom Kippur is the time to seek repayment of debts.”
“Why not?” replied Mr. Gold. “Repaying debts is also part of teshuvah. Anyway, I don’t plan on saying anything to Mr. Fine. Some tact I have!”
When Mr. Gold came to the shul that evening, he saw that the seats had been rearranged, and that he was placed far from Mr. Fine. During the break, he approached the gabbai and asked why the seats were rearranged.
“When I heard your story, I wasn’t sure whether I should seat you near Mr. Fine,” explained the gabbai. “I spoke with Rabbi Dayan, and he said that you should not be seated near him.”
What’s wrong with seating Mr. Gold near Mr. Fine?
“Undoubtedly, the borrower must make every effort to repay his debt; repayment of debt is a mitzvah,” explained Rabbi Dayan. “Nonetheless, the Torah (Shemos 22:24) teaches that the lender cannot act as an [oppressive] creditor. The Gemara (B.M. 75b) interprets this to mean that he should not demand from the borrower when he knows that he cannot pay. He should not even pass before the borrower, since this will cause the borrower to feel embarrassed” (C.M. 97:2).
“It’s true that you occasionally bump into Mr. Fine in shul. Aruch Hashulchan (97:2) writes that if time has already passed so that the borrower has gotten used to the situation, and the lender does not intend to embarrass him and cause suffering, he is allowed to pass before him. But you should not be seated deliberately near Mr. Fine.”
“What if the lender doesn’t know whether the borrower is able to pay?” asked Mr. Gold.
“If the lender doesn’t know, he may demand repayment of the loan,” replied Rabbi Dayan. “In addition, if the borrower has assets or belongings beyond his basic sustenance that Halachah would require him to sell, the creditor may demand the loan (C.M. 97:23; Minchas Chinuch 67:1; Kesef Kodashim 97:2; Shulchan Aruch Harav, Halvaah #2).
Thus, in many situations the prohibition would seemingly not apply. Nonetheless, some write that if the lender does not expect the borrower to sell his belongings, but rather pressures him to procure money that he does not have by borrowing or receiving tzedakah from others, or if the borrower has prior debt greater than his assets, the prohibition applies” (Beis Aharon V’Yisrael, vol. 23, pp. 68-76; Pischei Choshen, Halvaah 2:8).
Ruling: A creditor may not demand payment from a borrower or intentionally pass before him when he knows that he is unable to pay.