This is part of a series of questions on the Gemara in Bechoros 8b-9a. Below is a summary of the relevant parts of the Gemara. After being challenged by Caesar, R' Yehoshua went to Athens to defeat the Athenian Elders in a battle of wits.

In the process of their debate, the Elders asked the following question: "If a man had a hard time recovering money from one of his borrowers, should he lend money again?"

R' Yehoshua responded with what seems to be a mashal. "If a man chopped wood and can't lift what he chopped, should he not cut more? Eventually someone will come along and help him carry."

How is this a response to the Elders' question? In their question, the Elders are assuming that most borrowers wouldn't be able to pay back. R' Yehoshua doesn't seem to debate this point; all he says is that someone will be able to help him if he gets into trouble again.

2 Answers 2


Art Scroll 8b(4) in the daf the commenter says

Since the reaper could not lift even a single bundle by himself, but necessarily depended on help from others, he wisely prepared to make the most of the expected help and gain an additional bundle. Similarly, if a lender defaults on a loan, the lender may seek another more reliable borrower to lend money to and profit, so as to recoup hos losses.

Note 40 cites Rashi that this is deferred payments for goods sold at a profit (not ribbis). That is selling on credit to a customer or advancing money to a merchant for a share of the profits.

The patronage of the honest customer makes all the business the lender has conducted - taken collectively - profitable.


The Athenians conceived the people of Israel over their generation to be a single corporate entity. They therefore claimed that Hashem would never grant a second "loan" after their earlier default.

That is after the destruction of the temple, Hashem would never redeem them

Rav Yehoshua countered that each generation is treated as a separate "person" and would therefore merit to be granted the land of Israel.

Gra says that this is the Rabbinic enactments added on top of the Biblical law. These are aids that actually facilitate the observance like a second loan that is invested to pay off not only the new debt but the original debt as well.

See also editor's note 27 on page 66 of Gra's commentary on various Aggados, Feldheim edition for a different explanation that is interwoven with the first.

  • I'm not sure I understand the Maharal's and Gra's peshatim.
    – DonielF
    Aug 19, 2016 at 4:02

This is my understanding:

גברא דאוזיף וטריף מאי חזא דהדר אוזיף אמר להו גברא אזל לאגמא קטל קמא טונא ולא מצי ביה קטיל ומנח עילויה עד דאיתרמי איניש מדלי ליה

[They asked:] A man who lent and seized, what did he see that he lent again? He said to them: a man went to uncleared land, cut a load of wood and couldn’t carry it. He cut more and piled on so people would come and help him.

They were asking why a man would continue to lend if he couldn’t get his money back easily the first time. His answer was that the more you lend the easier it becomes to get your money back, because as the pile of debt grows other people start to want in on the action, and they offer to help you recover your money. This is like the woodcutter who keeps cutting knowing that eventually people will see the profit in helping him carry his load. Thus the more you lend the more your profits will grow and at the same time the cheaper it’ll cost you to recover them because you'll have more and more people lining up to work for you.

(We’re talking about lending with interest.)

  • First of all, sources? Secondly, who said we're dealing with interest? And thirdly, what profit is there to other people to help him collect his money? Finally, where did the Athenians discuss others helping him collect his money? He went and seized.
    – DonielF
    Dec 18, 2016 at 1:29
  • 1. I'm not actually saying any chiddushim. This is a straightforward reading of the Gemara. 2. We have to be dealing with interest because we have to be talking about a profitable loan or there is no comparison to woodcutting, which is profitable. Interest was permitted under Roman law (upenn.edu/pennpress/book/toc/15077.html) so no reason to think when they asked about a loan they did not think it was an interest loan. 3. The profit is they get paid by the lender. The equivalent of a collection agency today.
    – Dov F
    Dec 18, 2016 at 12:41
  • 4. Yes he went and seized, but that was the problem. It was a hassle, which is why they are asking why he would go through the trouble again. The answer is that once he builds up enough debt he doesn't need to go through the hassle himself.
    – Dov F
    Dec 18, 2016 at 12:42

You must log in to answer this question.

Not the answer you're looking for? Browse other questions tagged .