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Bamidbar Rabbah 9:6:

וְאוֹמֵר (תהלים לז, כא): לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וְלֹא יְשַׁלֵּם וגו', יֵשׁ אָדָם לֹוֶה וְאֵינוֹ פּוֹרֵעַ שֶׁאֵין הַדְּנֵיסְטֵיס מְשַׁבֵּר שִׁנָּיו וְגוֹבֶה אוֹתוֹ, מַהוּ: לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וְלֹא יְשַׁלֵּם וגו', יֵשׁ אָדָם שֶׁהוּא גוֹזֵל בַּיִת אוֹ שָׂדֶה אוֹ מָמוֹן, בֵּית דִּין מוֹצִיאִים מִמֶּנּוּ, אֲבָל אִם בָּא עַל אֵשֶׁת אִישׁ מַהוּ מְשַׁלֵּם, אִם מְשַׁלֵּם כָּךְ שֶׁגַּם הוּא יִתֵּן לוֹ אִשְׁתּוֹ לִזְנוֹת עִמָּהּ, נִמְצָא הָעוֹלָם מָלֵא מַמְזֵרִים, הֱוֵי: לֹוֶה רָשָׁע וגו', הָרָשָׁע עוֹשֶׂה מִלְוֶה שֶׁאֵינוֹ יָכוֹל לְשַׁלֵּם, שֶׁאוֹסֵר אִשָּׁה עַל בַּעְלָהּ, אֲבָל מִי שֶׁהוּא צַדִּיק אֵינוֹ לֹוֶה דָּבָר מִן חֲבֵרוֹ, אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁהוּא חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן

And it says (Tehillim 37:21), "a wicked one borrows and does not repay, [while the righteous is generous and gives]." Is there a person who borrows and does not repay, and the creditor doesn't break his teeth to collect from him?! What, then, is [the meaning of] "a wicked one borrows and does not repay"? A person may steal a house, or a field, or money, and the courts will recover it from him, but if he cohabits with a married woman, what restitution can he make [since an adulteress is forbidden to her husband]? If [the adulterer] repays in a similar manner by allowing his wife to cohabit with him, it would come out that the world would be full of mamzeirim! This is "a wicked one borrows and does not repay," for the wicked one takes a "loan" that he cannot repay, for he causes a woman to be forbidden to her husband. But one who is "righteous" only borrows from his friend something [with which the latter is] "generous and gives."

In summary, the Midrash interprets the first clause as referring to the wicked one, who takes one's wife knowing that he cannot repay, while the righteous one takes only that which is given with consent.

Given that the first clause is dealing with adultery, according to this explanation, it's reasonable to assume that the second clause is, as well. Would it not come out, then, that a righteous person may cohabit with one's wife with her husband's consent?

Yet, that is not the case. The Torah forbids eishes ish regardless of what her husband wants. So what is the correct interpretation of the Midrash?

  • "it's reasonable to assume that the second clause is, as well." Could you clarify what you mean by the second clause? Do you mean: אֲבָל מִי שֶׁהוּא צַדִּיק אֵינוֹ לֹוֶה דָּבָר מִן חֲבֵרוֹ, אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁהוּא חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן? – mevaqesh Apr 13 '17 at 4:06
  • " Would it not come out, then, that a righteous person may cohabit with one's wife with her husband's consent?" How is that implied? The line: אֲבָל מִי שֶׁהוּא צַדִּיק אֵינוֹ לֹוֶה דָּבָר מִן חֲבֵרוֹ, אֶלָּא מַה שֶּׁהוּא חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן means that he only borrows things which can be legitimately lent out; that is, as opposed to the aforementioned example of a wife which is obviously not something which is lendable, or מַה שֶּׁהוּא חוֹנֵן וְנוֹתֵן. That is, the wicked takes things which arent returnable, like someone's wife, whereas the upright does not. Simple. How else do you read it? – mevaqesh Apr 13 '17 at 4:10
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It means that a righteous fellow only borrows something in the category of what is possible to give. (excluding his friend's wife in all cases) This seems to be the proper connotation.

The Medrash the OP quoted, itself states: "If [the adulterer] repays in a similar manner by allowing his wife to cohabit with him, it would come out that the world would be full of mamzeirim!"

Obviously, the Medrash holds that voluntary wife swapping is no remedy for the "theft" since the result is a mamzer. The mamzer would only be the result of an original, forbidden relationship.

The words of the Medrash at the end of the passage: "Mah Sheh'hu" would translate to "something which is, that he gives". This phrase refers to something which is by definition in the category of "X" namely "he can give".

The OP writes: "Given that the first clause is dealing with adultery, according to this explanation, it's reasonable to assume that the second clause is, as well."

Although this is an acceptable form of logic when reading a passage in general, it does not apply if there is no choice available. In this case, if there is no alternative contrast within the context of wife swapping that the Medrash considers "permitted", then we can conclude that the Medrash meant to contrast wife swapping with something else which is in fact permitted to be given (non-wife related) as a more general contrast.

Here we have shown that according to the Medrash, even voluntary wife swapping produces mamzerim. Hence, a narrow contrast is not available and was never meant.

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    First, are there any commentators who give this explanation? Second, where does the Midrash indicate that which is possible? All it says is that which he does give, seemingly whether permissible or not. – DonielF Apr 13 '17 at 2:42
  • @DonielF I am not aware of a commentary on this question. (That doesn't mean there isn't one.) But I did update the answer to add weight to the preferred reading. – David Kenner Apr 13 '17 at 3:00

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