I recently purchased an apartment and in order for me to avoid taking a mortgage, several of my relatives extended me an interest-free loan. Is there any way I can show my gratitude towards them?
Before we address the sheilo we have to clarify what exactly is included in the prohibition of ribbis.
The Torah forbade extending a loan with a fixed amount of interest. This is called ribbis ketsutso, and according to all opinions it is prohibited by the Torah.
There are two other prohibitions which are relevant to your question.
The first is known as ribbis devorim. The Mishna (Bava Metsiyo 75B) informs us of the prohibition and gives as an example (according to the understanding of the Tur and many others), that a lender may not ask his borrower to inform him of the arrival of a certain individual. The reason why this is ribbis devorim and not regular ribbis is that the borrower is not giving the lender anything of monetary value, but he is just doing him a favor by providing information. The Gemoro derives the prohibition from a pasuk, but nevertheless there is a dispute among the poskim whether the prohibition is indeed Biblical (Ri Migash and implication of Rivash 147) or that it was only forbidden by the Rabbonon (Sefer Haterumo 46, 3, 13: Chochmas Odom 131, 1) and the pasuk is just a device that the Rabbonon used to buttress their prohibition. All agree that the Mishna teaches us that a borrower may not even verbally benefit his lender.
An additional source is Tosafos (Kiddushin 8B) which states that a borrower may not even give a brocho to the lender because of the prohibition against ribbis devorim. Basing himself on this Tosafos, Rav Shlomo Zalman Auerbach (Minchas Shlomo siman 27) writes that the custom of borrowers to bless their lenders “Tizke lemitzvos” either at the time when they receive a loan or when they pay back is incorrect since “Tizke lemitzvos” is a brocho.
This aspect of the prohibition of ribbis is the reason why borrowers refrain from thanking their lenders. This is the ruling of the Iggros Moshe (Yoreh Deoh 1, 80) who was asked by the author of a sefer who wanted to know if he could thank the one who lent him the money which enabled him to publish his sefer. Rav Moshe ruled that he may not write words of thanks in the sefer. However, he ruled that one may write in his sefer that the lender will be blessed by Hashem. His reasoning is that saying that he will be blessed by Hashem is a mere statement of fact and not a personal brocho of the author. It could be that one can view saying Tizke lemitzvos in the same manner, that is, not as a blessing from the borrower but as a statement of fact being recounted by the borrower. The reason it is a fact is because when one performs a mitzvah it leads to performance of other mitzvos as it says, “Mitzva gorreres mitzvo.”
It is interesting that the above Iggros Moshe prohibits giving thanks, but Rav S.Z. Auerbach )1, 27) at first ruled that one may give thanks because he says that is not giving anything. It is just an expression whereby the borrower conveys his sense of gratitude towards the lender and this is the proper feeling which a borrower should have towards one who lent him money. Alternatively, the Nesivos Sholom (160, 11, 8) rules that a borrower may say to his lender, “I would thank you if there would not be an issue of ribbis”. Later Rav S.Z. Auerbach (2, 68, 2) reversed himself in deference to the Rav Shulchan Aruch who prohibits expressions of thanks.
The second prohibition which is relevant is known as “ribbis meucheress-delayed ribbis.” This ribbis is, according to all opinions, only a prohibition of the Rabbonon. The source is the same Mishnah, which writes, “An example of ribbis meucheress is one who gives a present after returning a loan and states, `I am giving you this present because your money sat idly by me. (The lender didn’t earn a profit while the loan was out.)’ ”
Thus, even after one has paid back one may not give something of monetary value if he states that the reason for the present is the loan which he received.
There is a further issue if one may give a present if he does not state that the reason is the loan.
The Tur (Siman 160) writes that from the expression of the Mishna it would seem to be permitted but that it is a dispute. The Rambam forbids it and the Semag permits it provided that the borrower is not explicit and gives only a small present. The Shulchan Aruch (160, 6) follows the Rambam, whereas the Ramo follows the Semag’s opinion. Thus, it would seem that after you finish paying back your loan you may even give a small present, in accordance with the Ramo. This is correct according to many Acharonim. However, the Shach (160, 10) rules that even according to the Ramo it is prohibited to give the present if the reason for the present is gratitude for the loan, and the Ramo only permits it if one wants to give a present for other reasons. However, the Taz (160, 3) and Rabbi Akiva Eiger (Notes on the Shulchan Aruch) and others disagree with the Shach.
As we mentioned, the Ramo only permits a small present. The meforshim explain that what constitutes a small present is a present which people will not think that the reason for the present is the loan. The Nesivos Sholom writes that sometimes as a result of the loan which the borrower received he may become much friendlier with the lender. In that case he reasons that the borrower would be allowed to give a present because then the reason for the present is not the loan but the new friendship.
The Beis Yosef writes that according to the sources of the Ramo one may even give a large present if it is given long after the loan has been returned because then people will not associate the present with the loan.
One last issue associates the two prohibitions we discussed. Is there a prohibition of ribbis devorim following the return of the loan? The Meforshim (e.g. Maharit Tsahaloon (267), Oholai Ya’acov (126)) deduce from the ruling of the Shulchan Aruch (160, 10) that it is permitted if the borrower does not mention that the reason for the favor is the loan. This is deduced from the ruling that the borrower is not allowed to teach the lender “as long as the loan is outstanding”. The implication is that after the loan’s return one may teach the lender and there is no prohibition of ribbis devorim. Many Rishonim (e.g. Ra’avad as explained by Beis Yosef 166) and Acharonim (e.g. Chavos Da’as 160, 2) maintain that a present given at the time one returns the loan is also classified ribbis meucheress. Based on this the Chelkas Binyomin (160, 108) rules that at the time when he pays back the loan, the borrower may politely thank the lender for the loan if the lender also thanks the borrower for paying back the loan.
In conclusion, there are several permitted ways to show your gratitude.
- After the loan is paid back you may do favors for the lender if you don’t say you are doing them because of the loan.
- After the loan is paid back according to many you may give small gifts if you don’t connect them with the loan.
- You may even give a large gift if it is given long after the loan was repaid.
- According to many including Rav Moshe you may say that the lender will be blessed.