by Rabbi Yerachmiel Kram
The Final Result is Preordained from the Start
I will be surety for him; from my hand will you require him"
The simple meaning of the term "guarantor" is known to all.
We know that arvus in common money-loan terms denotes
the responsibility that a third person assumes to pay back a
loan one person took from another in the event that the
former defaults upon that loan.
The gemora maintains that the source for this form of
responsibility, trusteeship or guarantee, is to be learned
from this very parsha. "And Yehuda said to Yisroel his
father: Send the youth with me and we will rise and we will
go, so that we live and not die. We and you and our children.
I will be surety for him; from my hand will you require him"
Yehuda asks his father to send Binyomin along with him to
Egypt, for without him he will not be able to buy grain and
food for the entire family. To offset Yaakov's fears
regarding Binyomin's safety, he offers to assume full
responsibility for the youth. "From my hand shall you require
him." (See the latest edition of the Binyan Zion
responsa, paragraph 174, where he explains the obligations
which Reuven and Yehuda assumed upon themselves towards their
The nature of this trusteeship is very puzzling in this
context, for the guarantor, in general, obligates himself to
pay up a monetary loan which the borrower took upon himself.
There does exist another kind of orev who is not
involved with a transaction of money. In our case, there is
no place for a guarantee in the conventional sense of a loan,
for if Binyomin cannot present himself before his father when
the brothers return from Egypt, then neither can Yehuda
present him before Yaakov. If some misfortune were to
overtake Binyomin, preventing him from returning to Yaakov,
could Yehuda deliver a proxy in his stead that would be
acceptable to Yaakov?
If our conventional concept of a guarantor does not suit this
example, it must be that our definition is wrong. As
mentioned, we imagine an orev to be the person who
must make a loan good in the event that the borrower defaults
on his payment. It makes no difference to the lender how he
gets his money back, so long as he gets it at the designated
With this in mind, we can begin to understand Yehuda's
guarantee, his vouching to return Binyomin to his father. His
obligation is to return whatever it was that was promised, be
it money or Binyomin himself. If money is involved, there are
several ways of returning a debt: through the borrower or
through his proxy, the guarantor, and thereby satisfying the
lender. If, however, he pledges to return Binyomin, there is
only one way to do so and that is to produce Binyomin in
Now we can begin to understand the halochoh which
determines, "All of Jewry is responsible for one another"
(Shavuos 39). According to this law, "Reuven" is a
guarantor for "Shimon's" obligation to put on
tefillin, while "Shimon" is a guarantor for "Reuven's"
duty to make a blessing over the four species or to eat matzo
on Pesach and so on. According to our primary definition of
an orev, this has no meaning, for in the event that
Shimon does not put on tefillin, Reuven cannot do it
instead of him! Furthermore, even if Shimon were to agree to
it and would appoint Reuven as his proxy, it would have no
meaning or validity, for performing these two mitzvos:
lulov and tefillin, by Reuven would not absolve
Shimon of his obligation to do so (see Ketzos HaChoshen,
But according to our new understanding it fits very well. The
trusteeship of one Jew for his fellow is an obligation to see
to it that his fellow Jew does what is required of him. When
we say that Reuven is orev to Shimon, it means that he
is responsible to see that Shimon puts on tefillin.
Reuven is obligated to put on tefillin himself and is
also obligated to see that Shimon puts on tefillin.
The End is Preordained from the Start
The man who assumes orev responsibility does not
obligate himself merely because he was asked to do so or
because he is pressured by circumstances. The guarantor knows
full well that the final eventuality was taken into account
from the very start. He knows it is a mitzva to assume
responsibility for the borrower but he also knows that his
obligation is nothing to be taken lightly. He may actually be
called upon to make his promise good. Therefore, he is not
prepared to assume arvus where he questions his own
power of standing up to his word. If it be money, he will
only obligate himself within his means.
There is no doubt that when Yehuda declared that he would be
answerable, he did so deliberately and with forethought. He
knew in advance that he would be able to keep his word, that
he could bind himself to such a promise. Otherwise, he would
never have made such a statement.
A simple person rushes in to declare arvus blithely,
thinking that he will not have to make his rash promise good.
He believes in leaving well enough alone, in postponing the
day of reckoning in the hope that it will not come. A wise
person puts himself into the eventuality from the very
beginning and imagines that he is the borrower; he does not
delude himself into thinking that he will not have to pay.
And just as he would not dream of taking a loan which he
could not repay, so will he not sign as guarantor on a loan
which he could not make good.
One of the disciples of the Chazon Ish, who felt rather close
to his master, was once brazen enough to ask him to sign as a
guarantor on a loan for him. The Chazon Ish agreed and
signed. Time passed and the disciple approached him once
again to sign upon a new loan. To his shock, this time his
master refused. He explained, "It is not that I trust you
less now than I did before. But the previous time I had money
in my possession to repay the loan if need be, but now I do
This comes to teach us that signing on a loan for someone is
not something to be taken lightly. A guarantor must know that
he is bearing a very real responsibility, as if he were the
borrower himself. And if he is not in a position to take out
such a loan, that is, repay it in the event that the borrower
reneges, he should not assume that responsibility to begin
A Hasty Promise is Shortsightedness
This is the reason why we find that many people write in
their wills that they forbid their children to sign on loans
for others, even though there is no such prohibition. At
first glance, we might argue that it is difficult to forbid a
person from borrowing money, for situations arise when there
is no recourse but to borrow. This, however, cannot hold true
with regards to merely signing as a guarantor on a loan. But
it goes even deeper.
It seems that one cannot forbid a person to borrow money. If
he does resort to borrowing, he probably intends to repay
that loan in its proper time. If he is an honest person, he
is surely aware at the time that he takes the loan that he
will have to repay the money. But this does not hold true for
the guarantor. He merely sees himself as doing another person
a favor. He does not see himself in the position of repaying
the loan that Reuven took.
When the borrower defaults on his loan and the lender calls
up the guarantor to demand payment, this is the usual
exchange, "What? He didn't pay you back? I'll give him a
piece of my mind!"
Would the borrower ever dream to telling his creditor that
he'll "give so-and-so a good talking to and make him pay?"
Certainly not. He knows well enough that he is the one
who must pay up. So why does the guarantor think that if he
talks to the borrower, things will straighten themselves out?
It is his full obligation to pay when the borrower has
defaulted and not put pressure on him. His put-off is an
evasion of his own responsibility as guarantor.
When Rabbon Yochonon told his students to "go forth and see
which is the straight path which a person must follow,"
Rabbon Shimon replied, "To be cognizant of what will
develop." And when he asked them to contemplate which was the
way one must avoid most, he said, "To borrow and not pay
One who foresees future eventualities knows exactly to which
degree he is able to obligate himself.
This material is taken from Rabbi Kram's sefer
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