It was eighteen minutes past seven one sunny Monday morning when my ten-year-old son charged into the kitchen, his favorite pair of jeans in hand.
“Can you wash these for me quick?”
The bus for his long-awaited school trip was scheduled to leave in exactly twenty-seven minutes.
Obviously the child had no understanding of the laundering process.
“We have a microwave oven, but they haven’t invented a microwave washing machine yet,” I answered calmly. “Go pick out another pair of pants.”
“I don’t have any more!” Junior wailed.
A quick inspection of his closet proved him correct. It was empty except for a pair of trousers with a huge hole in the seat and last year’s Shabbat pants, which were so short they could have passed for knickers. A look under the bed revealed two more pairs of jeans, each filthier than the ones in my son’s hand. Being an experienced mother, I swallowed all the lectures about putting clothes in the laundry hamper or mending pile and gritted my teeth so as not to start screaming. Instead, I blurted out the best thing I could think of: “Run next door and borrow a pair of pants.”
Jumping out of his pajamas and into his swim suit, he raced to our neighbors. In a few minutes he was back with a smile and a clean, patched pair of jeans under his arm. Once again we had been saved by the age-old art of borrowing.
Coming from America to a small Israeli village, I had been very much under the Shakespearian influence, “Neither a borrower nor a lender be.” To say I was surprised when, after only a week in our new home, someone came to borrow ten eggs would be an understatement. Shocked would be a better word – or appalled. I couldn’t believe anyone would borrow ten eggs. If I needed ten eggs I would find a new recipe or go to the store. The only problem, I soon discovered, was that the one store in town was closed more than it was open. Here borrowing had become a survival technique. Soon I began to concentrate more on Rabbi Akiva’s motto: “What’s mine is yours and what’s yours is yours.
Not only is borrowing a necessity, there’s also an art to it. Before we finally got a phone, we strung a cord from the neighbor’s wire and borrowed his line for about a year. When we go away for a Shabbat, there’s always a mass of people wanting to borrow our house for their guests. Someone even borrowed a neighbor’s living room furniture for two weeks to impress her visiting mother-in-law.
I’m not sure if borrowing is a hereditary trait or a learned one. I do know that when my teenager comes home from the dormitory the only thing I can be certain she owns is her hair, and even that was probably fixed with a borrowed brush. With all the loaning going on around here I’ve been waiting for someone to ask to borrow the kids, but as yet no one has.
There are all types of borrowers. The best kind bring back what they’ve borrowed immediately. Others save items up and use a suitcase to return everything every couple of weeks.
Recently, a rabbi taught a number of us the Halacha that when loaning a perishable item one should make it a gift, since prices are always changing and taking interest could be involved when items are returned. So now, as I help out my borrowing neighbors, I tell them it’s a gift and hope they don’t believe me. If they do, I guess they must need it more than I do. Anyway, I can always borrow it back from them the next week.
(First published in Horizons, 1995)