Question: When the Gemara states, “Borrow for Me and I shall reimburse you,” does this mean that one should borrow money in order to purchase one’s Shabbat needs in a truly elegant manner without taking one’s financial situation into consideration at all?
Answer: The Gemara (Beitzah 15b) states: “Hashem told the Jewish nation: ‘My children! Borrow for me, recite Kiddush, believe in Me, and I shall reimburse you!’” It seems that Hashem is telling the Jewish nation to borrow to pay for their Shabbat needs and that they should not worry about these expenses, for He shall pay them back.
Nevertheless, any intelligent person understands that it does not make sense for one to purchase one’s Shabbat needs and prepare a feast fit for kings with a multitude of delicacies without taking one’s financial situation into consideration. Indeed, we have never heard any Torah luminary acting in such a way. If so, the Gemara’s statement must be explained.
The Gemara in Masechet Shabbat (118b) states: “Even if one prepares something small in honor of Shabbat (meaning a special addition in honor of Shabbat), this constitutes the Mitzvah of enjoying Shabbat.” The Gemara proceeds to explain that “something small” refers to a dish of small, fried fish, which is a relatively inexpensive food. Likewise, the Gemara (Pesachim 112a) states, “Treat your Shabbat like a weekday (i.e. by eating weekday foods on Shabbat) and do not require the assistance of others.” Although the Mitzvah of enjoying Shabbat is a Torah obligation, nevertheless, one is not obligated to borrow more than he is able to in order make Shabbat enjoyable with all sorts of extras. Rather, everyone is obligated based on one’s own individual capability. When the Gemara states, “Borrow for Me and I shall reimburse you,” this only applies to an individual who has the means to pay back his lender, for instance, if one knows he will be receiving a sum of money in the coming days; if such a person borrows money in order to buy his Shabbat needs, Hashem shall reimburse him with the same amount of money so that he do not lose out as a result of the Mitzvah of enjoying Shabbat. However, if one does not have the means to repay the loan without requiring the assistance of the public (i.e. taking charity), one may not borrow money in order to pay for one’s Shabbat needs.
The Hagahot Asheri (one of the great Rishonim) likewise explains that when the Gemara states, “Treat your Shabbat like a weekday and do not require the assistance of others,” this refers to someone who does not have the means to repay his loan at all unless he accepts money from charity. However, the Gemara’s statement of “Borrow for Me and I shall reimburse you” refers to an individual who has the means to repay the loan, such as one who can put forth collaterals but does not have cash at the moment.
Similarly, the Sefer Shenot Chaim writes that if one does not even have collaterals to cover one’s loans, one may not rely on a miracle and enter the realm of “a wicked borrower who does not pay” unless one knows for certain that he will be able to repay the loan at a later time and one is only pressed to take a loan at the moment to cover the cost of one’s Shabbat expenses.
Likewise, the Sefer Seder Ha’Yom writes that only a person who can afford to do so is obligated to honor and enjoy Shabbat. One who cannot afford Shabbat needs is not considered a sinner at all and he need not trouble himself to obtain something he cannot afford; one who does so is considered a pious fool.
Certainly, one who can afford basic Shabbat necessities but wishes to purchase special things which are much more expensive which he cannot afford should not do so; rather, one should be content with his lot and eventually, Hashem will shower him with abundance.
This Halacha serves as sharp rebuke for those who waste more money than they earn on physical enjoyments and cause themselves to incur great debts. If the Poskim tell us that one should not borrow more money than one is able to later repay in order to purchase things for the tremendous Mitzvah of enjoying Shabbat, how much more so does this apply to mundane earthly matters.