The passuk states that a lender should not take נשך and תרבית. The following passuk states; “your money do not give him בנשך, and במרבית do not give your food.” Why does the Torah use two lashonos of נשך and רבית? And why is נשך associated with money, and רבית associated with food?
Rashi explains in Parshas Mishpatim that the Rabanan consider נשך and רבית as one issur, so that one transgress two לאווין when charging interest. The word נשך hints to the bite of a snake. The snake bites a small wound into a person’s foot and injects venom. Since it is small and seemingly unimportant, the person doesn’t notice or pay attention to it. All of a sudden the poison spreads, and causes the body to swell and become inflamed up until his skull. So too it is with רבית; one doesn’t notice the costs and loss of money until it accumulates and causes one to lose a huge amount. In this Parsha Onkelos translates נשך as חבוליא which is the translation of השחתה, meaning destruction. The Me’at Tzuri explains that the Torah warns the lender: don’t lend in a way which will cause the borrower a huge loss.
The Ramban however explains that the Torah specifically differentiates between נשך and רבית, and associates נשך with money, and רבית with food. This is to express two types of scenarios. One should not lend money (נשך) and charge each year for the loan. For example one should not lend a hundred dollars and charge five dollars each year. This is called נשך since it continuously adds up and accumulates annually. It will bite a person as a snake bites and spreads poison throughout the body. Also, one should not lend food items (רבית) until a specific time allotted to return and charge additional money for the loan. The borrower will then be paying back more than what he borrowed. This is a onetime payment of interest on the loan, not an annual charge. This doesn’t bite, as it is limited to the allotted time set for a onetime payment. The Ramban says it was common for people to lend money annually, whereas food was generally lent until the harvest when it would then be paid back from the granary.
The question arises: since lending money with interest is a common business by non-Jews, why is it prohibited? The Seforno explains that Hashem wants Yidden to help each other reach to their goal. We can add that the nature of a Yid is to be merciful. Therefore if he has spare money sitting idly he is meant to do chessed with it and help another Yid who is need of a loan. However non-Jews are strict and are not naturally merciful. Therefore they act with each other strictly, being stingy and only caring to make more money for themselves.
May Hashem help us exercise our nature of being merciful, and pay attention to another person’s needs.