Elul: The Borrowed Cow And The Rented Cow
“He who hastens to acquire wealth is with an evil eye, and he does not know that loss will come upon him” (Mishlei 28:22). Rabbi Ami interpreted this verse as referring to one who borrows a cow, but he was too miserly to rent two cows to plow with, so he borrowed one and rented the other one, but he “does not realize that a loss will come to him”, for it states (Shemot 22:13), “If the owner is not with him, he shall surely pay”. (Midrash Tanchuma, Re’eh #10).
The man was so miserly that he did not want to rent two cows, so he rented one and borrowed one. Ultimately, he winds up with a loss; a borrower is responsible to reimburse the owner if the cow dies or breaks a limb, even if it happened by accident.
However, if an accident happens to a rented cow, the renter has no obligation to pay the owner for it. In this case the miserly man borrowed one cow because he was too stingy to rent it. When an accident happened to the borrowed cow, he ended up having to pay the owner for it. (Note 9 on Midrash Tanchuma Re’eh #10)
Sometimes, we too are the like the miserly man; there are parts of our existence that we are willing to “rent”, and there are other parts that we simply “borrow”.
Elul is an opportune time to reflect on how we plow the field of our lives; can we tell the rented cow from the borrowed cow?
How do we consider our soul? Is it a loan, free of charge, or are we determined to invest in it? Are we borrowers, too stingy to make the initial payment of spiritual efforts, and oblivious to the fact that “loss will come upon him”, that ultimately, “if the owner is not with him, he shall surely pay”?
Or, in this month of love between us and God, do we rejoice at the fact that becoming “renters” gives us the opportunity to share in the partnership of our spiritual life? “Paying the rent” is a symbol that we desire to take responsibility for, and commit ourselves to what matters to us. We do not wish to be cheap when it comes to our soul.
Then, the incredible gift we receive is that just as when an accident happens to a rented cow, the owner is responsible, we too can turn to our Owner, to the Maker of our soul and ask Him to help us repair, heal and restore our soul.