Weekly Torah Commentary – Behar May 6, 2011

When your brother becomes impoverished and loses the ability to support himself in the community, you must come to his aid.  Help him survive, whether he is a convert or a native Israelite.  Lev. 25:35

The Torah is teaching us here that we must be kind to others, in deed and also in thought.  We are forbidden to look down on the unfortunate or randomly pass judgment on their difficulties.  If a fellow Jew is in dire straits, one should do everything in his power to assist him with money, food, emotional support, whatever is needed.

The comparison is made to seeing a person walking down the street who is swaying from side to side and looks like he is about to fall down.  One person may say, “Reach out and hold him up so he doesn’t fall in the mud.” Another may say, “Why should I do anything now?  If he does fall down, I’ll help him up.”  Is it not kinder to keep one from falling, rather than picking him up after he has fallen?  For the one who falls is humiliated and perhaps injured and the Torah tells us elsewhere: “Don’t embarrass one another” which includes preventing someone from being embarrassed if you have it in your power to do so.

Keeping a brother from falling into abject poverty, or losing his home, his job, etc. is a greater mitzvah than randomly giving charity to the poor for Chazal say that the chronically poor are accustomed to charity and they are no longer ashamed.  But a person who has been a family provider, has held a job and paid his bills, who then is ‘staggering’ is not only suffering the pain of his inability to care for his family but is also deeply troubled and frightened for his wife and children.  To help such a one before he hits “rock bottom” is a great mitzvah according to Torah.

The greatest aspect of this mitzvah is helping someone find a job, or giving him a job if one is in the position to do so.  Enabling another to work and support himself and his family is the greatest of Jewish mitzvahs for this help is not just for a day or a week but for the future stability of the one presently in need.

God through His Torah wants us to understand that if we have the ability to help someone else and we refuse, we are destroying ourselves with our own hands.  For if we show mercy and charity towards others — and that not just in the matter of money, but also in our attitude towards those under stress — God in turn will show mercy and compassion towards us and will send blessing and success in everything we do.

Money is one of the most unstable of commodities.  Many who have been very wealthy have lost everything and found themselves in need of the help of others.   In this world, a man can never be sure of his wealth.  Therefore, the Torah says, ” You shall support him, whether he is a convert or a native Israelite.”  The kindness that you show towards your brother in need is, in reality not a favor to him;  it is a favor to you!  For if you act kindly towards him, God Himself will protect you in your time of need.

In Tune with Torah this week = examining our own hearts for any evidence of stingyness or unwillingness to share what we have with others.  May Hashem help us all to be of generous spirit, even as He blesses us from His abundant kindness.

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