Weekly Torah Commentary — Behar May 8, 2015

Leviticus 25:1-26:2

Throughout the Torah and the rest of the scriptures, we are taught to care for the poor. One of those instructions is in this week’s Torah reading:
“If your brother becomes impoverished, and his means falter in your proximity, you shall strengthen him – proselyte or resident – so that he can live with you.” T

Read in the Hebrew, this particular verse refers to someone who is in the process of losing their financial stability but is not yet destitute. Our gift to them, in whatever form it takes, is to serve as an encouragement, a boost to their morale and to their self-esteem.

It is from this verse that the Sages derive the principle that to give someone employment or help someone find employment is the highest form of charity. This thought is prompted by the phrase “and you shall strengthen him.” Maimonides explains that giving in this way is the epitome of charity because it spares the receiver of embarrassment and the Torah tells us not to embarrass one another. Therefore, giving in such a way that the recipient’s dignity is not harmed is considered to be a great act of kindness.

From this concept we can derive an even greater lesson about giving. The Talmud describes a man who is an “exceptionally righteous person.” What makes him so? It is speaking of the man who doesn’t simply write a check or pull cash out of his wallet, but who finds a way to give in which the receiver will be spared all humiliation. Instead the receiver will actually feel that he is helping the giver. This example is put forth to explain the principle: Suppose a man has a very ill child and he determines in his heart that as part of his prayers for the healing of his child, he will give generously to a person in need, asking the recipient to join him in praying for the speedy recovery of his son. This is what the Talmud calls “an exceptionally righteous person” for he spares the poor man of all humiliation and enlists his assistance with the giver’s need.

While it may not always be possible to give in such a way that the needy person feels that he is ‘giving’ rather than ‘taking’, nevertheless, the lesson is that in all of our giving, it is essential to do what we can to maintain the dignity of the recipient as much as possible. The story is told of the leader of a prominent charity organization who repeatedly asked his workers, “Is the food being distributed with dignity? Do the poor among us feel loved? They must never be humiliated.”

In Tune with Torah this week: To be in a position requiring assistance is humbling. When we are in the position of being able to give, let us remember that the highest form of charity is giving in such a way that the receiver’s dignity and self-worth are strengthened, rather than demeaned. Whether our giving is in the form of our time, clothing, food or money, may our every act of generosity serve to elevate the inner being of the one to whom we give.

Shabbat Shalom

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