And we seem to follow this destructive pattern in matters both public and private, whether it’s our own personal health that is at stake (for example), or the social well being of the community and the nation at large.
The "letting things slide" syndrome often appears in our relationship to our Judaism as well. Tragically, people can squander years without thinking about the larger meaning of their lives on earth, or pursuing the knowledge of Torah that would enlighten them on the subject. Then, suddenly, some tragedy occurs that wakes them up from their slumber and they realize (with anguish) how clueless they have been about the great teachings, and the noble observances, of their faith. (Fortunately, though, this problem of ignorance can be fixed quite quickly if someone is motivated to learn.) I hope and pray that all my readers…and I myself, no less…will strengthen ourselves in our study and practice of Torah--each on his or her own level--without delay! Especially as the festival of Shavuos, commemoration of our receiving the Torah, quickly approaches.
Hmmm, that stirring benediction sounds a bit like the conclusion of a parsha sheet. No such luck. I still have to point out (briefly) the connection to this week’s Torah portion, so please bear with me a moment or two longer. [Come to think of it, maybe I was letting things slide until the last minute before getting to the point!]
Consider the following verse from the parsha:
"If your brother becomes impoverished and his hand falters with you, you shall hold on to him [or, strengthen him]…so that he can live with you." (Leviticus: 25, 35)
At first glance, perhaps, it appears that this is merely an injunction to give charity (tzedaka) to a poor person (or fellow Jew), no different from certain other verses in the Torah. Alternatively, it could be considered a command to offer a loan to a poor person, another great mitzvah of kindness to be sure, but again, one that is principally taught in other places in the Torah. (See Exodus; 22, 24 and Deuteronomy: 15, 7) What is the unique instruction we are being given here in this verse?
The clue appears to be in the apparently superfluous clause, "and his hand falters," as well as the somewhat strange usage, you shall hold on to him" [or, strengthen him"]. Let the Torah just say, "If your brother becomes poor, do what you can to help him."
In his comment on the verse, Rashi draws from the
Midrash to elucidate:
[Once] it has fallen to the ground, five [people]
cannot set it [back] in place."
We see that even when it comes to doing chesed (kindness) with our fellow Jew, the Torah was well aware of our propensity to let it (and him or her) slide, to delay coming to someone’s aid (financial, or otherwise) until things have really become disastrous! Therefore, the Torah commands us not just to help our fellow Jew when he has reached desperate straits ("brother" specifically refers to Jews in this verse, though the principle can be extended to our fellow man in general), but to step in when things have merely begun to slip, "and his hand falters," and come to his aid then--before the situation deteriorates to the point where it will be much harder to rectify. This is a special commandment of "strengthening the hand" of our fellow Jew when he/she is faltering.
Some commentaries specifically point out (as hinted
above) that although the verse, in its plain meaning and in its context,
refers to offering financial help, it is by no means limited to that. If
our fellow Jews are impoverished spiritually, for instance, and are
faltering in Torah observance or comprehension, we must step in quickly
and strive to strengthen them so that they don’t fall any further, or
become any more dispirited or disengaged. Lending spiritual encouragement
and support to someone in such a situation could well be even more
significant than helping financially. (See Ta’am V’Da’as, by Rav Moshe
Sternbuch, on this verse for example.)
This verse of the Torah challenges us to become proactive in the realm of helping those in need. Rather than letting things slide until an emergency arouses us to action, we need to notice when someone seems to be faltering, and step in and offer our assistance then, before things deteriorate. (We can even try to work on the earlier stage of working to prevent people from faltering in the first place.) We need to be proactive with ourselves, in taking stock of our own financial and spiritual situations, as well.
May we take to heart the lesson of this verse, and
commit ourselves to strengthening each other’s hand, and supporting each
other before the fall. That way, we can prevent a lot of needless
My e-mail address is firstname.lastname@example.org
Rabbi Yosef Edelstein, Savannah Kollel. Phone: 912-351-0469; fax: 354-9923
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